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Volume 14 | Issue 2 | April - June 2010

THE BACKDOOR

Have you ever been outside in a blowing snowstorm so that you thought you would die if you did not get out of the cold very soon? If you have, and you saw someone open the backdoor for you, you would not quibble about needing to come in through the front door. The backdoor would be just fine, believe me!

Well, we have been out in the cold for a long, long time now. Not that we were standing still, you can't afford to do that without having your toes frozen off, no, we were plowing through snow drifts but had not found the house of a friend who felt our plight and who was willing to take on a bunch of close to death individuals.

The friend we found was Rep. Merika Coleman, D Birmingham who introduced H.B.280, the moratorium bill. The question now was: would it be heard in the Judiciary Committee and, if it came to a vote, would we still be out in the cold? The backdoor started to creak open a little bit when Rep. Marcel Black, chair of the committee, decided to send the bill to a subcommittee for further discussion. We felt a little bit of warm air, in the form of an acknowledgement of our plight when this happened. Two hearings followed and in order for you to understand the magnitude of this, please know that this had never happened before.

It was dark and it was cold but we were not alone. Each one of our friends, who we had asked to come and testify, did. Callie Greer, mother of a murder victim who never lets us down, came and spoke. Our three death row survivors, Bo Cochran, Gary Drinkard and Brenda Padgett, who came and spoke on behalf of her husband, Randal, wowed the subcommittee with the injustice done. Dr. Robert Baldwin, you have to hear him to know what it means when I say that he was great! Attorney Stephen Stetson from Alabama Arise presented masterfully. Cyrus Johnston, mitigation specialist caught the internet of the panel with his inside view on litigation, or the lack thereof. Judy Collins of ANSC spoke to innocence about our own Darrell Grayson. And finally, Bruce O'Gorman, a recent convert to abolition, made the committee wonder how this had come about.

So what is this about a backdoor? At the end of the second subcommittee hearing, which the members had followed with interest, manifested by their questions and assurances of respect, it became obvious that they did not want to leave us out in that cold. Sitting in a huddle, which included our good friend Rep. Laura Hall, D. Huntsville, the chair of the subcommittee, Rep. John Robinson had a solution. If we were to remove the word moratorium, which would keep the door firmly locked, the committee would recommend that a House Joint Resolution be offered to develop a committee to study certain issues to assure that death penalty cases are administered fairly and impartially. The compromise was accepted and the recommendation made. Where do we go from here? We are hopeful. Perhaps we are only in the mudroom, but let me tell you, it is a whole lot warmer than it was out in the blizzard!

Esther Brown


GREETINGS FROM THE EDITOR'S DESK

Spring is in full swing and summer will soon be upon us. As the seasons of our lives pass, so that we may show ourselves to have made some upward progression from our younger years of selfish abandon. This is a solitary, individual pursuit. I find, however, that it need not be a lonely pursuit. One can choose to surround one's self with others who are also seeking meaningful growth, and like swimming with a current, be borne along their journey making faster progress than would be the case were they alone.

Inside these walls, that is as important to the Hope leaders, as is the fight to end the death penalty. We need each other's moral support and example, to try to stave off the ever present temptation to give up, lay down and stagnate. We try desperately to create an atmosphere, for the members as well as ourselves, in which personal growth is something to be proud of rather than sneered at. I would like to thank each member of Project Hope for making that choice, and in doing so, making my own journey easier and less lonely.

The state has set two more execution dates. Thomas Whisenhant is scheduled to be killed on May 27th, and John Parker has a date set for June 10th. There will be vigils throughout Alabama, for both men. Places, times, and dates will be sent out via e-mail and posted to our web sites. I am so very tired of this place.

I am aware that many readers enjoy the open, airy, uncrowded format of the last issue. I liked it too. However, as editor, I find myself trying to include as many writers as possible in an effort to deny being heard to as small a number of people as I can. I promise to try not to cram so much in it that it becomes a chore to look at and read, but please bear with me. :)

The fight goes on, and will continue to do so. I hope you enjoy this issue, and that you rejoice in our victories, as you share the pain of our losses. Until next time, please keep Hope alive.

Peace,
Jeff Rieber Z-540 H-8


THE PRODIGAL SON?

Hello Hope friends and family. This has been a long time coming and it's good to be back. For those who don't know me...my name is Anthony Boyd. I used to sit on the board of Project Hope as the SGT of arms, but I stepped down due to personal issues. I stepped down and back, but never out. These guys are, and always will be, my family and I wouldn't leave them high and dry. So I've always been supportive and here to do anything they needed. However, for Jeffrey, that wasn't enough...So I'm back! (smile)

I had been attending meetings from time to time, as an observer and the occasional sounding board. Now, with time having passed, and my personal issues better under control, I've become more active. Recently, I was voted onto the sub-board (because Jeff said I must start from square one) and I serve as the Sgt at Arms in the newly formed Group 3. I am very happy to be back full time and more active. More articles will follow, but I just wanted to take this time to introduce myself to those who don't know me, and to say to those that do...I'm back.(smile)

I've missed you all and want you all to know that I am impressed with the great strides made by Hope, and I'm proud and honored to be in such a great company. Thanks, to all our supporters, friends, and advisors for staying strong and staying the course, even when some of us tend to lose our ways.

With love and support like yours, we can't lose. God bless, and love to all.

Anthony Boyd
Z-578 N-9


OUT TO PASTURE

My keeper came this morning and put my feed in the stall for me. I ate it. It's hard to get excited about my fodder. He came back a little later and let me graze in the pasture for an hour. That's not very long when you consider that I won't get to go out again today.

