SURF'S UP: LIFE'S A GAS

MEET DEAN, CONDEMNED MAN AND NOW A NET COLUMNIST
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Indy Lifestyle Online
DEAN is no Samuel Pepys. Like many other Web writers, he fills his page with his daily routine: the people he meets, the conversations he has, the meals he eats, the clothes he wears. Dean, however, isn't actually on-line - he doesn't even have a computer. He's on Death Row.

An inmate of San Quentin prison, California, Dean responded to requests from a friend to write a regular "column" on the World Wide Web, in order to "give you an idea of just what it is like to wait to die." Although he is unwilling to write about his case in the column, and does not use it to campaign for his release, he claims that he is innocent.

In his first column, Dean worried about his ability to convey what life was like on Death Row. "The best I can do is talk about some of my experiences and observations and let you draw your own conclusions ... I can't help but be subjective ... The media says that more than 80 per cent of you support the death penalty so I will assume that most of you are not sympathetic towards me ... all I ask is that you keep an open mind."

The inmates of San Quentin spend their time in their four-by-10 foot cells, sleeping on thin slabs of metal. Food and drink are passed through letterbox-like slots in the cell doors. Most of the condemned are kept in East Block, "a cavernous, dark, loud and smelly building freezing cold in winter and stifling hot in summer".

The only release from the cell is for showering or yard exercise. Dean, however, no longer goes out for "yard movement". "At the end of the yard is the gas chamber, and sticking out of the chamber is the pipe used for venting the poison gas after an execution. I would catch myself staring at the pipe and wondering if it would someday be venting the gas used to execute me. It was soon after this that I decided I didn't really want to hang out in the yard any longer ..."

Writing from Death Row is a risky business. Dean sometimes drops off- line: "I couldn't write for a couple of months because my spare typewriter ribbons had disappeared. Ribbons are hard to get ... I will do this page as long as I can, but I have no doubts whatsoever that the prison will harass me for doing this. They do some really dirty things to people that they have a grudge with ... it isn't that I intend to try and portray anyone or anything in a false manner ... it isn't necessary, the truth is enough."

Dean's column can be read at http://monkey.hooked.net/monkey/m/hut/deadman/deadman.html. Dean's e-mail forwarding address: abennett@hooked.net.

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