Ilan portrait

I was white trash,
just another junky that why they assigned me
a two-bit flunky

And I knew
At first glance
That I didn’t stand
Any kind of chance

That is part of a poem that Mark sent me almost 5 years ago.  It was soon after we began to correspondent and I interviewed him in Jail. I came upon this poem recently as I began to view the material I shot, as the film enters its post-production phase. It was while I was going through Mark letters, all carefully dated, that I noticed that almost 5 years have passed. “Death is in the air” Mark wrote in his last letter—“The sleeping giant has awakened.” He meant the recent movement on his case; the new judge that was recently assigned and the coming oral argument to be held in September.  He knows his appeal has almost no chance of success.  “In Texas,” Rick Halperin, an anti-death penalty activist and professor of History & Human Rights at Southern Methodist University, told me, “if you are given a death sentence, you are as good as dead. Only in very rare and isolated cases, mostly when there is DNA proof of innocence, can an inmate succeed in his appeals.” Mark confessed to his crimes from day one.

Change is in the air here too. As the long journey that I began five years ago is coming to yet one more station. A year ago, we began the Execution website as an attempt to start publicly to document the process I have been following in private. Mark began to write his weekly blogs. We began to focus on the many issues involving the death penalty and hate crimes. Our site has grown. What we originally conceived as focusing on Mark’s victims’ families has developed into regular coverage of hate crimes all over the world. It is out of this work that we began to document the rise of hate crime against Latinos and immigrants in this country. As our interests grew and developed, we began to feel that maybe the site was losing its focus and it has become difficult to do justice to all these issues under one roof.

As a result, we have decided to use our 1st year anniversary to refocus Execution Chronicles on Mark’s life on death row, his legal struggles to stay alive and the evolution of the film as it enters its post-production phase. We promised Mark to stay with him all the way till the end, filming around his execution, if and when it happens. Starting in September, we will post more and more scenes from the film as our editing progresses, as well as out-takes of material, that because of narrative constraints, have not found a suitable place in the film.

Simultaneously, we are committed to try to come up with a separate website dedicated to hate crimes.  We want to begin with a limited project focusing on immigration as it fuels right-wing rhetoric in this country. To this end, we have decided to launch our Border Project on Until September 11, we will dedicate that portion of that dealt with hate crimes (In Depth, Close Up, News and in part, Resources) to our Border Project. In the months that follow, we hope to raise the funds to develop an entire website that will feature grassroots reporting from both sides of the border.

So a journey that began in August 2004, with the first exchanges I had with Mark and his victims’ families, continues! I hope you will stay with us!


Ilan portrait

This blog of mine was going to be beautiful. I worked it all out. I was going to reflect on my filming visit last week to the excavations of Sephoris, an ancient Jewish, mixed city that flourished in the first centuries BCE (it was the Capital of Northern Israel because it did not adhere to the Jewish zealots who wanted it to join the futile rebellion against Rome. The cities that rebelled, like Jerusalem or Masada were destroyed and their inhabitants massacred. Instead, Sephoris signed a peace treaty with Rome and as a result, not only grew and expanded, but has also become a multi-cultural, tolerant city—Judaism’s most important spiritual center after the destruction of Jerusalem, and a home for early Christian groups and even Pagans. Pagan temples existed in Sephoris alongside churches and synagogues. I was going to reflect on the forgotten message of Sephoris, a city barely known outside academic circles or church-going crowds (it is only 10 minutes from Nazareth, by car) while Mesada, for example, has become a place visited by millions…a mere symbol.

As I drafted this meditative blog, I received Mark Stroman’s most recent blog. Since Mark is mailing his blogs (written by hand after his typewriter was taken away), they need first to be typed by his dedicated friend. The result is a short time delay.

After reading his blog, I have decided that some of my reflections can wait for another time. It is more urgent to publish this blog here, while in Mark’s regular space we keep publishing his blogs as they arrive (this week, for example, we publish his blog from June 22nd.)

The truth is that I am furious. We spent so much time on “Johnny Sacks meals” during a previous lockdown (in which Mark and other inmates lost so much weight) but obviously, we did not make a dent in the prison menu. Just a few months later and we are back fighting about the same thing. This peculiar diet, I do have to agree with Mark, is cruel and unusual punishment and as The New York  Times mentioned in a June 28th , 2009  editorial  it is also profitable.

Read below what Mark wrote and help us publicize it in the united States and abroad.

Death Blog

Texas Death Row

July 9, 2009  4:45am

Welcome to my nightmare,

Tales from a dead man

We are entering the fourth day of this lockdown and it’s for another yearly shakedown. The worst is yet to come folks. This is a place that smells of death, misery, sadness and it seems to only get worse as the days go by. We do have two executions set for the 16th and the 23rd of this month and what a helluva way to spend the final countdown on lockdown eating those dreadfull Johnny Sacks. Cruel and unusual punishment.

Each day you can look down the “run” and see dozens upon dozens of peanut butter ooz sandwiches, we can’t eat these things. This year you can’t even hold the bag without getting your hands greasy. This is wrong and here’s the menu for the last few days. You will notice from the blog I sent out  a few days ago, there had been prunes and raisins included, but that has come to a halt.

Meals fed on July 7th, Johnny Sacks:

3:36am  3 pancakes in a bag, cereal, raisins No drink

1:18pm  peanut butter ooz sandwich, fish mash sandwich, cereal No drink

4:25pm  peanut butter ooz sandwich, soy patty  No drink

Meals fed on July 8th, Johnny Sacks:

3:15am  3 pancakes in a bag, cereal  No drink

10:49am  burrito, raw potato, peanut butter ooz sandwich  No drink

4:24pm  2 corn dogs, peanut butter ooz sandwich  No drink

So you see, no fruits, no milks and trust me, these things I call peanut butter sandwiches are NOT the ones that come to mind or resemble any you have had in the past. NOT made by grandma. These are scattered all over the floors of every run on this pod. Wonder why?

Well folks, that’s about all for this session. I’ll close this out but will be back with more news of this lockdown.

True American

Mark Anthony Stroman

Living to Die ~ Dying to Live!