Home Page

About Me

About the author


To Order


Photo Page

A Jamaican hell

'A Passage Through The Valley Of Death'

Written by Dawn Vaz-Green



  “Boy yuh fi dead yuh know,” the warder’s voice bellowed from across the room. It brought me temporarily back to reality.  Slowly the nightmare dawned on me – I was sentenced to die.  I could not believe after so many years out in the free world that I would end up on death row. It was like I was going out of my head.  How was it possible for fate to lead me to such a sordid end after giving me a glance of the glitter and glamour of the good life?  I was only nineteen.  My whole life should have been before me.  The pain was not in my head.  It was in my heart, spreading like blood through my veins, through my entire body.  It consumed me.  I felt dead already.  They were going to hang a dead man.


My first evening on death row was like a dream.  It was like I didn’t know myself.  I felt like a dead man waking up in a coffin. The guards came to me and said “Boy, yuh know sey a death row yuh deh pon?  Tek off yuh clothes.”  It was scary.  I had never felt so alone and afraid in my entire life.  I took my clothes off and they took them away.  They gave me some condemned clothes.  The shirt was made out of flour bags.  The flour hadn’t been fully washed out of the clothes.  When I put it on, I could feel the stickiness inside and immediately some flies started to stalk me.  I feared that a previous death row inmate, a man now gone from this earth, had already worn the pants.  What had been his crime, I wondered? How did he face his fate? I didn’t want to put them on but I had no choice; I had to put them on.  They took away my underpants, my shoes and my socks. They even took away my rag.  I felt... I felt... I felt naked. I felt like I was not a human being. 

   “Boy, yuh nuh know sey yuh fi trim? Go bathe” he said, prodding me with his baton.    The second warder looked at me as if I was some soiled discarded rag.  They pushed me into a filthy bathroom where I was forced to wash while they waited.  Stepping out of the shower, I looked down at the grey wash water sliding down the slimy gutter... it reminded me of my life.


One guard took up a pair of scissors and started to trim me.  Before coming on death row my hair had grown long because I hadn’t trimmed since my incarceration.  He jammed the scissors through my hair with a vengeance, purposely leaving some patches high, while digging the scissors into the scalp, leaving other areas bare and low like a cornfield after a hurricane season.  Even without seeing it, when I felt my head, it felt like a worn down shoe brush. That didn’t help my dismal mood.  I was scared; I didn’t know what to expect.  After they trimmed me, they photographed me front ways, sideways to the left and sideways to the right.  They gave me a number and then they took my fingerprints.  That whole time they kept questioning me. Questioning me about my mother and my family.  During the questioning, it’s like I didn’t know myself.  I couldn’t understand... I couldn’t fathom where I was and how I had reached where I was.  But somewhere deep inside me I reached for something to hold onto – some kind of faith that could hold me.  I remembered a faith from a long time ago, a life long ago, a faith from my grandmother, Miss T.  A faith that held, “while there is breath, there is hope irrespective of how grim the outlook.”  I couldn’t let that faith die.  That faith was in God.  I think that, if I didn’t remember God at that time, I would have gone off of my head and probably become an insane person.  But I stuck to the God I remembered from my grandmother during that time, as I held on to whatever time was left of my life. “Everyone knows God,” I thought, “when their life is on the line... pity... maybe too late.”  I still hoped.  I didn’t want to die. 


They took me from the reception area to the cellblock.  On my way to the cellblock I heard other inmates shouting, “Some new man come, some new man come! Some man get death sentence an come.”  Some were saying, “yuh know dem?”  Others were saying, “Yeah man.  Me an dem did deh a G.P. (General Penitentiary) together, at G.P. and remand together.” 


They carried me to the worse part of the prison, the maximum-security section of the Spanish Town District prison, which is called Gibraltar.  I was taken to Gibraltar three and placed in a cell by myself.  I was placed behind a cell with a heavy board door. When the guards pulled the cell door, put me inside and locked down the cell, it was like I wanted to run.  I wanted to run and never stop but there was nowhere to run.  There was no window, no light, only high dark walls that I could touch but not see. The walls felt cold and rough; they threatened to suffocate me.  After my eyes grew accustomed to the darkness I made out a small air vent high above.  I felt like a rat in a very small cage.


In the cell I paced around like a wild animal.  In clear moments, I wondered whether I could come out of a place like this.  I wondered how I had gotten into this mess, what dark path had led to my downfall.  I was truly between a rock and a very hard place.  This dismal cage that was to be my home until my death was not even as comfortable as a hog’s stall.  I didn’t know where to look for help.  I wondered if God himself had forgotten about me.  I was confused, I was desperate, I felt like I was floating in an abyss of black fog... just me....alone in the darkness.