IT IS NOT DONE
Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty is the Alabama death penalty affiliate organization of the NCADP and as such we are one of many state organizations in the country, except that we are not. We are not one of many, we are unique. Our founders were on death row and our present chairman and board are also on death row at Holman Prison.
As with all things, pluses and minuses come with our makeup. One of the minuses is that much of the work done by our chairman and the board, apart from Wings of Hope, is not very visible in the free world, benefitting as it does mainly the death row population at Holman. Also, cynics could see us as being simply self-serving, a way for us to save our skin. I would strongly dispute that because no one in Alabama sees abolition as just around the corner and as coming in time to save anyone on death row now.. The benefit for the men comes from meaningful involvement.
The uniqueness I want to write about is how executions affect us, which is the reason for the title. The State killed Leroy White a little over a week ago and the various reactions to this injustice from board members echo in my heart. People think we have no feelings; he was so different from his crime; he loved to laugh; he was so gentle. Words spoken by friends…
No doubt, some executions are harder for us than others, but for all of us of phadp each execution is always so much more than just a name. Whether we like it or not, executions are occasions when we are inexorably taken back to previous ones that broke our heart. On a personal note, each date is also a date with my dear friends, Brian Baldwin and Darrell Grayson whose witness I was.
Of course we move on, we have to and before all too long we laugh again, kid each other, sing happy birthday to each other, disagree with each other and work together to end the death penalty. That is a question of self-preservation and still it is never done.
Is this our strength or is this our weakness? I firmly believe it is our strength, even though it is a painful strength, which makes us forever vulnerable. Speaking for myself, and I know I can speak for my brothers at Holman as well, we believe that the time should never come when we forget those murdered by the State of Alabama as individuals and when they simply become names for us. We remember your faces, your laughter, your idiosyncrasies and that you wanted to live. You did not have to be heroes for us, although some of you were. You were family. And so it is not done and will never be done for us. Our promise to you is that we will not forget and hold you in our hearts until we overcome one day!
Hi there, this is Carey Grayson coming to you from the editor's desk My plot is to take over has succeeded and I am now in charge!
We have some good news and some bad news to go over. I say we start with the bad and end with the good.
On the 13th of January, our friend and brother Leroy White, was a board member of Hope for many years, was murdered by the State. Our ex and current Attorney Generals have already aske for three other dates: Glenn Boyd, Jason Williams and Eddie Powell. Please keep Leroy's memory and good thoughts for these three men with you throughout the day.
Alabama is again the leader in th death sentencing and executions per capita in the Nation. In 2010, Alabama sentenced more people to death than Georgia, Maryland, Virginia, Arizona, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Louisiana combined! More than Texas, which has 20.1 million more than Alabama. Do the math and try not to cringe.
On a lighter note, the FDA has its hands full with a lawsuit filed by a D.C. law firm on behalf of death row inmates in California, Arizona and Tennessee. The suit claims that the FDA knowingly and willfully assisted states in getting illegal drugs for executions into the country. The FDA's own rules drrm this drug to be illegal for entry into the country, but they have waived their own rules and allowed the drugs to be imported. It will be interesting to see how this case turns out.
Also, as I write this Esther is at the Justice and Mercy (JAM) conference, making us look good at our jobs. Gotta love that Woman!! The turn out is expected to be good, with 120 people pre-registered, the Rev. Forte and three others from Eufaula among them. Wish them good hunting.
Don't forget to look at the Alabama News section and have a great day!
PHADP ON THE INSIDE PART 2
In the last issue, I wrote about the spirit of family that has been forged over the years in Project Hope. My focus was on telling you about some of the little known activities taking place within Hope here on the row. Things that are unique to PHADP and don't occur in other abolitionist organizations. Things that are, through necessity, out of the box and innovative ways to address the inherent challenges of staffing and running an organization froom death row.
In this issue, I will outline the actual structural mechanics of our organization, which resemble many others, but also has necessary deviations from the norm. I hope that this article, along with the one in the last issue, will leave you with a better understanding of how our beloved little organization works.
PHADP on the inside is made up of the followoing: the Board of Directors (big Board). the Sub-Board (little board), and five Project Hope groups.
