Letters From Death Row: Brett Hartmann on Justice
Earlier this year, I sent letters to every American death row inmate scheduled to be executed in the near future, asking about their life and their thoughts on various issues. Today, we have a second letter from condemned Ohio inmate Brett Hartmann, who is scheduled to be executed on November 13.
After Hartmann replied to us last month, we wrote him back with follow up questions and with new questions that had come up in the comments. We asked him about prison food; his handwriting; prison health care; guilt and innocence; and his thoughts on criminal justice and his own legacy. His full letter is below—click to enlarge the images.
Thank you very much for your letter, it is good to hear from you. I hope all is well for you and that you are enjoying a decent summer so far. I am doing alright, just trying to stay busy and keep cool, for 20 years DR has been in an enclosed building with central air, this is our first time having to deal with the heat and humidity of summer, so we are not used to it. But since we can not escape just gotta deal with it.
As for your questions, as for the food, the legends hold true, it is nasty, we are on a 3 week cycle so it is the same nasty stuff over and over. Every so often the prison does food sales to raise money for charity, usually subs, pizza and such. The only real variation is what we can get from commissary, it is a real racket, a lot of overpriced garbage, I only make $17 a month from my state job, so I am limited in what I can get, but I manage the best that I can.
My handwriting, I hate it, actually I am not used to it, a year after I got to prison I started typing everything, I always felt typed was impersonal, but I realized everything out there is [next]
typed nowadays. But I sent my typewriter out for repairs 6 months ago and am still waiting to get it back. Plus this place was built back in the 30's, before they thought of putting in a stool and desk for us to write at, so its not easy finding a comfortable place to sit and write letters. Anyway, I think I used to write better before prison, but after 15 years of nearly never hand writing I am happy with what I can do.
Health care, what a joke! Stories are true, it is horrific, we are scared to go to the dentist or medical as it is so nasty you might go there and catch something. A guy recently had kidney stones, they gave him some Motrin and told him to tough it out, when he complained they took the Motrin away! When my BP was 160/140 they said "so what," luckily one nurse raised a stink and after filing a complaint they finally did something. So getting medical care is not easy.
Guys with mental health problems there are a lot. When Akron, OH closed a mental health hospital, what did they do, put the patients in prison! On DR, there are a few, most they keep heavily medicated so all they do is sleep all day and night. One of the bigger issues is just the extreme low IQ of a lot of guys, due to politics and new laws about executing [next]
the mentally retarded Ohio swears it has none, try living next door to a few of these guys, meet them for 10 minutes and anyone will be dumbfounded that the state says there is nothing wrong with them!
As for innocent people on the row- without a doubt, my friend Joe D'Ambrosio won his freedom a few years ago and a federal judge actually barred the state from trying to re-try him because the state was so underhanded hiding evidence, lying about witnesses, letting people testify they knew were lying, the judge said the state could never be trusted to give him a fair trial, my neighbor Tyrone Noling, Anthony Apanovitch- Me, I have a lot of evidence not ever presented to the courts, I have proof of the state lying endlessly about lifting fingerprints, including off crucial pieces of evidence but I found the info right as I was firing my two attorneys and by the time I got new ones and they got up to speed I missed the 180 days you have to present newly discovered evidence so I am barred from raising it. I know it is a cliche that all in prison are innocent but it is a big reality, especially with DR cases where the crimes are horrible and there is huge pressure to catch someone. The police Captain for my case openly said they had no evidence to charge [next]
me till they got a big break in the case, they quickly charged me THEN went to check out the "big break" which turned out to be nothing! But by then they had charged me and politics took over. The state openly admits once I was arrested they told everyone to stop testing evidence, they had no interest in the truth, just in getting a conviction. The 6th circuit Federal court says they believe Noling is innocent but because of politics and technicalities they can do nothing about it, he is almost out of appeals and could soon be executed for something even the courts say he did not do. So please do not think innocence on DR is just always a cliche.
People change, after 15 years you are no longer executing the same person that committed the crime. A fair sentence for murder? Personally I believe if you have not done at least some time in prison and experienced the hell that prison is you should not get to say what is an appropriate sentence for anything. We claim we are a nation of second chances yet we hate giving them! I would say 20-30 years, let a person have a chance to make up for their mistakes no matter how horrible, but I would put on also that if while in prison the person shows by his conduct in prison that he has not changed then you would go to a civil commitment to keep [next]
them in to protect society.
I would be against the DP in all cases, a respect for life is a respect in all aspects. Look at Manson, one of the most hated men next to Hitler, he has been locked away, he shows no remorse and might pose a threat if released so the Parole Board keeps him locked away. I believe execution just is not the answer, as humans we are prone to mistakes and execution is a mistake you cannot undo.
That is my biggest, one of them, fears, once I am executed I will go down in history as a murderer no one in history wants to go down in history as something they are not. If executed I would love for someone to continue working to prove my innocence- the day after my last scheduled execution I got a letter that I might have a daughter, one of my biggest regrets was never having had kids, so it is a big deal to me, last night I got to talk to her on the phone for the first time- you can't imagine how nervous I was! If she is my daughter I would want her to know that her father is not a killer! Honestly the only people I want to prove it to are my family and immediate friends, they all believe I am innocent but I would like to be able [next]
to prove it. The only people my legacy would truly matter to are them anyway. Look at Texas, two guys executed proven to be innocent but the majority of Americans could care less, if I am proven innocent after my death, again no one but my friends and family will care, so they are what matters to me.
Alright again I have babbled long enough, and it is about time for rec-time to go play Scrabble! I hope that these answers help you out some.
Letters From Death Row: Abdul Awkal, Who Was Supposed to Die Last Week
Letters From Death Row: Brett Hartmann, Ohio Inmate 357-869
[Image by Jim Cooke]