Justice Or Revenge
A Date With Death
The Life And Times Of The Death Row Poet
A Tale of Guilt
By Ronald W. Clark Jr.
What is death but finality? What is life, but pain?
I understand both sides of the death penalty. So I’d like to share my thoughts, my views and my tormented tale, a tale of guilt, a tale of pain and a tale of sorrow beyond belief.
The story starts on early June of 1995. I was lying on my bunk in my 9X6…63 square foot cell, here at Union Correctional Institution, one of the two housing units for Florida’s Death Row, when the officer stepped in front of my cell, stating “mail call.” On queue, I rumbled off my name and number, “Clark #812974,” and he handed me a letter, as he continued down the hall. I looked at the return address, not recognizing the name. Connie Bowers. So I immediately pulled the staple out of the envelope, which the mailroom places in it after opening it and checking it for contraband. I extracted the letter from the envelop, unfolding it, I began to read it, as she told me a bit about herself and how she had moved from Ohio to Florida and had just recently separated. She ended the letter by stating, “I am not looking for romance or a young stud, but if you need a friend, I’m here.” I immediately sat down and wrote her.
Over the next several months, our letters flowed back and forth in a nice rhythm. We built a friendship like I had never had before. There was so much about my life that she couldn’t understand. One of those things was the relationship between my father and I. I explained to her that he and I had never had a father-son relationship; it was more like a friendship, a bad friendship. At the age of 6,7 or 8 I was able to sit on the tailgate of his ’64 El Camino and have a beer with him. He used to make me fight other kids, one in particular, he was a neighbor’s kid named Jack, who was about 3 years older than me.
My father went out of his way to make me though and mean, maybe because my mother was a lesbian and he feared his son would turn out gay.
I told Connie of a fight in the mid ‘70’s between my mother and father. They were fighting, both drunk, throwing blow for blow when my father jumped off the ground, saying, “I’m going to kill the bitch!” As he ran through the house, I ran behind him screaming and crying. When I reached the bedroom door, I saw him pull a shotgun down off the gun rack. I turned around and my mother was behind me. I stood in front of her crying, as my father stood before us with a 12 gauge shot gun, screaming, “Move Ronnie!” My stepmother was in the background screaming, “Please don’t Wayne!”
I don’t know if it was my tears of her screams that convinced him to let us leave, but she got out of there alive. It would be months before I, an 8-year-old kid, would chance another encounter with him. At 15 years old, I dropped out of school and started dealing drugs for my father. No curfews, most nights I wouldn’t even show up. I was selling drugs and hanging around with guys who were 10-15 years older than me. Connie couldn’t comprehend what kind of a father would allow this. Thus, she kept insisting on meeting him. I kept saying no. Sure he was my father, sure I loved him… but did not respect him, nor did I like him. He would show up once or twice a year for a visit, and as far as I was concerned, that was enough.
In late September of 1995, against my better judgment, I broke down and gave Connie his address and phone number. I heard they spoke on the phone quite a few times. They met and went out on several dates. I tried to tell her she could do better; she didn’t listen. In November of 1995, Connie was finally approved to visit, and she came to see me, bringing him along. By December of 1995, they moved in together, and in August of 1996 they were married.
That Summer I met a woman named Brandi from Texas. Her and I became really close, and in October of 1996, after months of writing about my case, for which I am under a sentence of death, Brandi came out and asked about getting me a lawyer. She asked me to check around and the name of Barnard Daily came up, an attorney out of Tallahassee. So Connie called him and told him about my case. He agreed to take the case for $44,000. I told Brandi and gave her Connie’s phone number. That night she called; Connie had to leave for work early, so my father answered the phone. I never shared anything with him, for he was on a “need to know” basis only, and as far as I was concerned he didn’t need to know anything when it came to me, for I didn’t feel any love from him. One time in the summer of ’96 I asked him in front of Connie, “Dad, how about coming up here once a week for a few hours just to get me out of this cage?” He said, “I ain’t coming up here every weekend.” I looked over at her, and she looked at him in disbelief. Another time over that summer, I received $20 from him. When Connie showed up for a visit, I sat down with her and said, “I love you but don’t ever make him do that again.” I don’t want him to do anything that he doesn’t want to do and I’ve only received money from him one other time under his name and that was $15 for my birthday in 1992, and he didn’t send it, my stepmother, Frances did. I said to Connie, “You send me money out of love, because you want to, not because you have to, so please, never again.” He never did it again.
But on that November night in 1996, he answered the phone and spoke with Brandi and found out that she was going to hire an attorney. I found out later that they spoke several other times over that week. Brandi never did speak with Connie. That next weekend Connie and my father showed up. We had a nice visit, but as they were leaving, he gave me a hug and said, “Son, no matter what happens, always know I love you.” I pulled back and looked at him, wondering what that was all about, but I could only watch as they left, for visiting hours were over. I would find out soon enough what that was all about. The next day at mail call, I laid back on my bunk and opened Brandi’s letter, and in her very first sentence, she stated “You sorry S.O.B.! Your father told me everything! How you and Connie are trying to con me out of my money.” I threw the letter down and I felt sick. I felt hot flashes running through me. No he wouldn’t!!! Sacrifice his own son!!! Let his first-born go to the electric chair, just so he could live more comfortably!!! NO!!! But he did. Love? This is love? I threw my locker at the door, how could he?!! I laid back on my bunk and the tears ran down my cheeks, it felt like someone was standing on my chest.
