“I Have 21 Days Left To Live”: Counting Down To An Execution

“Dear Sis~
I’ve got 25 days left to live.  It isn’t normal to be able to write something like that, and that sense of surrealism permeates every hour down here.”

William Van Poyck, scheduled for execution tomorrow night, has maintained a blog for years now, writing letters to his sister which she then posts on his site. His letters cover everything from literature to politics to popular culture, as well as detailing the hidden happenings behind the secretive prison walls. Oftentimes Van Poyck has been the only source detailing inmate deaths and suicides on Florida’s death row, and he regularly provides an insider’s account of executions.

However, it is now the approach of his own execution that Van Poyck is detailing, after Gov. Scott signed his death warrant on May 3.

“Today Governor Scott signed my death warrant and my execution date has been scheduled for June 12th, at 6pm.  I wasn’t really surprised when they showed up at my cell door with the chains and shackles; for the last month or  so I’ve had a strong premonition that my warrant was about to be signed.”

Van Poyck, 58, was convicted in the death of corrections officer Fred Griffis, who was fatally shot in a 1987 escape attempt. Van Poyck and another inmate, Frank Valdez, ambushed two guards in a prison van during transport of another prisoner, James O’Brien. Van Poyck has always maintained that Valdez, who was later stomped to death by prison guards, was the shooter.

Van Poyck’s letters now have a much more personal tone and reveal a first-person look at what it is like to face execution, and the preparations and procedures that go along with it. Below are some samples from the thoughts of a man counting down his final days:

There are now three of us down here on death watch; all our executions are spaced 2 weeks apart.  The guy with senior status (Elmer) is set to die on May 29th, 2 weeks before me….He’s resigned to his fate and I hear him pacing the floor a lot, a pacing that is gradually morphing into a listless shuffling, as if all hope has deflated from his body, like air leaking from a punctured tire.

***

I understand there are usually about two dozen witnesses to these executions and I sometimes wonder about those who will be at mine, unknown, faceless men rooting for me to die, happy to see me breathe my last breath.

***

On Tuesday they came and measured me for my execution/burial suit.  Sometime soon I’ll be given the details on how “the body” will be disposed of following the legally required autopsy (will my cause of death really be a mystery?).  I understand the State will pay for a cremation should I choose this form of disposal (I do) and my ashes will be available at a Gainesville Funeral home; but don’t quote me on that yet.

***

I gotta tell you, Sis, there’s a big difference between contemplating your death in the abstract and seriously considering it when it’s an absolute, undeniable soon-to-occur fact…I got little sleep the first week, perhaps 2 hours a night and then I was up and wide awake at 2:00 a.m., mind racing, thoughts all a-jumble, despite my best breathing and meditation techniques….This still happens a dozen times a day, and more at night.

***

I’ve already thrown or given away 95% of my personal property, the stuff that for years seemed so important.  All those great books I’ll never get to read; reams and reams of legal work I’ve been dragging around, and studying, for 2 decades and which has suddenly lost its relevance.

My magazines and newspapers stack up unread; I have little appetite to waste valuable, irreplaceable hours reading up on current events.  Does it really matter to me now what’s happening in the Middle East, or on Wall Street, or how my Miami Dolphins are looking for the upcoming new season?  What’s the point?

***

The other day I caught myself reaching for my daily vitamin.  Really?, I wondered, as the absurdity hit me.

***

Today my neighbor, Elmer, went on Phase II of death watch, which begins 7 days prior to execution.  They remove all your property from your cell while an officer sits in front of your cell 24/7 recording everything you do.  Staff also performs a “dry run” or “mock execution”, basically duplicating the procedures that will occur 7 days later.

This is when you know you’re making the final turn off the back stretch, you know your death is imminent, easily within reach, you can count it by hours instead of by days.

***

Tomorrow Elmer will be executed and I’ll be next up to bat, with 15 days to live….This may be my last letter to reach you before you begin your journey down south to be by my side for my final days.

***

All is well with me here in the death house.  I’ve been blessed with a strong body and a stout mind and spirit, more than sufficient to see me through this final passage.  The deep love of others, freely given to me by those I’m honored to call my friends, helps ease the journey.

The one thing I am absolutely certain of after 58 years on this rock is that LOVE is the foundation of the cosmos, the very essence of what we call God.  This is the one lesson we all must learn, and will learn in due time, and which gives me my peace.

Related Reading:

Florida Set to Execute William Van Poyck Tonight

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