I-Team: Inside the walls of Raleigh's Central Prison


We worked for months to get access to a place that's normally off-limits to the media.

We are not going to debate the death penalty or the guilt or innocence of the inmates. Instead, we want to show you how they live and their state of mind as the courts consider actions that could resume executions in this state.

North Carolina's death row is inside Central Prison on Western Boulevard in Raleigh. It's home to 149 residents -- men who are convicted killers. They are sentenced to death for pre-meditated murder.  

They range in age from 25 to 74. They live behind glass in what's called a cell pod.  There are 24 cells in each pod watched over by a correctional officer in a control room.

The cells are sterile -- 15 by 7 foot rooms  -- with a stainless steel toilet, sink, chair and a mattress  on a metal slab.

The feel on death row is not at all what you see in the movies. It's bright. It's clean. It's orderly and it's remarkably quiet.

Inmates follow a strict daily schedule. They're told when to eat, when to sleep, and when to take their medication.

They pass much of their time outside their cells -- watching TV, or playing chess and checkers. They're allowed one hour a day outside in the recreation yard under the watch of an armed correctional officer.

The prison system didn't want the I-Team to show the inmates' faces, their names, or to talk about their crimes. They're concerned about the victims' families and the inmates themselves.

We met with one inmate who's been on death row for 22 years. He says he's a former Marine, a former ambulance driver, and he once worked in a retirement home.

Steve Daniels: "The justice system has decided that all of you are dangerous people, violent people. You're convicted killers."

Inmate: "Right."

Steve Daniels: "What is it like to live around people like that?"

Inmate: "Well, it's not like - the way people look at it, like we're all violent and rough in here, attacking each other every day and attacking officers. It's not like that.  It helps a lot of people have structure."

Steve Daniels: "What is it like to live with that prospect - that you've been sentenced to die?

Inmate: "Me, I deal with it each day. Each day I just try to do better, to be a better person and not be the person I was. And I think a lot of the guys here are like that. "

On some inmates, you can see images of execution on their bodies like towers or syringes.

We walked death row with Carlton Joyner, who started at Central Prison as a correctional officer in 1984. Now he's the warden.

Steve Daniels: "It's interesting to see how you interact with these death row inmates. It seems like there is a lot of mutual respect. You respect these men."

"Well, from my perspective, I firmly believe that we've got to treat these men as human beings," said Joyner. "And you get a whole lot better behavior out of the individuals and response out of the individuals if you treat them as humans, as you would anybody else."

Unlike other death rows across the country, where inmates are fed through slots in cell doors, the warden said inmates at Central Prison leave their pods and line-up, wearing red jumpsuits, to eat their three meals in a dining room down the hall.

Taxpayers spend $72 dollars a day to house and feed these inmates.

Steve Daniels: "I'm amazed at how clean it is. How quiet it is.  How these guys are just kind of marching along and kind of passive here. "

"From my experience, this population has probably been one of the easier populations to manage over the years," said Joyner. "Not a lot of behavior issues, not a tremendous amount of disciplinary issues, not a lot of violence, not a lot of things of that nature."

Steve Daniels: "You think they're on their best behavior because they'll always have an opportunity to appeal?"

"Well, I think that's what most people would probably say," said Joyner," but I think some of it would have to do with how you treat the population well."

The place where the ultimate part of death row gets carried out is in another part of the prison away from the eyes, but not the minds of the inmates.

It's been seven years since North Carolina put an inmate to death, but pending court decisions and the Republican-led legislature could restart executions in the near future.

Steve Daniels: "Are you guys talking about the prospects of executions resuming here?"

Inmate: "It's always on your mind. The only thing we can do about it is wait and see. It's like a waiting game for us."

Inmates on death row may be waiting a long time before executions are reinstated. Both state and federal courts are still deciding issues of the one-drug protocol for executions and racial bias in inmate cases.

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