Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Up the River with Ed

Recently the camera on my shoulder dragged me to a place I thought I'd never see - Death Row. Thankfully, it was a brief visit. I made the ninety-minute jaunt to Raleigh's Central Prison at the behest of my producers, who were conjuring up a local tie-in to an upcoming John Walsh special on executions. They needed some 'dramatic footage of our state's killing floor', and while it sounded kind of cheesy, I was all up for visiting the Big House. As long as they let me out when I was through. Which they did. But my time inside was long enough to convince me I was right to put off that tri-state killing spree.

A sour-faced woman in a gray uniform rode an ancient desk in the Visitors Entrance of Central Prison. When I approached her with a smile, she shot it down with a ready-made grimace. As I tried to explain the reason for my visit, she looked me over, taking in my camera, tripod and loud Hawaiian shirt with institutional disdain. Never uttering a single syllable, she thrust a clipboard forward and motioned to the seventies-era plastic chairs in the corner. Ten minutes later I was still filling out forms, surprised at how much personal information was required to visit a facility I helped finance. As I hunched over the clipboard and scribbled furiously, a heavy male voice spoke out.

"You the TV man?"

Looking up, I came face to face with a sawed-off tree trunk of a man. With his wide tie, short-sleeve shirt and sensible brown slacks, my guide for the day looked like some extra from an old 'Barney Miller' episode. But this flatfoot wouldn't be cracking wise to a canned laugh track. Ever. With a suspicious glare, he took the clipboard from my hands and stared at it with the air of a man eternally constipated. The expression fit his face as naturally as the heavy stubble he kept so closely shaved. As he eyed with naked contempt the blanks I'd filled in, I stole a glance at his nametag. ED, it said. Watching him scour the forms for any mistakes or deceptions, I got the feeling Ed didn't give a flip who I thought he looked like, as long as I'd printed it neatly on one of those forms.

Still, it was his house, and I wasn't about to make waves in a building where they inject poison in your veins if you piss them off enough. So for once, I kept my mouth shut and avoided any sudden movement as Ed dug through my fanny-pack, no doubt looking for drugs, pornography and black market cigarettes. When he found only tapes, batteries and a half-filled box of tic-tacs, he handed me the pack and turned to walk down the hall, grunting instructions for me to follow. As we approached a heavy steel door, he paused. Somewhere from within the walls another state employee threw a switch and the door slowly groaned opened - revealing a long, under lit hallway.

"I s'pose you wanna see the death house" - Ed muttered over his shoulder with all the warmth of, well, a prison guard.

"Yeah, that'd be great", I offered. As we made our way down a long corridor, the polished heels of Ed's shiny black shoes echoed their cadence. Slate-gray cinderblock walls watched us pass with blank indifference. A rigid line of caged light bulbs split the narrow ceiling in half, and the blended aroma of sweat, bleach and mothballs reminded me of my time at sea. Somewhere deep in my head, The Doors launched into their longest song.

'This is the end, beautiful friend, the end...'

The sharp thunk of the door reversing in its tracks snapped me back to the present, and I instinctively rolled tape to capture the sound. Ed never broke his stride. As the door behind us closed, one in front of us opened. We waited wordlessly while the massive metal divider rumbled along. When it reached the end of it's chain-driven path, Ed stepped inside to a low-ceiling round room lined with heavy doors. I followed, more than a little reluctantly.

Eight, identical doors line the round room, staring back at each other but unable to see. A waist-high twelve-inch lidded-and-locked slot were the doors' only adornment. A single surveillance camera perched over every locked entrance to nowhere.

"This is ya death house. Six weeks away from execution date, we move tha inmate out of general population and in here. Right now it's empty", Ed said, with just a hint of disappointment in his voice.

Suddenly, one of the eight doors roared to life, rolling leftward on its tracks to reveal a cell no more than ten by ten feet. Squinting through the viewfinder, I centered up the shot and pressed RECORD. It was one of the half dozen sequences requested by my producers, and I remembered why I was taking this hellhole tour in the first place. I glanced at Ed and thought of a way to phrase my next request.

