Breaking Death Penalty News


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Souls to be Fed


Recently, lawmakers of Salt Lake City, Utah proposed a bill that would reinstitute the firing squad as a solution to debates pertaining to the lethal injection cocktail.  

The ongoing litigation stemming from the lethal injection protocol is obviously getting the best of some chosen political leaders.  The facts exposing the misuse of capital punishment in this country are irrelevant when the blood lust for euthanizing a death row prisoner is at stake.  Give the people what they want, right?

Well, as a republican representative of the people anxious for state sanctioned murder, Paul Ray argues that a team of trained marksmen is faster and more humane that the drawn-out deaths involved when lethal injections go awry (e.g. Oklahoma and Arizona).  SMH.  Ideas must be bulletproof because that is one that should have been shot down long before it transitioned into words leaving the mouth of a state representative.

It is this type of closed-mindedness that often leads to the popular perception of death row prisoners being no more than soulless bodies awaiting the “justice” that will release them from their own misery.  This is why writing this particular article is somewhat equivalent to making the arsonist the fire chief.  

You see my current placement on North Carolina’s death row qualifies me as one of those “soulless bodies” anticipating a “humane” expiration by the hands of the state.  But I represent a demographic of death row prisoners maintaining famished souls – seeking nourishment through the platform of learning chess. 

Just follow my lead:
On 3/16/15, chess master, Mr. Eugene Brown returned to domicile of North Carolina’s so called “worst of the worst.” Not only did he bring masterful chess maneuvers and inspiring stories about his recent teachings at Howard University, he was accompanied by Revrend Reggie Longcrier, author of “From Disgrace to Dignity.” 

It’s a memoir about the life of a street hustler that refused to accept the cancellations created by anyone other than himself.  The good reverend makes it crystal-clear that cancellations have no place in a spirit-filled existence.

“Changes override cancellations.  You can’t let people tell you that there are cancellations in your life.  Only changes will be made.” Somehow, I can see myself in these cool “old-heads.” Two ex-offenders who got it together; figured it out and now relate so well with those who currently combat the desolate rooted with incarceration.  

The actions of these men are far from being gratuitous, while emblematic of their wisdom indoctrinating hope into the minds of future Lifers, as well as ex-offenders like themselves.

Mr. Eugene Brown speaks what I feel:  “Brothers leave the prison and never give anything back.” He even refers to his interactions with us as his “journey.” It is rare for a volunteer to engage so closely with death row prisoners. Whenever he takes a seat across the board from one of our chess representatives, the silence of the room screams a harmonious pitch that proves to be therapeutic for the volunteers and the prisoners alike.

A stalemate, resignation or checkmate is secondary to the feast enabling our souls to swell with the aspirations of becoming something more than a ward unable to see past the revolving doors of recidivism.  Every eye within that conference room collaborates in witnessing the history at hand.

“I want to talk to people that lived the life I lived.” Rev. Longcrier has an unmistaken affinity with death row prisoners.  In his early years of “doing time” he was mentored by prisoners released from the “death house.” The reverend’s words are my interpretation of giving the people what they want.  Someone’s great idea that remains bulletproof.  Let the fire burn!

Keepin it 100,

Copyright © 2015 by Leroy Elwood Mann

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Voices from the Row: A Word From the Wise

Mentor: A wise and trusted counselor or teacher.
American Heritage College Dictionary

In 2015 W2TM will be the reflection of men taking care of business by reaching out to the future.  Leadership should not be predicated on a spotlight’s center, or who stands at the podium.  

To lead means to teach.  Illuminating minds can transpire in the settings of a classroom, bus stop, hospital bed or a correspondence from a death row prison cell.

Too many times I have witnessed a man’s pride impede the progression of his teachings.  For some, teaching works hand-in-hand with learning; a teacher is a student as well.  For others, teaching can be a one-sided experience; head of the table and slicing the meat.  Otherwise, they will have no part in the feast at hand.

Throughout the course of time, youth has been synonymous with ignorance or misdirection.  As we look into these modern times it is apparent that these particular labels are not exclusive to the up and coming generations.  Today’s “elders” have proven on various occasions the actions which display ignorance and misdirection are not solely attributed to the early years of human existence.  

