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Living in a Castle

Updated: Jul 9, 2021

The Reconstruction Act of 1867 compelled southern states to rewrite their constitutions. North Carolina legislators mandated the construction of a penitentiary. In 1869 the prison started to build itself by the very prisoners who would first be housed here. Arriving in 1870, five hundred thirty three men started construction on a set of temporary cells made out of pine timbers. By 1872 state authorities began “leasing” most of North Carolina’s prisoners (some of which were slaves) to private industries. A “farm” was opened too, the first of its kind in the nation. By 1884 prisoners had constructed what was described as a “magnificent castle”. It was modeled after a prison in New York that was condemned as outmoded 14 years earlier by the American Prison Association.

The grounds on which this “magnificent castle” was built is where I have been held captive since 1999. In 2003 I was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to Death.

Almost all of this prison has been reconstructed over the years, but several of the original stone walls and guard towers (turrets) are still standing. Two sides of Death Row’s recreation yard are made up of these huge stone walls, so I can literally touch them and know the same feel of the same material that the first prisoners here knew as early as 1870. The feeling of age and sense of misery in the stone is palpable.

784 recorded executions were carried out here before 1976, and the 42 since do not completely account for that sense of misery. Natural deaths, suicides, and even murders inside these walls contribute to it, but I think most of it comes from the sheer loss of “life” and feeling of helplessness that inhabits every aspect of existence here. The disregard of the staff, abandonment of family and friends, betrayal of the attorneys paid to “represent” you and the empty promises of help all lend to it.

Hope is your worst enemy. It arrives when you are told, or led to believe, that you are loved and cared for, that there is good in the world, and forgiveness even. I don’t hope anymore.

What I haven’t done yet though is give up. Why, I can’t really say.

Recently, the one person who said she saw me commit the act that put me here came back after over 20 years and admitted that she lied. Not only that she lied, but that she had been lied to and coerced into falsely testifying against me are the very people who swore oaths to protect her and myself from that same thing. Not only that, but when she reached out to my own attorneys for help in coming forward to “expose the truth” they ignored her and me. I reached out to a Superior Court Judge, the N. C. Bar Association, and numerous so called Innocence Clinics with the only response being from the Bar telling me to take my own attorneys to court so it could make a decision they could then consider. She reached out to numerous other organizations, judges, and the Appellate Defender’s Office, with the only response coming from the latter telling her to contact my attorneys.

The person you would think the least likely to help me, bravely came forth after all this time to do just that, and not one person in a position to do so, cared enough to act. She died of an overdose after reaching out to my attorneys yet again and still no response from them.

When will enough be enough? How much does it take? Is there no accountability? Is there anyone out there who can show me that Vanessa’s last attempt to do something good with her life means something?

I still have a Death Sentence. I am still trying to have an appeal heard in which my attorneys tell me that I have no say in. Well, if I have no say then whose interests are they representing? It must be the State’s since that is where the checks come from.


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