Breaking Death Penalty News


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Give Me A Sign

As a child, the Christmas season was always the “feel good” time of year.  Enduring asthma and Mom’s lengthy punishments could not deter me from feeling the warmth of the holiday spirit.  

However, Christmas behind a prison wall can cause the greatest of holiday troopers to repress those childhood pleasantries connected to the season of giving.  Prison is not the place where a man wants to be known as a warm and giving individual.  At least, that was my perception when I was living on the other side of the wall.

Just before the turn of the century, I can recall a Christmas inside of this box, where the state supplied the prisoners with humanlike eating utensils.  A plastic folk and knife replaced the primitive food shovel, known as the spork.  The pantomime of the state’s overseers insured me I was eating something they preferred to have on their own dinner tables.

I pressed my fork into the remaining chunk of petite sirloin while simultaneously absorbing the laughter and holiday spirit dwelling amongst the prisoners in the chow hall.  The atmosphere was much different that usual, but once the meal concluded, the vibe of animosity and envy boomeranged; a reality check never far from its toxic starting point. 

The walk back to D-Block consisted of at least 60 red jumpsuits bouncing down the tunnel at once; most of us fighting to live while anticipating the upcoming executions of others.  This was 1998, three executions had already preceded this particular holiday, and four more would come the following year.  A hefty number of the death row population would slowly be depleted in the months to come.  A slow death in its truest sense.

My stomach appeared to be full, but my spirits were declining fast.  It was my 4th Christmas without the laughter and authentic gestures of love that comes within a tight-knit family unit.  The closer I got to D-Block the more helpless I felt.  

In here, these feeling could easily be construed as weak, therefore my frustration festered until another red jumpsuit asked me to block the officer’s view while he removed some of the holiday cheer from an artificial Christmas tree standing outside of the death row housing unit. 

Without the slightest hint of hesitation, I obliged.  I had no idea as to why we were doing this, but when I looked back at the prison’s artificial display of Christmas, I saw a faux representation of life stripped by the real lives given expiration dates.

Back on the block, the organizer of this holiday season coup used construction paper, glue, tape and straws to produce a D-Block Christmas tree.  There was a sense of collective admiration for this symbolism of our unity as the ornaments were placed on a tree made from a tree.  Then an older cat instructed everyone to look out of their cell windows.  I was stunned by what I saw.

A line of people stood on a bridge – yelling, waving, and holding a sign that read: Merry Christmas!  Complete strangers gesturing humanity.  I’m in here struggling to maintain my humanness and people that didn’t know my name were reminding me of it.  This place wasn’t home, but it was definitely Christmas. 

Happy Holidays,

Copyright © 2014 by Leroy Elwood Mann

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Friend Seated As a Stranger


A conference room bearing frigid temperatures is the setting for my bi-weekly forums with the Hidden Voices Foundation.  

Discussions of injustice and redemption are common themes amongst colleagues meeting on the wrong side of the prison wall.  To the eyes of authorities figures we are seated as strangers, engaging in an experiment where logical explanations are few.

By the time this goes to press, our social trials will be a year old.  The earliest results support my spiritual theory of true friendships being predestined – not manmade. How else can we explain a condemned Mann befriending someone who once supported the usage of capital punishment?  Common logic would also deem a genuine bond between a victim eyewitness and a suspect seated at the defense table to be highly unlikely.  Yet it happens for reasons unknown to basic human understanding.

My friend, Mrs. Jennifer Thompson – Cannino is a New York Times bestselling author.  After reading her memoir, “Picking Cotton,” I was deeply moved by the experience of shedding a dark period in her life only to emerge as a ray of hope for those who have been blanketed by the injustice that plagues the North Carolina judicial system. 

Her story involves Mr. Ronald Cotton, a victim of a wrongful conviction.  His case was the first of its kind, in the sense of North Carolina permitting DNA testing to have the final say in what many believed to be an open and shut case.  Eleven years after Jennifer’s life was altered by a man she believed to be Ronald Cotton, DNA evidence set a historical precedent that is now the foundation of a genuine friendship between the two.  Word is bond.