Callowness can last for a lifetime.  Therefore, the trusted counselors must step forth despite the inconvenience or belittlement of their present circumstance.  Whether it’s cutting meat at a supermarket; dispelling trash from the back of a garbage truck; standing in the midst of a snow laden prison rec yard; or assembling the podium for a selected leader.  Mentoring is essential to the furtherance of societal development.

John D. McNeil has endured the threat of North Carolina’s poisonous cocktail for nearly a quarter of a century.  He is the fixture of reliability within our death row community.  A comrade who has exercised mentorship on both sides of the wall, his words of enlightenment paint a clear picture of why a death row prisoner should not be excluded from the future construction of a free society’s landscape.

Always 100,

Copyright © 2015 by Leroy Elwood Mann

A Word From the Wise

In many families, both parents hold down jobs trying to keep up with the familial needs, house, car, and many other things.  

Parents tend to be so busy with their jobs or careers; it is too easy to overlook the fact that their children should be their top priority.  

They think giving a child money and gifts is a quick fix.  Children want love, attention, support and encouragement from their parents.  When they are deprived of this, it shows in their behavior.

When they don’t get their parents’ attention, children have been known to journey into unfamiliar places.  This is why it is important to establish a trustworthy friendship between yourself and the youngster through letters or conversation. 

When I get the opportunity to speak with a youngster who has turned from “the way,” I try to do my best to share my life experiences and how I wouldn’t want any of them to travel that path.

I tell them the truth and importance of getting a quality education.  Always encourage them to do their best and allow them to make decisions on their own.  Remember, a youngster mimics what he/she is close to. 

Sometimes mentors are the guiding force in shaping your child’s thoughts and moral standards.  If not, we have become the primary influence in the life of a youngster.  It means a lot to me when I’ve made a difference in the life of a child.

Peace and Blessings,

John D. McNeil
Copyright © 2015 by John D. McNeil

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Fear of Acceptance Volume 1

“Leroy Mann, I am giving you a direct order to push that buggy up the tunnel.”

It was June of 2002.  Most of the Unit 2’s death row occupancy had been transported to the much heralded $20 million facility, known as Unit 3.  

I was living on E-block at the time, and we were the last of the death row residency to be hauled into this pristine box of an existence.

For months I read about this “state of the art containment unit” in the newspapers.  It drew such a high degree of media coverage; some inmates convinced themselves the state’s intentions worked in favor of the death row prisoner.  Prior to the mass exodus from Unit 2, I overheard one inmate asking the unit manager, “how much longer before we go home?” Home?  This is what it’s come to?  The lair of your captors has subjugated your mental to conceive this unjustly placement as home.

This inquiry of defeatism tickled the unit manager similar to the way a skipper enjoys watching the fish jump out of the water and into his boat; if the fish are clueless to its new environment, it simply makes the skipper’s job that much easier.  These times have been tempestuous, and have put me down like a George Foreman right hook, but I’ll never lay face down on the canvas, and call it home.

“I’m not pushing that buggy.” The sergeant squinted her frog-like eyes at my anticipated defiance.  She knew this would be my responses before she volunteered me to push this trashcan dumpster – converted into a transport cart – for the personal property of the remaining E-block residents.

“Oh really?” Her tone indicated she took pleasure in my display of insubordination.  You see, once an officer resort to the term, “I am giving you a direct order,” you either comply, or you pay the $10 penalty that comes with inevitable time in “the Bing.” My mind was already set on the latter.

Moving to this new facility meant more than having a larger dayroom.  It means so much more than having our own canteen.  To me, this building represents the feather in the hats of politicians that want the public to believe there is a drastic need for the death penalty in this state.  This building is the embodiment of capital punishment weaving its way into acceptance.

The brief standoff between the sergeant and myself was interrupted by a male officer (the good cop).  “C’mon Leroy, just push the buggy so you won’t get in no more trouble man.” Trouble? That was the last thing going through my mind.  At that time, my thoughts were occupied with the retracing the steps of an 11 year old boy at Veteran’s Stadium in Philadelphia, standing stiff in the middle of a dark, dank jail cell – subjected to this same “good cop, bad cop” routine.

