Seeking Reconciliation From Death Row
My name is Michael Ross. I am a condemned man on Connecticut's death row. When most people think of death row inmates, I'm the one that they think of. I'm the worst of the worst, a man who has raped and murdered eight women, assaulted several others, and stalked and frightened many more. And when I am finally executed, the vast majority of the people of this state will celebrate my death. Sometimes, when I close my eyes, I can see the hundreds of people who will gather outside the prison gates on the night of my execution. I can see them waving placards, drinking and rejoicing, and I can hear their cheers as my death is officially announced.I have lived here on Connecticut's death row for over eight and a half years now. I live in an eight-by-ten foot unpainted concrete cell for 23 hours a day -- 24 hours a day on weekends. I come out for an hour of "recreation" five days a week. Other than that, the only other time that I come out is for a 15-minute shower five days a week, and for the occasional visit (one-half hour, through glass, on a telephone). I eat all of my meals in my cell, brought to me in a styrofoam box three times a day. I live in a single cell, so I live alone -- and since I can only talk to the two people on either side of me I often feel quite alone.One of the results of this almost total isolation is that, after a while, a person is forced to look at himself. I'm not talking about the cursory, superficial manner in which most people look at themselves, but rather a quite painful, unrelenting search of one's very soul.Many inmates in prison, and many of those on death row, are able to lie convincingly to themselves, to see themselves as basically good people who are the innocent victims of a corrupt judicial system or of an unfair and uncaring society in general. Sometimes it is very difficult to honestly see ourselves as we truly are, and much easier to blame others as justification for our actions. I know this to be true because for years this is exactly what I did. During this period I was angry -- so very angry -- at everyone and everything except for the one person I should have been angry with -- myself. It took a very long time -- years in fact -- for this anger to subside and for me to begin to accept who I was and what I had become, and even longer before I was ready and willing to accept responsibility for my actions.Two things primarily led to this transformation. Much of the credit for the first goes to Dr. Fred Berlin, a psychiatrist from the Sexual Disorders Clinic at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. He diagnosed me as suffering from a paraphiliac mental disorder and was indispensable in my fight to get the Department of Correction to acknowledge my disorder and to treat it with the medication that I now receive. The drug -- DepoLupron -- clears my mind of the vile and noxious thoughts of rape and murder that plagued me for so long, and the drug eliminates the previously uncontrollable urges that drove me to commit the crimes that put me here on death row. That monster still lives in my head, but the medication has chained him and has banished him to the back of my mind. And while he is still able to mock me, he can no longer control me -- I control him; I am human again.You cannot begin to imagine what a milestone this was in my life. Try to imagine a time that a melody or some catchy tune got stuck in your mind, playing over and over and over again, driving you crazy. The harder that you try to push that tune out of your mind, the louder and more persistent it becomes. Now try to imagine that instead of a harmless yet annoying tune, you experience filthy and despicable urges, desires and fantasies of the degradation, rape and murder of innocent women. Day in and day out. They fill your thoughts and fantasies when you are awake. They are in your dreams when you sleep. Imagine trying to control the urges, day by day, hour by hour. And try to imagine the self-hatred, loathing and abhorrence that you develop toward yourself when you fail. If you can imagine this, then you will have only begun to understand what I have experienced, what I had to live with, what I had become. And only then will you begin to understand the true blessing that this medication was to me.But the medication was only part of the story of my personal transformation. It gave me back my mind -- a clear mind free of the malevolent thoughts and urges. And it allowed my humanity to awaken, giving me back something that I thought I had lost forever. But this was just the first step, and perhaps the easiest, for I didn't have to do anything -- the medication did it for me. Now began the more difficult part of my transformation, an examination of myselfÑa very profound, very painful, and ongoing examination.Now that my mind was clear, for the first time, I began to see -- really see. It was like a spotlight shining down on me, burning away the mist, exposing every shadow of my being. I began to see things as they really were. I began to see things I didn't like. And many of the things that I saw brought me great anguish.I saw how weak and afraid I really was -- I had always thought that I was strong and confident. I saw how I had allowed the monster in my mind to take control of me. I saw what I had become. And worst of all, for the first time, I saw the pain that I had brought to so many -- such great and unceasing pain.After my eyes were finally opened and I saw the truth of what I had become and what I had done, I began to feel things -- unpleasant, disturbing feelings. I began to feel the terrible agony and distress that I had brought to so many: my victims, the families and friends of my victims, my own family. And I also began to feel the awesome weight of my responsibility for my actions and of my responsibility to the people that I have harmed. And, finally, I felt a profound sense of guilt. An intense, overwhelming and pervasive guilt that surrounds my very soul with dark, tormented clouds filled with a mixture of self-hatred, remorse, regrets, and sorrow. All of which leaves me with a deep desire to make amends and achieve reconciliation -- something which under the circumstances seems all but impossible.Yet it is this sense of reconciliation that I yearn for the most. Reconciliation with the spirit of my victims. Reconciliation with the families and friends of my victims. And finally, reconciliation with myself and my God. This will be the final part of my transformation and undoubtedly the most difficult part.I am fortunate to have a good friend and guide for this part of my journey. Reverend John Gilmartin, a member of a group called Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation, who drives a six-hour round trip to see me once a month. I have travelled a great distance and have gone through quite a transformation since that day when I first set foot on death row -- most of it alone. And I am very grateful and thankful for the help that Reverend Gilmartin has given me over the past 18 months. With his help, and if it is God's will, I will achieve the reconciliation that I so desire, and hopefully complete my transformation into one who is worthy of redemption and forgiveness. My journey is still far from over, but at least now I can see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. May God give me the strength, perseverance, and moral fortitude to complete my journey before I am finally executed.Author's note: If you wish to know more about this concept of victim-offender reconciliation, contact: Pat Bane, Director, Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation, P.O. Box 208; Atlantic, VA 23303-0208. Or call her at 804-824-0948. And please tell her that Michael Ross sent you.