Jennifer is a magnetic element in North Carolina’s Innocence Commission and now dedicates her life to the elevated side of the disturbingly imbalanced scales of justice.  In my opinion, admitting you are wrong retains a high social value. 

Conversing with such an individual regularly has helped me to broaden my degree of objectivity, concerning the furor and malicious attacks stemming from a victim’s family support system.  I also understand how incompatibilities between strangers can lead to productive and meaningful friendships.  Feel me?

W2TM is a platform where the talk of injustice is the common lingo, but in no way is this atmosphere foreign to “the profound nature of human grace and the healing power of forgiveness.” As a writer, it is my due diligence to expose the masses to the education within “Picking Cotton.” As a friend, I am honored to just say, thank you Jennifer.  Your truths are saving lives.  Ya heard?

Congratulations are in order for Mr. Ronald Cotton, for maintaining and moving forward with your life when it could have been so easy to live in neutral, while blaming the world for your misfortunes.  I thank you for not being that brother.  Na mean?

And last, but not least, I would like to thank Ms. Erin Torneo for the design behind this story’s influential structure.  Your writing is a service to the world.  I pray that your motivation for doing so continues to flourish because “Picking Cotton” is the type of change we need in this world.  Keep punching those keys, Erin.

Nuff Said,

Copyright © by Leroy Elwood Mann

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Voices From the Row: Checkmate


For the duration of 30 years, Henry McCollum was labeled as a murderer by the state of North Carolina.  Sentenced to death at the age of 19, Henry had been on death row for 14 years when I arrived in 1997.  We rarely spoke, but talking heads made it known that Henry had been wrongfully convicted. 

Today (9/2/2014), he was acquitted of all charges by a Robeson County Superior Court Judge.  The tear in his family’s eyes is a true testament to how a milestone of this magnitude can affect people on both sides of the concrete barrier that separates us.  The death row population exhales another injustice.  Good luck Henry.  You bore the burden of the red jumpsuit for far too long.  Be easy on the other side.

Back on this side of the wall, another milestone is brewing.  Rodney Taylor (my associate, partner, and pen brother) has been inspired to chronicle the history of the death row chess club.  As the official chess tournament coordinator, Rodney records every game to the finest detail, in a weekly commentary called “The Death Row Gambit” (formerly known as Checkmate).

The following expression will be an in-depth experience of a milestone on the horizon.  Do what you do, Rod.  In this case, Checkmate is a beginning.  Ya heard?

Always 100,

Copyright © by Leroy Elwood Mann



“Chess On Death Row”

Checkmate is the ultimate goal in the game of chess, by which the enemy king is checked (threatened with capture), and has no means of escape.  Checkmate ends the game immediately.  Simply put, it is a declaration of victory.

The origin of chess is shrouded in mystery.  The earliest date to which chess can be traced is about 600 A.D.  Travelling from India via the Arab world to Europe it has spread worldwide attracting players from a wide range of cultures.

Chess can be likened to a war between two military forces battling for control of a specific region.  It is a mental battle between two people striving to outthink one another, maneuvering their pieces around the board to a position of victory.  This requires focus and the ability to strategize – analyze a situation and act methodically to achieve a desired goal.

An intriguing factor about chess is how its principles are applicable to real life situations.  If a person wants to be successful in life they must be able to strategize, meaning they must be able to plan a course of action to achieve their goal.  Furthermore, they must be able to maintain focus to follow through with their plan to fruition.

There is a saying in chess: “Think b4 you move.” Such is the case with life.  It is necessary to think about whatever it is you intend to do, taking into consideration both the best course of action to take and the potential consequences.  In chess a bad decision (move) can lead to checkmate.  Likewise, making a bad decision in life can lead to failure, which is a checkmate of sorts, if they don’t learn from their mistakes and make better moves (decisions).