"Hey, you mind if I, uh --"

"Help ya'self".

Something in Ed's tone spooked me, but I dismissed the notion and stepped inside the cell. Hoisting my camera atop the tripod I'd been dragging along, I focused on the room's few items and got to work. The images were suitably Spartan - metal bunk, dull-rusted sink, stainless-steel toilet. As the tally light inside my viewfinder glowed red, Jim Morrison spoke from the grave.

The killer awoke before dawn; he put his boots on...'

The sound of slow-rolling chains suddenly filled the air, and I wheeled around to catch sight of the cell door slowly closing. Ed was nowhere to be seen. Not knowing exactly what I was supposed to do, I did what came natural. I put my eye back to the viewfinder and squared up the shot. WHAM! The sound of the door slamming home bounced crazily off the walls.

Pulling the viewfinder away from my eye, I almost yelled something to myunseen captor but thought better of it. Ed was apparently having some fun with me, and no doubt getting his rocks off in the process. Not wanting to spoil or heighten the experience for him, I put the camera on the floor and sat down on the metal bunk.

As I slowly looked around, I tried to take in every atom of the four walls and ceiling - wondering what details must reveal themselves after a lifetime of staring at the same small enclosure. I realized the room was about the size of my walk-in closet, but opposite in every other way. Instead of being stuffed with well-used possessions, this room was impossibly sterile, devoid of anything feeling like home, bereft of all creature comforts. For some souls, this was the last stop on Planet Earth, A weigh-station to another world. A place to pace, ponder and prepare to die.

The door remained close and I looked at my watch. Only three minutes had passed but it felt far longer. As I stared, the second hand of my watch seemed to slow down. Looking around at the faceless concrete walls, I tried to fathom what it must feel like to spend twenty-three

hours a day in such a place. Months spent deployed on a U.S. Navy ship had already introduced me to incarceration, but that pales in comparison to spending the rest of your life in a box.

'This is the end...my only friend, the end...'

I was relieved to hear the door began sliding on its grooves again. It opened to reveal Ed standing before me, an almost imperceptible smile under his five o'clock shadow.

"Thought you might wanna get a few mo' shots for ya TeeVee sto-ree"

"Yeah - you got me," I glad-handed, not ''s favorite prison tricks. As I stepped out of the cell with camera and tripod in hand, Ed broke into a sickly grin.

"Let's go see The Chair"

A few hallways and groaning doors later, we reached what for some, was

their final Earthly destination. The gas chamber sat empty and silent and as I stepped inside, the medicinal smell rather surprised me. Keeping one eye on my growing-creepier-by-the-moment host, I framed up a shot of the heavy wooden chair dominating the lethal room. Thick leather straps hung from the legs and arms of the chair, straps that had kept doomed men in place while the State pursued justice. In the back corner, a heavy steel stretcher caught my attention. Rolling tape, I panned the room. From behind me, Ed spoke the most words in a row I'd yet to hear him utter.

"This here chair's more 'n sixty years old." Course we don't use it no more, we just roll the stretcher in front of it. Ever' body says lethal injection's better, but I don't know..."

Something in his tone made me look up, and I noticed he was staring at the gas chamber chair with a look usually seen on men admiring racecars, speedboats or exotic dancers. Wondering what good ole Ed might do for fun on his off-time, I turned back to my trusty camera and got back to work. After a few minutes, I had what I'd come for and was growing anxious to taste fresh air again.

But one last sight made me linger. With the death chair directly behind me, I looked through the thick plexi-glass window into the witness room on the other side. Ten empty chairs glared back at me. I thought of what it must be like to stare through that window, to see disaffected press members, distraught relatives and the seething hatred of the victim's family - all while sullen men in catalog-ordered uniforms readied the potion that would soon induce your death. I found myself wondering which searing, sterile image burned into the doomed men's corneas as theycrossed over to meet whatever consequence awaited them.

'Get out', a voice in my head feebly offered.

