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  • About Jack Strickland

    Jack Strickland is a retired AP writer who was nominated by our newspaper for The Pulitzer Prize. His writing about Florida prisons, cancer victims, sports, and just plain folks is a special treasury for readers. He is active in the war against cancer. He, himself, is a survivor. As a reporter he covered many of the major stories in Florida. He lives in Gainesville where he is an advocate for cancer patients of all ages. Jack finds special joy in getting sports stars and teams involved in the care young cancer victims. He claims that the athletes benefit from the involvement as much as the patients. He says he managed to miss many tackles as a football player long ago, and learned that defeat can be temporary and serve as the foundation for success.
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    Jack Strickland's Florida Tales...

    Ariel Castro would have eventually been killed under ‘Convicts’ Code of Ethics’

    September 06, 2013

    Statewide

    By Jack Strickland

    Ariel Castro is dead.

    The 53-year-old Ohio man convicted of kidnapping, rape, and murder reportedly hanged himself in his prison cell. A month ago Castro’s lawyers helped him fight for his life in a Cleveland, Ohio, courtroom in a successful effort to avoid a death sentence. 

    Castro accepted a negotiated plea bargain that took the death penalty off the table. To avoid Death Row, in return for his plea of guilty to 937 serious criminal charges, the State of Ohio agreed to sentence him to life plus 1000 years in the state penitentiary. The sentence specified that he would never be eligible for parole or release from prison in any fashion. 

    Castro reportedly used his bed sheet to hang himself in his “protective confinement” cell at the Ohio prison reception center.

    Protective custody isolates prisoners who may be attacked by other prisoners. For his safety, Castro was kept in solitary confinement without any physical contact with other prisoners. Because of his horrific crimes against young girls, he was marked for death by by other prisoners. They would have killed him at the first opportunity.

    Longtime prisoners live by an unwritten code of honor. It is sometimes called “The Convicts’ Code of Ethics.” Prisoners who are in violation of that code are routinely killed by fellow prisoners. Rapists, prisoners convicted of abusing children or women, judges, policemen, and prosecutors who land in prison are routinely singled out for convict vigilante justice in major maximum security prisons.

    Prisoners can’t hide

    Other than protective custody in isolated solitary confinement there is nowhere for a prisoner to safely hide from “convict justice.” Castro apparently discovered that harsh reality shortly after arriving at the penitentiary. He hanged himself less than a month after he was delivered to the state prison.

    Castro was sentenced for kidnapping three young girls. He pled guilty to to holding them for more than 10 years in isolation where they were frequently chained to the wall and raped. He stood convicted of murdering the unborn children of one of the girls. His sentencing Judge called him a monster who had no place in society. Apparently there was no place for him in the penitentiary, either.

    Timothy J McGinty, the prosecutor who crafted Castro’s plea bargain sentence in behalf of the state of Ohio, issued a statement after Castro was found dead, hanging in his prison cell. He said, “These degenerate molesters are cowards. This man couldn’t take for even a month a small portion of what he had dished out for more than a decade.”

    Realities of prison life

    McGinty may have missed the point. Castro seemed to thrive in solitary confinement under similar restricted creature comforts at the county jail while he was awaiting trial. He made no known attempts to commit suicide while he was there.

    The prisoners at the reception center where he was delivered to start serving his sentence would have introduced Castro to the the realities of prison life. They would have made it clear to him that he faced certain death. It was probably this introduction to the “Convicts’ Code of Ethics” that motivated him to hang himself.

    Few long term prisoners survive the condemnation of their fellow prisoners. John Erler and Howard Piccott are two Florida prisoners who did.

    Erler, “The Catch Me Killer,” was a policeman who was sentenced to 99.5 years in prison after a jury convicted him of raping and murdering a 12-year- old girl. He also shot the girl’s mother five times in the head. She survived and testified against him at trial. He was marked for death at the hands of prisoners when he arrived at the East Unit of Florida’s maximum security prison at Raiford.

    Pleaded with the warden

    Initially, he was placed in protective custody in a solidarity confinement cell. Prisoners delivered his meals. His trays would arrive topped with human feces as prisoners took turns “taking a dump” on his food. Prisoners would throw cups of urine on him each time they passed his cell. He pleaded with the warden, James Tompkins, to release him into open population so he could fight for his life. Tompkins granted his request.

    There were several attempts on his life. An attack by several prisoners wielding a two by four broke his teeth. He survived other assaults from inmates armed with lead pipes and homemade prison knives called “shanks.”

    Erler was a a decorated Vietnam war hero and green beret. His military training enabled him to defend himself and survive. He ultimately earned the respect of his fellow prisoners who gave him a pardon from the “Convicts’ Code of Ethics.” He was released from prison on parole after serving 10 years of the sentence.

    Famous composer saved him

    Piccott was convicted of molesting a 9-year-old girl. He was sentenced to death and sent to Florida’s Death Row. The pardon board commuted his sentence to life without parole after Richard Rodgers, of Rodgers and Hammerstein fame, went to bat for him.

    Rodgers convinced the pardon board that Piccott was a musical genius whose life should be preserved. Piccott was released from Death Row into open prison population where he faced what was expected to be a certain death from fellow prisoners.

    Some “solid convicts” who became acquainted with Piccott while he was on Death Row stood up for him and protected him. He became on of the more popular and respected prisoners at Raiford. He served out his prison sentence and died of natural causes while in prison.

    Castro’s death has drawn very little sympathy. One broadcaster pointed out that it is costly to keep a person in prison. Using Castro’s projected life expectancy, he calculated that Castro saved the people of Ohio $780,000 by his early demise.

    Suicides not uncommon in Ohio prisons

    The broadcaster thanked Castro for the public service he provided when he ended his life. He suggested that all prisoners be issued hangman’s nooses with instructions on how to use them in order to make suicide easier.

    Suicides are not uncommon in Ohio prisons. On Aug. 4, Death Row inmate Billy Slade beat the executioner when he committed suicide a few days before the state was scheduled to put him to death on Death Row.

    Life is cheap in all prisons. Ariel Castro must have learned that death is brutal and certain when you are in prison and in violation of “The Convict’s Code of Ethics.”  To Castro, hanging himself must have appeared to be his best option and the easy way out.