The reasons people play chess vary.  Some play simply for the enjoyment of it and others as an occupational sport.  Then there are those who play chess for mental conditioning.  Playing chess relies on memory, the ability to calculate sequences of moves, and the recognition of patterns all of this is relatable to real life situations, from social interaction to operating a business. 

Some of the world’s most successful people play chess and have employed its principles in their lives.  Even parents and teachers introduce children to the game of chess for the purpose of developing analytical and problem solving skills that will enable them to have successful futures.

Chess grandmaster Dr. John Nun said, “Simply put, chess is a beautiful game. For all of the supposed complexity of chess, the geometry is simple and elegant.  A well-played game has a certain crispness about it.  Simply seeing a good move on a board can give chess players pleasure.  It is a glorious feeling to play a great game flowing from start to finish.”  This is why chess is so popular. 

We have this chess class going on here.  Though everyone in it knows how to play chess, the class has created an opportunity for us to get a more comprehensive knowledge of the game.  It has also given us a deeper appreciation of chess we have been playing chess more lately especially with the pending chess tournament.  What was once on occasional pastime is now a daily routine.  Not a day goes by without multiple games of chess being played “think b4 you move,” is a principle of chess that can be used in our daily lives.  Chess isn’t just a game; it’s a way of life.


Rodney Taylor
Copyright © 2014 by Rodney Taylor

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Protocol and Tradition


Prison life can be like running on a treadmill; you’re moving fast, but not moving forward.  Life on the row is more like waiting at a bus stop for transportation that has been detoured without your knowledge. 

How long is patience?  Some may be slow to take the initiative of walking toward their destination.  Maybe the traditional means of getting there is more suitable for them.

Negativity hovers the Unit 3 concrete enclosure the way a bus stop awning veils potential passengers.  Standing still beneath either of the two requires some degree of patience.  Standing still can fester the frustration of not knowing, and lead to the passengers rumbling their displeasures to any and all who choose to stand still alongside them.  

Within their expressions of unrest and dissatisfaction, there lies contempt for the passenger making the cognitive transformation to proceed in the direction of where he/she desires to go – without the use of the traditional assistance of getting there.

For years I have been corralled by the antipathy spawned by passengers choosing to manipulate penitentiary protocols – imposing their will on those complacent with waiting on progress, rather than making it.  

The protocol which sanctions panucronium bromide to violate the veins of humans, seems to be less of a priority when the abhorrent sights are set on the few who chose to trust their inner navigational systems to get where they need to be.

“I remember using every ounce of my strength to try to move.  The surgery went on for hours.  It was worse than death.” This was the testimony of Carol Weihrer, who underwent eye surgery in 1998.  

Panucronium bromide was administered to immobilize the eye, at the same time as anesthesia.  The anesthesia was less than effective.  “It was terrifying and torturous.  I could not communicate that I was awake.”

Ironically enough, the description Carol gives of her medical procedure mimics a state sanctioned execution protocol.  The tradition of capital punishment in America, has employed the services of panucronium bromide since 1977.  

In 2001, it became a crime for veterinarians in Tennessee to administer this same drug, to euthanize pets.  This ongoing ritual of capital punishment feeds the hate dwelling within our society, and also perpetuates a protocol for human torment, when it is considered to be inhumane for animals.  How humane is that?

I find complacency with timeless patience to be self-effacing when your life is the ultimate price.  I choose to break tradition and proceed without regrets.  I am moving toward a new tradition that is conducive to the psyche of the death row prisoner.  

Standing still will not defend you from death; it simplifies the task of bringing it to fruition.  The W2TM chronicles are the protocol for breaking this tradition.  Word is bond!

“Traditions are not sent from heaven, they are not sent from God.  It is we who make cultures and we have the right to change it, and we should change it.”
Malala Yousafzai
Nobel Peace Prize Recipient

Still Livin,'

Copyright © 2014 by Leroy Elwood Mann