"Okay, that should about do it", I muttered to Ed - apparently snapping him out of his own haze. "Thanks for your time, I'd better go run and meet that deadline..." I listened to myself prattle on, hoping I didn't sound as eager to leave as I thought I did. Luckily, Ed seemed eager to get rid of me as well. Ever since we'd entered the gas chamber, he'd grown distracted. Perhaps he wanted to polish his beloved gas chamber chair without any outsider's intrusion. Whatever his plans, he seemed in a sudden hurry to see me off, and that was fine with me. As we neared the visitor's lobby, his previous lack of expression returned. Reaching over to pluck the visitor badge off my shirt, he locked eyes with me. As he drew a little too close for comfort, I could smell institutional coffee and Texas cinnamon rolls. Ed smiled that smile again; the same sickly grin he flashed when first mentioned The Chair.

"Ya'll come back and see us"

Within a few minutes I was behind the wheel of my news vehicle, the images I needed caught on tape, and a few I didn't need seared into my frontal lobe. While my brief tour of North Carolina's only sanctioned murder scene didn't totally change my support of capital punishment, it's certainly made me look at it from a whole new perspective. And from now on, whenever I hear of my home state poisoning yet another inmate, I'll know that somewhere deep within the dark confines of Raleigh's Central Prison, my good buddy Ed is wishing they'd use The Chair instead.


jiri said...

Hey, I have enjoyed...your blog is informative - even entertaining.

I have a halloween sites. They pretty much covers costumes and masks related stuff.

Thanks again and I'll be sure to bookmark you.

Tom Naka said...

Hey, you have a great blog here! I'm definitely going to bookmark you! I have a pennsylvania health insurance quote
site/blog. It pretty much covers pennsylvania health insurance quote
related stuff.

Anonymous said...

The Blogs/site is very informative on the **big and tall**related subject

Anonymous said...

Great Blog! Ilike it.But here you can find woman looking for sexTake a look if you have a minute. Thanks and have a good one!

bigbear777 said...


Better than klear action whitening and ION whitening systems! Half the
price too!

Welcome to PerfectlyWhite.com,

PerfectlyWhite.com is proud to present to you the first ever at home
laser whitening treatment. We are bringing you the most popular in
office treatment at home for the fraction of the cost! One laser
treatment at a doctors office can run around $600 as shown above. This
is very exciting news for anyone who is looking into whitening their
teeth professionally in the comfort of their own home. Best of all you
can have this plasma light technology for much less! The light is yours
to keep and can be used as many times as you like! You can achieve
professional results in less than 7 days! Our method also works in
between your teeth and deep down below the enamel. This procedure will
not damage or wear away the enamel.

How does it work?

Its very simple. The Plasma light will increase the breakdown speed of
Carbamide Peroxide, in turn releasing more oxygen which speeds up the
bleaching process. The oxygen acts as a bleaching agent that whitens
your teeth safely and effectively. This is why you can pay as much as $600
to get your teeth whitened professionally.

Plasma Laser Light Technology!

Never before seen in any at home whitening kit! Just Like at a real in
office visit, all our deluxe kits have the plasma light tool to
accelerate the whitening process. No one else offers this authentic at
home tool. Its Very easy to operate and safe to use. Accelerate your
whitening by as much as 300% with this method! This means whiter teeth
in less time!

At last, you no longer have to visit your dentist for that
white bright smile you have always wanted!

Our professional dental whitening kit is the same product used by many
of the top cosmetic dentists. Why consider paying up to $600, when for a
few short minutes per day, you to can achieve the exact same results in
the comfort of your own home. Best of all, it will cost you a fraction
of the price!

40% stronger than an in-office visit...

To provide you with superior results, our fully licensed line of
products is one of the industry's strongest and most effective tooth
whitening formulas. The main active ingredient is 35% Carbamide Peroxide.
This concentration is 40% stronger than most dentists use during an in
office visit!

A little more about our 7 day plasma treatment:

* This procedure will NOT harm or damage your tooth's enamel.

