Prisoners’ rights advocate, Charlotte, is a wonderful lady who helped me at several book signings. She recently flew from London to Florida to visit her boyfriend, Troy, on death row. In the last decade, DNA evidence has shown that hundreds of prisoners on death row were set up by prosecutors and detectives looking to appease the public and advance their careers. These men were freed but no charges were ever brought against the criminals working in the legal system. Most of the States fight against and won’t pay for DNA tests. They’d rather innocent people be executed than the legal system be proven wrong.
I looked down the row of small round metal tables with the numbers scrawled on the sides in black marker pen. Some were already occupied by people on their own either sitting nervously or making themselves busy wiping the surface down with damp paper towels. As I walked down the aisle I noticed that each table had 4 metal stools joined to them. Well, that’s going to be comfortable, I thought. I located number 7 and sat down, placing my small see-through bag that contained all that I was allowed to have with me onto the table. And there I sat for what seemed like an eternity.
The events of the last 10 months had led to this day. I had started writing to Troy in July last year and we had become close very quickly. After looking into his case very thoroughly I soon came to the conclusion that he was innocent and I had to do all that I could to help him prove it. We had started discussing me going to see him in Florida at the end of last year and finally at the beginning of February I was allowed onto his visitor list and plans were made that I would go and see him. So after what seemed like a lifetime ago I had boarded the plane at the end of May from Heathrow airport that would take me across the Atlantic to meet him for the very first time.
I arrived at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford at 7.15am on the Saturday morning. There was a canopy with 4 benches outside the entrance where a crowd of people were already gathered. I spotted one of the women that I already knew and called her name. Petra came over to me and gave me a big hug. ‘Charlotte, you’re shaking’, she said in her thick German accent. I was as nervous as I’d ever been in my life. I was going to be entering a maximum security prison for the very first time and I had no idea what to expect.
Shortly before 8.15am the people in the group started moving towards the door. Everyone lined up in the strict order as to how they arrived. After a little while the first five people at the front of the queue started entering the building, and then as they were processed we all followed in one by one. I stepped into the entrance hall and saw before me a lady behind a glass partition with a barred gate on the left and right side of her. I waited patiently as the people in front of me entered their ID numbers into a machine and had their palm prints electronically taken. I was told that a few years back an inmate and visitor had changed clothes whilst in the visiting room in another state and it had led to the inmate escaping. Now the palm prints are taken on the way in and on the way out before you are allowed to leave to make sure they match. Then they were given a piece of paper with their photo and that of the person they were visiting, once they had shown the lady behind the glass their IDs. When it was my turn I approached the glass.
‘It’s my first visit,’ I said quietly.
‘ID please Ma’am,’ she responded.
I passed my driving license through a slim slot at the bottom of the window and waited. She took the details from my ID and put them into the computer. What seemed like an eternity later she said ‘Go and stand by the wall to have your photo taken.’ I did as I was asked and went back to the window to wait for my piece of paper that would give me access to the place where I needed to go. She passed it back through the slot along with my ID and said ‘Next.’
I stood in front of the barred gate on the right hand side as I had seen others do. A couple of seconds later there was a loud buzz and the gate opened. I walked through, along with another lady that had been processed the same time as me. BANG! The gate slammed behind us. That’ll be where the word “slammer” comes from then, I thought to myself. A door on the right led through to the search room. It consisted of a long line of tables, a metal detector and a screened off area at the end. Firstly, after placing my bag on the table I walked through the metal detector and breathed a sigh of relief when it remained silent. Then I walked to the lady who was searching through the bags, and she made a note of everything that was in there. $50, car key, tissues, tampons, and then made a note of all the jewellery I was wearing. One ring, one watch, one necklace with 2 charms. Then I went into the search area. There was a female guard the other side of the partition.
‘Take your shoes off and show me the soles of your feet,’ she barked. I did as I was asked. She picked up my shoes and had a look inside and felt around them with the tips of her fingers.
‘Stand with you back to me with your legs spread and your arms outstretched at your side.’ Again I did as I was told and she very quickly and efficiently patted me down. I turned around to face her and put my shoes on. There was one last thing I had to do though. ‘Flick your bra out.’ I just had to hold the bottom and shake it so if there was anything hiding up there then it would fall out. Of course there wasn’t and I could go on my merry way. I walked out of the search room and towards another barred gate. Again it opened automatically, I walked through and again it slammed behind me. I turned to my right and walked down the corridor towards another set of guards sitting at a table. This time I had to hand over my driver’s license and they gave me an ID. Then I carried on towards a set of double doors and through into the outside again.
I remember my friend Giusi saying ‘Just keep to your left when you get outside,’ and there ahead of me was a gate with the words Death Row written on them. On the other side of the gate there was a long ‘corridor’ made out of fencing and razor wire that was to take me to my destination. Again I heard a buzz and I opened one of the last barriers that I had to pass to get there. The next thing I knew I was sat on that cold metal stool waiting for him.
The men started coming through the door one by one, all of them dressed in an orange top and white threadbare trousers. I kept looking at my watch as the minutes ticked by. At 9.15 the door opened and in walked the man that I knew so well but had only seen in photographs. He walked down to the sergeant’s table to let him know he was there and then approached the table where I was sitting with a huge smile on his face. I stood up and he gave me a bear hug that I will never ever forget….
I’m not going to go into the details of our 3 visits that weekend, but what I will say is that it was the probably the happiest places I have ever been. There was so much love and laughter in that one small area that you would never believe that you were in the visit park of death row. And the hardest thing that I’ve ever had to do in my life was leaving on that last day. How it felt to leave him in that hellhole defies any words, but I felt as if someone had thrust their hand into my chest and ripped my heart out, the physical pain was immense. But it’s made me determined to go back, and I will!My blog about Ray Krone, an innocent man my attorney, Alan Simpson, saved from death row