The tomb-like isolation cell next to Oklahoma's death chamber. Everything
in Cell L is cement, including the bed. The door is always kept closed.
It's underground, so there is no natural light. Instead, bright lights are kept
on all the time.
For 50-days straight, florescent lights bore into the small concrete cell where Oklahoma death row inmate Richard Glossip was being held while awaiting his execution.
In accordance with Oklahoma Department of Corrections execution protocol, he had been taken to a unit closer in proximity to the actual death chamber. There, Glossip was to spend the remaining weeks of his life in isolation—a windowless cell where the lights remained on at all hours of the day.
That is where inmates scheduled for execution spend their final 35-days of life. Glossip, however, was allotted an extra two weeks after courts postponed his initial execution date to evaluate a last-minute appeal from his attorneys. As a result, Glossip spent 50 total days in that holding cell instead.
He still had not been granted a hearing on the evidence his attorneys believe will prove he did not hire a man to kill his boss—the crime he was charged with back in 1997—but his execution would still be halted at the last moment.
Oklahoma officials discovered hours before Glossip’s scheduled execution that they had obtained the incorrect lethal injection drugs. Glossip is now one of the few to experience what leads up to execution—and lived to tell about it.
“It is real torture,” Glossip says over the phone from death row. He remains surprisingly upbeat throughout the conversation. “I think it is done to make you say, ‘Man, get me in that room and get this over with. Because it is hell. It really is.”
For those 50-days, he says it was difficult to sleep without a reprieve from the constant harsh lighting. He hardly ate the food he describes as inedible and often forgot basic necessities like water. He struggled to cope under the constant gaze of the guard who was tasked with documenting his every move.
“It really messes with your head,” Glossip shares. “I still look over my shoulder to see if someone is watching me.”
Glossip explains that at times he would try to sit completely still on his bunk just so he could avoid witnessing the guard logging his last days alive.
As time went by, teams of guards began rehearsing for Glossip’s execution as he watched from his cell.
He says he tried to distract himself by maintaining a routine and a positive attitude. Every morning, he would tidy up his cell. He would talk on the phone when he was able to. And he would read the Bible. It was the only book he says he was allowed to have in his cell—even though the Oklahoma Department of Corrections protocol permits inmates to keep reading material with them. A spokesman for the DOC denies the allegation that Glossip was not allowed to have any other books.
“I’d try to do anything to keep my mind occupied,” Glossip says. “Even in a horrible place like this, I would always wake up and make sure that I have a purpose for every day.”
Glossip says the most difficult part for him was surrendering his mp3 player. Before being transferred, he relied on music as a mental escape, sometimes listening for hours at a time to rock music (“I’m a rocker at heart”) and artists like Modest Mouse, the Cold War Kids, Ryan Adams, and X Ambassadors.
“[The system] don’t want you thinking about anything but what is going to happen to you I think,” Glossip says. “They want you to have that in your head when they kill you—they are going to make sure you know you are going to die.”
Once inside the new cell, inmates are issued new clothes, new bedding, and a limited amount of hygiene products that are administered on a daily basis. After that, there’s nothing left to do but wait.
On the evening before execution, prisoners are given a budget of $45 and allowed to order their last meal. Glossip chose to order Domino’s Pizza—a company he spent 11 years working for before going to prison.
“I used to travel all over for Domino’s and sometimes it didn’t taste the same depending on how you made it,” Glossip adds. “But I gotta say: I was pretty impressed with Domino’s here. It was really good.”
But Glossip didn’t want to eat alone. Instead, he chose to share his meal with the guards.
“They said, ‘No, we can’t eat your last meal!’” he recalls. “But I looked at it like, I just wanted to enjoy that night and share it with others. I don’t know if that sounds strange, but it is just the way I felt.”
The next morning, Glossip was awakened at around 3:30 AM. It’s part of execution procedure to begin the protocol 12 hours out from when the lethal injection will be administered. He was then taken for a full-body medical evaluation, where he was X-rayed and strip-searched.
Glossip estimates that it took about 30-minutes before he was placed in a new cell even closer to the death chamber.
This cell is where inmates spend their final hours. It is equipped with a mattress, a sheet, and a pillow, but no personal items are allowed.
“You are just in that cell and it is just like a morgue,” Glossip describes. “It was ice cold in there.”
It wasn’t until 1 PM the day of his scheduled execution when the Department of Corrections (DOC) would call the attorney general’s office to report that they had received the incorrect drugs. Potassium acetate was on hand instead of the approved potassium chloride, which is the part of the state’s controversial drug cocktail used to stop a prisoner’s heart.