The big board consists of seven men who, over the years, were each voted into their present position by the existing board members when ever an opening occurred. The big board meets every Wednesday. PHADP's Articles of Association dictate that there be a chairman, vice-chair, coordinator, assistant coordinator, secretary/treasurer, sergeant at arms, and a director of information. This is the voting body, or steering committee of Project Hope. While the chairman and the executive direcotr (of whom I'll speak shortly) have basic decision making freedom in certain day to day business operations, the board of directors is tasked with weighing the pros and cons and voting on all major decisions. The chairman speaks on the phone almost daily to the executive director (our conduit to the outside) to handle ongoing business and to gather information fo the Wedmesday board meetings.
At board meetings, we go over the week's events, discuss past and present business with an eye toward our direction for the future; we have heavy influx of material to digest and act on comprised of phadp email, snail mail, phone contacts, facebook posts and web-site activity along with the reams of death penalty news from all over the world, which is printed and sent in to us by a dedicated Hope member. We handle any bookkeeping chores and send THANK YOU cards and tax reciepts to our donors. We speak via tlelphone to our "Outmate" Executive Director Esther Brown. The Wednesday phone calls are a tonic for all involved because Esther is like our Board member-at-large and these calls are the closest we can come to all being in the same room at the same time. Everyone comes away with their batteries recharged and ready for another week.
For 10 years now, we have enjoyed the help, support and advice of our executive director Esther Brown, who has given us the benefit of her knowledge, experience and wisdom along with her incomparable people skills in networking and growing the organization. Honestly, most peiople with her resume and skills would demand and get, the top job at an organization like ours. One of the things that makes Esther so special is her understanding of the idea that moving control of phadp from the inmate comprised board of directors to any person or group on the street would diminish the organization. One of the things that make her such an asset is her willingness to bring all of her efforts and influence to bear while working within the organizational framework. We are lucky to have her.
The sub-board was instituted 10 years ago, as a training program for future big board members. There are up to 4 people on this board who have each been chosen, discussed and voted in, by the board of directors, for having distinguished themselves as a member of one of the phadp groups. The sub-board attends the board of directors meetings every other week to familiarize themselves with the duties and responsibilities that will be expected of them if/when they fill a spot on the big board. It also allows the big board members to observe prospective board members under working conditions in order to establish if they have chosen their replacements well.
Unlike other abolitionist organizations, death row inmates hold the main decision making responsibilities in phadp, necessitating that we make wise choices when voting in new sub-board members.
The sub-board members are chose from the five Hope groups. As we can only meet in groups of 15 or less, the members of phadp inside are divided in groups that meet on consecutive Wednesday nights. The groups are the main body of Hope on the inside and it is one of these groups that each new death row member is invited to join. Each Group has a Group leader, who is also a board or sub-board member. The group leader is responsible for disseminating all information and data gathered at the board of directors meetings. Issues are discussed, debated and ideas formed. For many this is the first foray into the world of social change through group activities. some find that they enjoy it and thrive on the experience. Others find their time better spent elsewhere and drop out of the group. Either way, something is learned.
Space issues preclude my going into further detail. There is much more I would like to talk about. For this article, though, a basic strucutural outline will have to do. I'm thinking that there may be more to come, in this phadp on the inside business.
WHAT'S THE PROBLEM ?
I read a miniscule article in the newspaper today, Wednesday, December 22, 2010 that should only further highlight the many double standards involved with having the death penalty.
For anyone, and everyone, that is concerned with actual justice, a true spotlight should be on Texas as that state strives so very hard to keep the fact that they've perhaps executed an innocent man from seeing the light of day.
They've formed supposedly indedpendent panels to investigate the cas of Cameron Willingham, and to determine in fact if he was truly innocent. Well, when the panel didn't bring back the desired answer the people with the power wanted, the Governor dismissed them all and formed another one with people he chose. Cover up, or justice?
Now, the article I read talks about how a hearing into whether Texas executed in innocent man was stalled when a State Appeals Court ruled the judge (Judge Charles Baird) should have considered a motion requesting he remove himself from the case. Just wait....it's about to get really good. The article says Navarro County District Attorney R. Lowell Thompson questioned Baird's impartiality to review the case because he had received an award from the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. So, this D.A. has in fact won a ruling that means, Judge Baird must either remove himself, or refer the request to another judge before the hearing into Cameron Willingham's innocence can come forward. Is this a stall tactic, part of the coverup, or just a way of getting the case into a judge's hands they can control?
