Big Read: Inside death row; 'Dying is easy'

By Megan Palin

A look at life inside death row. Photo / iStock
A look at life inside death row. Photo / iStock

Charles 'Chuck' Thompson and his close circle of friends know how they are going to die.

But Thompson, 45, and his mates aren't psychics and they're not suffering terminal illnesses - they're inmates on death row.

"I have friends, some died, each year I loose um (sic)," Thompson told

"We share (and) treat each other like comrades - like soldiers would I guess."

Letters from death row. Photo /
Letters from death row. Photo /

The inmates or "friends" that Thompson, a double-murderer, refers to are a mixture of society's most depraved human beings: convicted serial killers, murderers and paedophiles.

But the tables have turned on them and they are now the ones condemned to death, the most severe punishment enforceable by law in the US.

Thompson is among a handful of inmates on death row in maximum security prisons throughout the USA who has corresponded exclusively with via a series of handwritten letters over several months to provide insight into the reality of awaiting execution.

Thompson was convicted and twice sentenced to death over the 1998 murders of his ex-girlfriend Dennise Hayslip, 39, and her new boyfriend Darren Keith Cain, 30. He later threatened to have the state's witnesses assassinated from behind bars.
"It's all a blur really," Thompson told of committing the murders.

Charles "Chuck" Thompson is on death row in Texas for double murder. Picture / Supplied
Charles "Chuck" Thompson is on death row in Texas for double murder. Picture / Supplied

"I feel remorse yes. I never wanted this to happen."

Thompson has been on death row on death row in Livingston, about 120 kms northeast of Houston, Texas for 17.5 years but said he doesn't fear death.

"I do not worry about death, dying is easy ... you lay down, get a shot and go to sleep." Thompson told

"I fully 100 per cent understand the whole execution process. It is very sterile, like a medical procedure.

"I do not think about getting killed but I have had the dream all of us do: snake bite, injected, held down electrocuted.

"It's living in this conundrum in an enigma that's hard."

Thompson lives out his days locked in an 8x10 "bland, no frills, cement, steal-cold cell". The cell is painted white and fitted out with just the bare essentials including a toilet and sink, a desk mounted to a wall and a "bunk along the back wall".

The inmates are only allowed out of their cells to roam controlled sections of the prison grounds for about two hours every few days, according to Thompson.

"Nothing is provided to us but jumpsuit, boxers, sock (sic), state shoes," he said.

According to Thompson, inmates start each day bright and early on death row.

"This place comes alive at 5.20am & shuts down 11pm," he wrote.

"So I will get up after my morning show(s), maybe a movie - super natural ... read write letters. Work on appeal, case networking fund raising."

Like many criminals, Thompson claims he is innocent, and spends a considerable amount of time working on appeals.

There's not much else to do on death row.

"I spend my days reading - Ready Player One (is) the best book I've read in years - or listening to TV on radio," Thompson told

"Death row has no TV's to watch. But we can listen and DO! I like GRIM. Love my sci fi horror shows. Before grim (sic) it was Smallville."

"I follow the usual guy stuff."

Items can be purchased from the prison shop. Some of the most popular items include a radio ($20), fan ($22) and a night light ($10). Thompson has his eye on a $225 typewriter.

While the "state food sucks (because it has) no taste (and) no type of preparation put into it"

"Commissary is a must we live on it," Thompson wrote.

Thompson said he wasn't scared of being locked up with some of America's most dangerous criminals.

"Some are mellow, a few are hard headed (and) will never learn," he said of his fellow death row inmates.

"Some have the same old issues problems that led them to coming here; scams, conman ways, "GAME" hustlers, players.

"In general they are (a) laid back motley crew - very diverse."

Thompson said the only thing he feared was "God".

"As a believer, I fear nothing on two legs," he wrote.

"I believe we go before our maker and get judged - most go to heaven (when they die)."

Thompson doesn't believe that he will be executed, despite being handed down the sentence twice following an appeal.

"I do not believe that I'll be killed," he said.

"I do not accept it as my fate nor reality. Odd as it sounds, I work my behind off and really believe I will make it off death row."

Thompson's execution date has not yet been set.

Most of the inmates who are given the death penalty spend decades on death row until all of their avenues of appeal are exhausted and they are ultimately executed.

The primary method used to put inmates to death in the US is lethal injection. In some states, a minority are electrocuted via an electric chair, gas chamber of firing squad if the drugs required for lethal injection are unavailable, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Rick Rhoades is on death row for murder. Source / Supplied
Rick Rhoades is on death row for murder. Source / Supplied

Rick Rhodes

Convicted killer Rick Rhoades, 51, is on death row in Livingston, Texas, for the sickening double murder of two brothers.

Rhoades entered the home of the men while they slept and bludgeoned them to death with a steel bar and a butcher knife before robbing one of them on September 13, 1991.

"I've been in here over 24 years now," Rhoades wrote to from death row.

There's no computer or internet access on death row but many of the inmates, including Rhoades, are registered on a website for American-based prisoners looking for friendship, penpals and even love.

"The internet and usage is a little unknown to me. I know I'm on the internet some from people who have told me," Rhoades said.

"I've had the bad boy mentality for most of my life but I'm reformed ... or at the least, I'm on the road to a softer version.

"Some days are dark and heavy and I've grown lonely and tired of the months and years of solitude.

"I like sports and I'm a voracious reader ... I live in almost total isolation, but I'm still mentally and physically fit."

Several of the death row inmates who corresponded with revealed that they are often contacted by "love interests", despite having murdered former girlfriends, wives and the new partners of ex-lovers.

As of January 21 this year, there were 2943 inmates on death row in the U.S.

Convicted killer Bryan Hall is on death row. Source / Supplied
Convicted killer Bryan Hall is on death row. Source / Supplied

Bryan Hall

What happens to us when we die?

That's a question which plagues the mind of convicted killer and death row inmate Bryan Hall every day.

Hall was convicted over the brutal murder of his former friend Brad Flamm who he tortured and mutilated at Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas, in 2009.

A jury heard that Hall pummelled Mr Flamm with his fists, strangled him with a necktie, beat him in the head with a rock and paint bucket and slit his throat twice. He then hid the victim's body under bushes near loading docks.

Local media reported that Hall "passed a grim look to family and friends, then shook his head up and down" upon being sentenced to death.

"I spent four years in County jail waiting for trial and the rest of the time I have been here on death row (in Ely State Prison, Nevada)," Hall told

"My first nine months was spent in solitary confinement. They do this, they say, to ensure that I wouldn't be a trouble maker."

Hall said he was then "formally introduced" to death row and "placed in a group of 12 that comes out together for a couple of hours a day".

"Now that my daily routine has been established ... I wrestle with constant remorse for making so many mistakes in life," he wrote.

"I have spent considerable time tracing back through my life's timeline attempting to figure out where and why it all went wrong."

Hall is a father to two young girls who he has left to grow up knowing that the person who brought them into the world is also a murderer.

"I have two young daughters who I'm still "Daddy" to," Hall wrote.

"So I do my all to remain an active part of their lives."

Prosecutors described the killer as having a "violent jealous streak" but Hall told that death row has "awakened a spiritual hunger within (him)".

He said he passes the time in his cell reading books to ponder some of life's biggest questions, including; "what happens to us when we die? Is there a purpose for our individual lives in this world? (And) Who/what is God?"

Hall's execution date has not yet been set but chances are he might have an answer to his questions sooner, rather than later.


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