I tried to understand Why? Why would he do this? How could he do this? He knew that money would save my life. After a while I put it all together. The words he whispered in my ear. So I wrote Connie and said, “Please come see me this weekend, it is very important, and don’t bring that bum!” Then I sat down and wrote to Brandi, I said, “I don’t expect you to believe this, but everything he said to you is a lie.” I said, “Here I s what is fixin’ to happen… he is going to continue to call you and even write to you and send you photos, he is coming to Texas, and going to leave Connie, and try to get with you for the money. I know what you are thinking, no way a father would do this to his son, and abandon his own son on death row for financial gain.” I said, “Just wait and see.”
Connie showed up that weekend, and I told her what all had taken place. She was shocked, in total disbelief. She said, “How could he?” I responded, “He always has and always will put himself first. A loving father doesn’t put a beer in his little son’s hand; a loving father doesn’t put his 15-year-old son on the street, selling drugs for financial gain. He is a bum, he was a bum the day I was born, and he will be a bum until the day that I die.” She said, “That explains why he has been getting the Bronco ready, he is planning a trip to Texas.” She left out of the visitor park that day more confused than I have ever seen her. She left him in December of 1996 because of that. Brandi would send me a card with photos of him enclosed, wearing no shirt. Yep! He did exactly what I said he would do.
Her and I would correspond for a few more months. In late January of 1997, Connie would come in to visit. As we sat there, I asked her, “What did you do this week?” As she was telling me she said, “I went to Ferna…” and then she stopped mid-sentence. I finished it for her, “Fernandina.” She said yes. I said, “You are back with Dad?” She said, “Ronnie, you of all people should know what it’s like to be alone, and I don’t want to be alone.” I responded, “You can do better, he is a bum and he always will be.” She tried to justify his actions. I wouldn’t accept it. I told her I never wanted to see him again. She tried, oh how she tried, to get me to forgive him.
In mid-February of 1997, I for into a fight and went into disciplinary confinement (D.C.) there are no visits, only mail. So Connie and I wrote two or three times a week. I knew my father was looking at my letters, so in every letter, I would ask, “How’s the bum doing?” He wrote me a letter with blood on it and said, “You can’t deny that” with an arrow pointing to the blood. Connie told me, “Your dad is reading your mail and he gets upset when you call him a bum.” She wrote and said, “when you get off of D.C., I’ll be up there to get you out of the cage every weekend, I don’t care what your dad says.” I received that letter on March 26, 1997. I would receive another on March 27th or 28th. On March 31, 1997, at noon, I was doing a cell clean up, I had just swept my cell and the officer was standing there talking to me, when he asked, “Was that guy up in the Lake City newspaper last week related to you?” I said who and he replied, “Ronald Clark.” I asked, “Ronald Wayne Clark, Sr.?” He said “Yea.” I was backing away from my cell bars. I didn’t want to know. I knew I didn’t, but t came out, “What did he do?” When the officer responded, “He killed his wife.” NO.NO.NO.
I threw one punch and then another into the concrete wall. My chest hurt, my head hurt, I felt as if someone had just stomped my heart into the ground. Why did I give her his number? Why??? I might as well have killed her myself. I laid down on the bunk and cried and cried and cried until I couldn’t cry anymore. I hoped and prayed that someone would tell me it is not her, that it was a bad joke or a dream, or anything but the truth. I hated him! I wanted him dead! An eye for an eye!
I would later learn some of the accounts that lead up to it. They had gotten into an argument the morning of March 24, 1997. Neighbors would say that they heard her scream, “Please don’t Wayne!” as he chased her out of the house, shooting her with a 12-gauge shotgun. As she continued to try to escape, the coward shot her down in the front yard, laid the shotgun down, sat on the front porch, and waited for the cops to arrive.
Hearing those details of her pleading for her life, further infuriated me. I would lie in bed, thinking of how I could kill him. I would hurt to my soul, to the deepest part of my heart. I felt guilt, sorrow and pain like no one could feel, for I believed the bum murdered her because she spoke out against him about me. Maybe about him screwing up the change of getting a good lawyer.
The State Attorney was seeking the death penalty for him. At first I wanted him dead and would’ve killed him if given the chance. The more and more I thought about it, death was too easy. For he would be escaping his pain filled life, into the unknown. Escaping into a spiritual world of peace and tranquility? Escaping from the punishment that I want for him. The State Attorney would later offer a plea bargain, on part of Connie’s family, he would accept.
In November of 2000, he would be sentenced to spend the rest of his natural life in prison. I would later correspond with him. I started off that correspondence seeking the answer to one question I yearned to know…. why did he kill her? He would never reveal it to me. He said he didn’t remember any of it. Yet, he told homicide detectives years earlier that he killed her because she bad-mouthed his mother. I don’t believe that for a second.
I even tried to forgive him. That was Connie’s goal to begin with… to repair an unrepairable father and son relationship. I tried but I just couldn’t do it. I was torn between love and hate. I last saw my father on that November day in 1996 when he whispered in my ear, “No matter what happens son, always know I love you.” I had enough guilt to deal with before any of this happened, but the guilt, the pain and the tremendous amount of sorrow he placed on my shoulders was anything but love. When he shot and murdered her on March 24, 1997, he killed half of me too. I would not wish what I feel on anyone.
So as I sit here on death row, I know both sides of the revenge factor. I also realize that life is full of pain and death is the finality to that pain. I realize that I am here for a purpose and although I can’t see, and sometimes can’t understand my purpose, I must carry on to fulfill my purpose in life, and yet carry on with guilt.