See, the reason I ask these questions and what has left me so dumbfounded is that when a jury is picked in a capital case, and a juror makes it known that he/she is against the death penalty they are asked "Can you set aside your beliefs and make an informed decision once all the evidence has been presented?" So what's the problem here? Does the great state of Texas not trust one of its own judges to be able to set aside his beliefs, the award he received from the Texas Abolition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and be able to make an informed decision once all the evidence has been presented.
Like the miniscule article I read, this is just a small sampling of the much larger and wide-spread problems with having the death penalty. There's so little work that goes into justice and far too much work that goes into revenge. Will it even matter when it eventually comes out that Texas did in fact an innocent man, or will it be something miniscule?
When I was 8 years old I wanted to be and do what I saw Superman do. I went and got one of my Grandmother's sheets. I tied the sheet around my neck and walked out to the porch....I din't think the porch was high enough. So. I looked to the roof of our mobile home...the porch area seemed ot be the best launching area.
I climbed to the roof and raced off the porch roof...and jumped...nothing happened. So, I climbed back up and did it again, again and again until my Grandmother came out to the porch, as she looked up and had to duck...as I screamed fly, fly away. I landed hard again on the ground. She yelled, which I thought was her normal voice, "Boy are you crazy?" i looked at her puzzled...crazy? I quietly asked myself, what 8 year old wouldn't want to fly away?
But now that i am older, and have heard this definition of insanity, I now understand a little more how I could have been considered crazy. Insanity is when you do somethng over and over, but expect different results.
So, now that I understand that, at the ripe old age of 39, I can honestly say that the voice that cheers on the death penalty is a voice of insanity. For over 30 years now, Alabama and other states have been executing people...to stop or teach that killing is wrong.
From 1976 to 1983 Alabama had 13 people on death row and executed them all. Now, we have over 200 people on death row and it is the largest death row per capita in the nation. Will someone get the point, like I did at 8 years old, THIS IS NOT WORKING?
Z 641 F-19
STOP THE MADNESS
Alabama has elected a new Governor. One of the first cutbacks was in education. Alabama ranks near the bottom of all the states when it comes to education. Schools are being closed due to lack of funding, while Alabama continues to spend more money on prisons than on education.
Where does this leave the children in Alabama? Studies have shown that the better the child is educated, the less likely it is to end up in prison. The average person on death row did not finish high school. Many never attended high school or even learned to read.
Education is the key to success, and without a good education the child is doomed to fail. This is the type of idiosyncratic nonsense that keeps Alabama behind. If Alabama keeps closing schools and having more cutbacks on education, we are giving up on the children and throwing our babies out with the bath water.
A good education is also crime prevention. Most crimes are committed for money. When a person has the education to get good jobs, they are less likely to be hanging out on street corners and committing crimes to get money. We can clean up our streets and make them safer when young people have a bright future to look forward to, and they have something other than the streets and gangs to turn to.
We need to fill up the class rooms and not the Alabama prison system. Our children are the leaders of tomorrow. Do we want them to become the leaders of street gangs and groups within the Alabama prison system? Or do we want them to be the type of leaders that can make this world a better place?
Education is a necessity, not a privilege. I am speaking from experience on what can happen when a child gets stuck in a system that does not put education first in a child’s life. I know what it’s like to have teachers trying to teach with out-dated text books; to have teachers who would go to sleep and say who ever wakes him up will get a failing grade for that day. I am a living example of what can happen. Let’s stops the madness and lift up the young leaders of tomorrow so that we can become a first class nation with justice and equality across the board.
A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
Dear Family and Friends,
Today we received a visit from some outside friends who have somehow gotten approval to visit us on the row and bring us goody bags. So, I wish to personally thank Chaplain Browder, Sister Toni, Momma Alphabet, Mama Lucille and the rest of the merry band for the live they show to us in the form of their prayers, visits, puzzles, goody bags and for speaking “Life”. May God repay the kindness you have shown us to all of us on Holman’s “Life Row”.