This system can't be found in stores!

We are the only internet site who sells this new product!

We are the exclusive seller of this NEW at home treatment!

You and your friends can take advantage of this treatment with just one
plasma light!

Plasma light treatment only takes on average 7 days to complete!

Results are 100% guaranteed and 100% safe! for more informationCLICK HERE

Raven said...

I really enjoyed reading your blog, my site is about Trigun if you like Trigun you should have a look at my site!

Anonymous said...

I just came across your blog about travel nursing position and wanted to drop you a note telling you how impressed I was with the information you have posted here. I also have a web site about travel nursing position so I know what I'm talking about when I say your site is top-notch! Keep up the great work, you are providing a great resource on the Internet here! If you get a chance, please stop by travel nursing position

blaze said...

Great site very informative topics on short term health insurance.
I have been working on a site about short term health insurance
and would be very pleased if you would take a look and let me know what you think.

Anonymous said...

That sounds great, but vampire contact lens has links to different reviews.

Plasma Tv Center said...

Hi, Thanks for your interesting blog. Keep up the great work! I also have a site & blog about plasma television, please feel free to visit.

Plasma Tv Center said...

Hi, Thanks for your interesting blog. Keep up the great work! I also have a site & blog about plasma television, please feel free to visit.

Anonymous said...

Hey, you have a great blog here! I'm definitely going to bookmark you!

I have a texas fire departmentTee site called Holden Tees. We're a small company and we sell shirts and stuff.

Come and check it out if you get time

-Holden Tees

Anonymous said...

Hey, you have a great blog here! I'm definitely going to bookmark you!

I have a elizabeth hildenshirt site called Holden Tees. We're a small company and we sell shirts and stuff.

Come and check it out if you get time

-Holden Tees

www.k-and-ktreasures.com said...

I just came across your blog about 35mm camera and I think it is really informative for all of your members. You could consider visiting my site about 35mm camera to guide your guests towards products and services related to 35mm camera. Keep up the good work!

gladys99 said...

Hey, you have a great blog here! I'm definitely going to bookmark you!

I have a financial advisor education site. It pretty much covers financial advisor training and financial services marketing.

Come and check it out if you get time :-)

julio said...

Hello Lenslinger. I read your post about Up the River with Ed. We are the makers of Sleep Better Pillow. I am currently doing research on our product. You can see side sleep -- Many people suffer from problems with their sleep. We are look to do research and would be interested giving a test pillow for people to reviews our pillow that have certain problems. We have been giving away pillows to people who submit articles and get published on site. We have limited supplies for this -- so please respond soon.

Anonymous said...

Cool blog you have. I have a motorola talkabout pager related site. Check it out if you get a chance. The URL is motorola talkabout pager

Plasma TV Center said...

I just came across your blog and wanted to drop you a note telling you how impressed I was with the information you have posted here.
I also have a web site & blog about philips plasma television
so I know what I'm talking about when I say your site is top-notch! Keep up the great work!

Plasma TV Center said...

Hi Thanks for your interesting blog. I also have a blog/site, covering plasma television entertainment center
related stuff. Feel free to visit my plasma television entertainment center

blogsurfer said...

Hi, I came across you site while looking for information on automobile distance detection systems. So far this is the best place I've found to buy these. I recognize the imporance of having them on my car, so that's why I was looking for some more information. Love your site, by the way. Thanks for the good info. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi, thanks for the informative blog! I'm a webmaster of jewelry television

boots holiday insurance said...

Hi Friend! You have a great blog over here!
Please accept my compliments and wishes for your happiness and success!
If you have a moment, please take a look at my boots holiday insurance site.
Have a great day!

No Hassle Loans said...

Hey nice blog. Although it�s not what I was looking for. I am looking for info on Payday Loans or a Cash Advance so I can buy some Hoodia Diet Pills.. I found your blog very interesting

Jim said...

Cool blog. However I am looking for info on Mesothelioma or Mesothelioma Lawyers. I would also like to find info on Asbestos and Asbestos Lawyers