Willie Manning has spent the last 23 years on Death Row in Mississippi State Penitentiary (Parchman). He is housed in a small single person cell, which gets extremely hot in the summer. He is allowed to go outside for exercise five times a week, for one hour each time. Outside he is locked up in a one-man yard pen (similar to a cage), where he can walk in circles or do excercises. When he is not in his cell or in the yard pen, his hands are handcuffed behind his back and his ankles are shackled.
Willie is allowed to have visitors (behind a partition) twice a month, but often it is only his lawyer who visits him. He is not allowed to work, so he does not earn anything to make his life just a bit more comfortable. The prison food is very basic. He is allowed one small bar of prison-made soap each week, but is not provided with other hygiene products, such as toothpaste or deodorant.
This is what Willie wrote in 2010 about being on Death Row:
“This is one of the worst things that any person could ever go through in their life. I would have never thought that I could last 16 years in a small cell and still (somehow) be able to hold on to a small bit of my sanity. I think that people just have to continue to find ways to keep their mind occupied and try to stay as focused as one possibly can under the circumstances.”
From time to time, Willie goes through the torture of seeing men that he knows being taken away to be executed. Again and again he is forced to experience bereavement.
Willie has suffered the torture of drifting to within hours of obliteration, only to be returned to the horrors of incarceration by a stay of execution. Nobody could remain unscathed after such trauma: Willie suffered acute stress reaction. He knows he may have to experience this agony again.
Willie has also undergone the ordeal of a court overturning his convictions, but then reinstating them in a blaze of media vilification, depriving him of any vestige of peace, security or hope.
For anyone all this would be unimaginably challenging, but for someone who is innocent it must feel as if the world has been turned upside down.
Willie Manning is an extraordinary person, both courageous and sensitive. During his time in prison, Willie managed to study law to fight for his rights. But there is also Willie the poet. He has written hard-hitting poems based on his experiences while on death row.