I can’t begin to tell you how much I continue to be amazed by the people I have come into contact with while here at Holman, either through correspondence or face to face, like Chaplain Browder of the men from Kairos. One of my friends from Kairos is recovering from cancer still took the time to come for a visit. I had never met any of these people prior to coming to Holman, yet they continually show they care in myriads of ways. Hard not to feel the love of God when so many of his children seek me out in the darkness to share His and their love for me. Surely there are easier things to do than seek to spend time with men such as myself that society has deemed fit to label worthy of condemnation.
This brings me to my favorite subject to write about, my good friend. The day that I am able to adequately explain her innate goodness, not to value to me as an advocate, adviser, confidant, conscience and friend is the day I will cease to be less than divine. I thank God for her so often that I have no doubt God is keeping a close eye on her, if only for my sake. And I can assure you I am not the only one thanking God for Mrs. Esther Brown.
No matter where you are or how dark a place you find yourself, God will find a way to share His love with you if only you will allow it. And whether you deserve it or not is up to you no longer. He doesn’t give up on us even when we give up on ourselves. And you never know who or what amount of importance someone may place on simple acts of kindness that you yourself may take for granted. On death row it is nearly impossible to take kindness for granted.
KEEP HOPE ALIVE!
RONALD B. SMITH JR.
EDITOR, A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
Lately I have been wondering about rehabilitation and what it means to be rehabilitated. I asked myself what does that word rehabilitation mean? The dictionary defines it as “to bring back to a previous normal condition, reconstruct, rebuild, rejuvenate, renovate. So, what was my previous condition? And why do so many people feel as though people on death row can’t be rehabilitated?
I have come to realize that a lot of people are quick to judge the effect and care less about the cause. I think that by evaluating the general affairs of the universe, it does not permit us to penetrate the ultimate depths of a phenomenon; it is inadequate for the analysis of the ends and purpose of things.
Our initial understanding of unpleasant events and disasters is bound to be superficial. We, as human beings are not prepared to recognize any truth lying beyond our initial impression without thought. Our feelings become aroused and often lead us into the most ill logical analysis. But, if we reflect more profoundly, we will see that this one sided evaluation of events comes from making our interest or those to whom we are directly or indirectly related, our standard and yard stick. Whatever secures our interests is good. In other words, our judgment of good and bad is based on superficial perception, narrow horizons of thought, and a lack of precise knowledge of one another.
If the world did not comprehend the possibility of change phenomena themselves, it would not exist. Development and change are the results of the motion and rotation of the planets. If they cease to exist there would be no earth as we know it, no seasons. Do you believe in growth and development?
A CHRISTIAN’S PERSPECTIVE
As 2011 begins, we all can look for new beginnings in the New Year, as well as old things passing away. So, it was really exciting to hear the new Governor come into office speaking to all his brothers and sisters in Christ. But it wasn’t long after he made that statement, that the world let him know that such statements are not politically correct. And I can agree with that. What I can’t agree with is that our Governor, my brother in Christ, may have to put aside his duties as a Christian to be a Governor for the people of Alabama.
Some would say: No, he doesn’t have to do such a thing. I disagree because there is a teaching in the Gospel, after Jesus gave up the ghost and committed His spirit unto God. A centurion said, “Surely this was the Son of God.” (Matthew 27:54) It was at that moment that the man of authority realized they had just killed or executed an innocent man. But had he known beforehand, would it have stopped Jesus’ execution? We may never know.
What I do know and am very confident about is that our Governor, my brother, does know and once you do know, you do better.
And now with the Governor facing a real dilemma with the economy and possibly closing schools, or ending extracurricular activities to keep schools open versus stopping the fiscally draining, senseless state sanctioned murder machine, you have the hope that he’ll know what is best and what is right where the citizens of Alabama are concerned.
So, I’ll close with this word of advice for my brother, in case these words reach his desk. In Acts 3:15, Peter tells his people, “You killed the Author of Life.” If our Governor, my brother, is forced to close schools, or cut out activities so that some under-privileged kids are unable to receive scholarships or learn about other ways to be able to attend college by choosing to continue funding capital punishment instead, he will be executing more than men and women. He will also be executing futures. But, I’m sure he already knows that. Right?