It was obvious the sergeant’s intent was to make an example of me.  In the weeks prior, she made it known that our Unit 2 lifestyle would not be tolerated in this new building.  She stressed boiling water or cooking our own food would trigger the fire alarm and sprinkler system.  Then there was the oversold hype about the security cameras.  Before the migration began, it was believed all movement was monitored; there was no privacy.  A closed door meant nothing.

“I ain’t pushing shit!”

Nuff Said...for now,

Copyright © 2015 by Leroy Elwood Mann

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Painfully Aware that Change is Seasonal

Painting by Lamar Whidbee

I continue to be amazed by the progression of W.O.R.D. to the Masses.  Reaching the five year anniversary is a monumental accomplishment.  

This labor of love and struggle against capital punishment by Leroy Elwood Mann, both humbles and inspires me.  His work has gained the support of prominent individuals in the fight against capital punishment.  

I always knew Leroy was capable of great things.  As the late Dr. Maya Angelou says, "When you know better, you do better." Leroy is living that reality everyday of his life.  Congratulations on five years Lump.  Keep pushing that pen.


Congratulations on 5 years W2TM!!


Changes in this world are as common as a Black Friday sale causing the “civilized” consumer to loose their wits.  As analogous as this may sound, the Black Friday shopping fits will probably NEVER change.  As these shoppers have remained true to their annual tradition, a monumental degree of change has transpired within these past 5 years. 

It’s no doubt I continue to be mesmerized by the sight of an orange-colored full moon gracing a 7:08 p.m. sky.  And yes, watching the sun set on my side of this compound remains essential.  Nature symbolizes change but it is the nature of a select few that seem to make the sunshine a little brighter on the men shaded by reproof.

2014 birthed events that embodies the ray of hope spreading across the gloomy horizon of North Carolina’s statuesque positioning on capital punishment:
  •      In late February, the Hidden Voices Foundation forged a union with our literary ensemble team FFLOW.  Together we paint a clear picture of how an entire society is merely 6 degrees of separation from capital punishment.
  •      Henry McCollum took giant steps from the row, to the streets after serving 30 years for a murder he did not commit.
  •      Chess King, Eugene Brown made himself to be an illuminating fixture in the low visibility of North Carolina’s basement; death row.  A place where hopelessness decimates the will to push forward, when the opposing army has you outnumbered.  Through the game of chess one thing is clear: the game doesn’t end until the KING can no longer make moves.  Ya heard?

I take pride in being a part of this embodiment of change.  At the same time, I am painfully aware that relations between young black men and law enforcement officers hasn’t changed much since the birth of the Civil Rights movement. 

While so much progress comes about in a place where men are sentenced to die, futures are atrophied by the fear behind a badge and the programmed racism that sparks a trigger finger, which inevitably precipitates the expiration of dreams.  Feel me?

More change arrived in the form of a website ( ), in which North Carolina’s death row displays a collective voice.  This is a groundbreaking experiment that should keep tele-ologists glued to the screens of their laptops. 

And, as they absorb the realness of our humanity, I am painfully aware that I have been locked up so long the birthday and Christmas cards become reruns.  The days behind this wall haven’t gotten any easier, but life has not been easy for the families of Troy Davis, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner either.  The struggle that parallels us is unchanging.

Five years I’ve been blogging!  Who knew?  Much has changed, but more remains the same.  I’m still wearing a red jumpsuit.  My Moms’ pretty smile remains untouchable and I still have yet to meet my grandseeds.  I am painfully aware that this is my life. 

However, my ever-growing support system has revealed the heart of change, and my life becomes more purposeful every time I pick up this pen.  December 18, 2014 was a heartfelt conclusion to a year’s worth of progression.  Much love to the staff of Hidden Voices for making that possible. 

A very special appreciation goes to my Editor-in-Chief, the amplifier to my microphone, Rochelle.  Your belief in my purpose has attributed to a cyber existence that is changing the general perception of capital punishment.  We’ve got 5 years in, and more change to come.  Expect the unexpected.

Copyright © 2015 by Leroy Elwood Mann