Snapshot from Florida

Andrew Haughton writes: Re. “Rundle: in era of crap, Zimmerman case lurks in swamp of racism” (Thursday). Guy Rundle got pretty close to giving Crikey readers an understanding of life in Florida.

I’ve been there a few times. In 1983 I was in Starke, Florida, which was a small place of around 2000 people then. The local industry is the prison. I was involved in a story about a white man man on death row called Bob Sullivan. He had been convicted some years before of murder and had just about run out of appeals. In the Florida legal system if you take your time you can appeal for decades, but if you keep appealing then in time you run out. We talked to Sullivan in late June that year.

We stayed at the Starke Motor Inn and ate in the local diner, where the specialty was deep-fried gator and cooter, that is alligator tail and turtle. It’s about as good as it sounds. The local band was doing a fair cover of Men at Work.

The superintendent of the prison gave us every access to Sullivan, to the prison and to the execution chamber. The electric chair was a basic strong wooden chair with all the required attachments. We declined the invitation to sit in it. We asked about who carried out the execution and were told that the state advertised for volunteers. The going rate for the job in 1983 was $115 US dollars. It wasn’t a difficult job. Just throw a switch, wait for a prescribed time and throw it again.

On November 30 that year a volunteer threw the switch on Bob Sullivan and collected his $115. You may find this story unsettling. A lot of people in Florida would just say, “so?”

Oh, and in 1999 apparently they installed a new chair.

No thank you to NSD

Peter Wildblood writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (Friday). Why would Crikey be sorry that Natasha Stott Despoja is not standing for the Australian Democrats? This former Australian Democrat understands that it was she who undermined Meg Lees’ leadership and then artificially engineered a spill of the leadership. She did everything to destroy the Democrats by her unrivalled combination of unwillingness to follow party policy in the interests of making an “interesting” doorstop for the media and a personal behind-the-scenes leadership style that would put Rudd 2007-10 in the shade.

I do wish the Democrats well in their resurrection, however. They will need all the luck they can get.

An Australian welcome

Mary Sinclair writes: Re. “The Rudd Solution: all maritime arrivals to be resettled in PNG” (Friday). From my daughter:

Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore/Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me/And I will never give them visas/And I’ll resettle them in PNG.