A brother in Christ,
Assistant Editor, A Christian Perspective
WHY WE CALL IT LIFE ROW
Greetings again, dear friends, from all of us at Wings of Hope! From time to time I like to share with people in the free world some of the things we do in here to make life more comfortable and to make it,(prison) have the feel of community rather than a jungle. For instance, before we were afforded the opportunity to have a microwave on the tiers, we often had to build what we called “hot boxes.” These were made up of cardboard and various other items. I won’t go into detail here seeing that they were things that we weren’t supposed to have. (If you catch my drift.)
Anyhow, I shared this process with my father and he and I had a good laugh and conversation about the home-made innovation. But that’s just one example.
Likewise a few of the Project Hope members who attend church have labeled death row, life row. Because we are believers we have opted to refer to our dwelling as Life Row. We have come to life in here, whilst incarcerated. Doesn’t that sound like a misnomer? But in fact, it is not. Yes, the State has put us on what it calls Death Row and yet we have come to life. Isn’t that awesome? We decided to give our lives to Christ and we came to life, and coming to life we walked into freedom. I’ve heard many men proclaim that after giving their lives to Christ they have been freer in their minds than they’ve ever been in, what we describe as the free world.
My friends this is what we call Life Row because in Christ we shine. When you speak of us why don’t you join in and share in our freedom by describing us as your brothers on Life Row. Thanks for reading these few lines. Be Blessed!
I’ve never been one to complain about anything I’m going through. I’ve always been one to just figure my way out on my own. Now that I have found myself on death row for 12 years, I’ve realized my ability to just deal with whatever hasn’t changed. In fact, I find myself trying to just keep those around me upbeat, while pushing my troubles to the side.
I’ve never liked negativity, or to be around others who just sit around and beat up on themselves. So, I just try and keep things around me upbeat. I’m known to be silly at times, but I prefer laughter over “white noise”. I’m a diabetic, so sometimes in the middle of my cracking everyone up around me, I’ll get asked a couple of times if my blood sugar is low. I find that to be funny and it just encourages me to go on.
Indeed the best medicine is laughter, and as the saying goes, I sometimes have to laugh to keep from crying.” If one were to allow oneself to sit and dwell on the circumstances of being on death row, one would soon find oneself close to insanity. Though being on death row is not a laughing matter, one must find a way to deal. This is my reality, my surreal life, my way of killing time. “Sometimes surviving the elements of death row requires a different sense of protection.”
THE REAL ME
“Things are not always what they seem.” This is the oath that most illusionists life by. Personally, I feel the same way when it comes to life. You get those who smile in your face hiding behind their true intentions and motives. I don’t get it, but for once in my life I wonder what would I find if I opened up individual souls? Frankly, I don’t know. I often think that I will be surprised. Now…if my soul were opened, people would find that I am frank, laid back and try to do things as consciously as possible.
You would also find an honest man because I do my best to do things in such a way that I can always maintain some peace in my life. I try to apply “Do to others what you would like them to do to me” rule. Sometimes it requires a lot of thinking before I speak or act. One thing is for sure and that is that God is good to everyone. It is just that sometimes we don’t hear Him or see His goodness. It is like being in a house with many doors and windows behind thick curtains. The sun cannot shine through them.
I am not perfect. I have not always made good choices because I shut myself off from God. It’s not that I consider myself wise, or anything. It is just that when I don’t know what to do I ask WWJD? Without His teachings I would still make a lot of mistakes. Now, I just make a little less.
Into the twilight I have gone
All my wild seeds have been sown.
Some were good, some were bad,
I look back on them and feel kind sad.
Really thought things would be just fine,
None seemed so wrong at the time.
The things we do while in our youth,
As we grow older turn out to be uncouth.
If I could have last say,
This is what I would pray:
Lord, forgive me of my sin
Let me into the fold again.
See that I never go astray,
But follow your light that shows the way.
Forgive me Lord of my sin.
Now that I am born again,
Wrap me Lord in your loving grace
And protect me as I finish the race.
Randy Charles Stewart