Three hours later, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin would officially stop the execution. At approximately 4 PM, she issued a 37-day stay to allow the DOC to conduct an investigation into how the drug mix-up occurred.
Glossip, however, wasn’t kept in the loop. Not long before he was to be taken into the execution chamber, guards came to his cell to confiscate his clothes. Had the execution proceeded, he would have been given a hospital gown to change into before being put on the gurney.
|Oklahoma's death chamber|
“I kept asking people what was going on,” he says. “Nobody would tell me anything, but I knew something was up because the guys in suits were coming out to talk to the guards. It was pretty interesting watching the interaction between them and I knew something was happening, but I didn’t know what.”
Ten minutes before 3 PM—the scheduled time of his execution—he could hear his fellow death row inmates pounding on their cells. It was their way of saying goodbye.
“Before an execution, [death row inmates] start kicking and beating on the doors,” he explains. “It is a send-off—so you know people are thinking of you as you are going through what you are going through—letting you know that you aren’t alone. These guys hadn’t heard that I had gotten a stay. I didn’t even hear myself.”
Glossip says around 5:30 PM, he was moved from the unit adjacent to the death chamber and placed back in the first cell. He didn’t fully understand what was going on until he saw the words scroll across a television screen mounted on the wall, blaring the news.
“The bottom of the TV says, ‘Richard Glossip was granted a 37-day stay by Governor Fallin,’” he says. “I still had no clue of what it was that actually stopped the execution.”
The 50-day-long execution experience was over—at least for now. Oklahoma officials have agreed that they won’t reschedule the execution until at least 150-days after the conclusion of their investigation.
Until then, Glossip has been returned to death row. Now housed back in his former cell, he no longer has to spend sleepless nights under the lights in isolation—but those stressors, he says, continue to take a toll.
“When I looked at myself in the mirror for the first time, I was really in total shock,” Glossip describes. “I looked like somebody who just walked out of a war camp. Just skin stretched over a skeleton.”
Now, more than a month later, he says he is still struggling to put on weight. Though he is 6-feet-tall, Glossip shares that he plummeted to 130 lbs. at his lowest weight. Still, he is now grateful to be able to flip the lights on and off—something he did repeatedly when he was finally given the chance.
“I turned the light switch on and off a few times. I thought I only did it once,” he explains.
The guard grew concerned and asked him what was going on.
“I go, ‘I am just turning the switch to make sure the light goes off.’ I thought I only did it once but he said I did it several times. [The guard] just didn’t quite understand, but when you are in a place where you can’t turn the light off for such a long period of time.”
He pauses a beat before adding, “I just had to make sure that light would go off.”
Glossip’s legal team is hoping the extra time allotted by the execution stay will enable them to prove their client is innocent. He says he maintains faith that his team of attorneys will find something that will enable him to go home. Glossip hopes he won’t have to endure the process again.
Even if Glossip’s team succeeds and he again escapes execution, Glossip vows he will use his life to fight against capital punishment.
“I want people to understand what [inmates] are having to go through before you take their life from them,” he explains. “I definitely don’t want anybody else go through this—it’s just not right.”
Source: Huffington Post, Gabrielle Canon, November 11, 2015
Richard Glossip’s fight goes on: Richard Branson
The very next day, the State of Oklahoma went even further and issued an indefinite stay of all pending executions, until at least 150 days after an internal investigation launched by the Attorney-General has shone a light on what exactly happened in September – and also in January, when Charles Warner, another death row inmate, was executed with the same, wrong drug.
For Richard Glossip, the stay has offered much-needed relief in a seemingly never-ending ordeal that tells us so much about what is wrong with the US criminal justice system today.
But it won’t set him free. The fight for his full exoneration is far from over, and I have nothing but admiration for his defence teams who have been working so hard to collect further evidence that could eventually allow him to have another day in court and demonstrate his innocence. As so many others, from Sister Helen Prejean to Susan Sarandon and countless Oklahomans of all walks of life, I am confident that day will come.
Richard has never once considered accepting a plea bargain in exchange for a life sentence, even though it was offered to him. Unwavering, he insists on his innocence. Listening to his version of the story and learning of the sequence of injustices that have kept him on death row – many of them corroborated - I am more convinced than ever that he needs to be released. Finality of justice must never prevail over fairness, and fairness is what Richard Glossip deserves. We must do all we can to ensure his case his not forgotten.
Source: Virgin, Richard Branson, November 10, 2015