I welcome this time to graze. Since I eat and relieve myself in my stall, as well as sleep there, it's nice to get out.

The other bulls and I enjoy the air and the grass. We frolic in the field, but our eyes never stray far from the red door at the edge of the pasture. That is the door to the slaughter house. They can dress it up anyway they want to but they murder us in there. It's very cold and calculated. They are all business when it comes to the slaughter.

Unfortunately, I am not a cow. I am a man. My stall is an 8x5 cell. This is "life" on death row at Holman Correctional Facility. The slaughter house is real.

James Largin


THE REASON I JOINED

Since my youth, I have been interested in pursuing an education in criminal justice. My motivation comes from fights for justice that were fought long ago, such as the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Panther movement and the Islamic movement. People who have inspired me are Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and Huey P. Newton.

As a youth, I saw how prejudiced the law was/is towards minority groups and how the law was being applied in a biased manner. I became more enthusiastic about becoming involved in with the law when I was falsely accused of capital murder on April 27, 2006, wrongfully convicted on May 17, 2006 and wrongfully sentenced to death on June 24, 2006.

When I arrived here on death row, June 26, 2007, a man was executed. Once I was assigned a cell, I immediately began to request legal information. A brother here on death row informed me of Project Hope, and how to become a member. He said that Project Hope is an organization dedicated to ending the death penalty, but they also have classes in which they pass on their legal knowledge, gained through time, experience and research, to anyone who wants to attend. Three months in, I became a Project Hope member. I joined Project Hope because 1) I'm all for a grassroots movement for positive change. 2) I'm all for self education and learning. 3) Project Hope is the only way I can do something positive while, at the same time, help myself and assist my attorney by keeping them updated on new state and federal laws and rulings and how either may apply to me.

The brothers of Project Hope are very kind and very helpful. When I'm confused and need answers, I can always go to the Hope brothers for their assistance. Project Hope is not just an organization or place of being for me; Project Hope is the closest thing to family in my eyes, and I appreciate the brothers welcoming me with open arms and for their (our) efforts to make a change.

Sincerely,
TVOAIM
Randy Lewis
Z-741 I-18


ALABAMA NEWS

* Two men have pending execution dates:

Thomas Whisenhant, May 27th
John Parker, June 10th

*PHADP now has a Facebook site thanks to Kathy O'Gorman. We welcome any and all comers to Friend us.
*Hannah Jackson, a junior at Notre Dame, is PHADP's new Student Representative. Hannah has been a Hope supporter for most of her life. We are grateful and honored to have her continued support in this new capacity.
*Dr. Robert Baldwin represented Hope at a death penalty conference in Geneva, and also traveled to London to speak at an anti-death penalty event in front of the U.S. Embassy.
*Antoinette Bosco, other of two murder victims and long time abolitionist, has agreed to join our board of Advisors. Her grace and ability to forgive is humbling. Welcome, Toni.
*Esther attended the quarterly meeting of the Alabama NAACP and gave a report as the chair of the Death Penalty Moratorium Committee.
*According to PHADP advisory board member, Judy Collins, all of the candidates running for Alabama Attorney General admit that there are problems with the death penalty.
*Esther did a death penalty interview on WEUP radio, in Huntsville.
*Robin Demonia, of the Birmingham News, wrote a wonderful article about the proceedings on House Bill 280, and how it is important to look at the outcome in a positive light, as a victory.
*The House Judiciary Sub-Committee deliberating on HB 280 recommended that a House Joint Resolution be offered to develop a committee to study the following issues for possible implementation to ensure that death penalty cases are administered fairly and impartially, in accordance with due process, and to minimize the risk of innocent persons being executed:
1) The American Bar Association Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Counsel in Death Penalty Cases.
2) Due process procedures to preserve and enhance state post conviction relief in death sentence cases.
3) Procedures to eliminate discrimination in capital sentencing on the basis of race of either victim or defendant.
4) Due process procedures to prevent the execution of mentally retarded persons and persons who were under age of 18 at the time of the offense.
5) A public defender system for representation in capital cases.


PLACE THE BLAME IN THE RIGHT PLACE

Some blame the system for their shortcomings in life, when it is not the system's fault. Yes, we can say the system failed us, or that they don't rehabilitate us once we do get locked up, but I think rehabilitation is a state of mind. So, if it's not the system, then where do we point the finger? Well, we point the finger where it belongs; it starts at the house, first.

I am a true believer in, what you are taught at home, you will apply to your everyday life. Now, the problem in most households is that they are run by single parents. In most cases, the mother is the only provider in the house, and she does her best to raise her family. As we all know, there are many parents who are uneducated, so how can they help their children with their class assignments if they don't know anything and/or their education level is below their child's?? They can only teach them what THEY were taught. So, where do you turn to learn?

The next step would be the schoolhouse, your home away from home, as they say. Now, the problem here is simple. We have teachers who are overworked and their classrooms are over-crowded. Most of the books are outdated. So, can a teacher then give their best, when they are not given the proper tools to work with? You have some who give all they have to offer, then you have the teachers who really don't give a damn about their students and don't care if the children excel in life. It is sad but true, and this is called life.

So, if the schools don't teach the kids, where do they learn from next? The only place that is left to many, is the neighborhood, or the streets as we would say. That's when they start to look up to the drug dealers and/or gang members as role models. Now, they are caught up in the fast life.

School is an afterthought, and what's been said at home no longer matters because they think they've found out how to live life. Either they are chasing the fast money of the drug game, or have become a gang member. So, life as they knew it, is lost to the streets.

How do we save kids from following in our footsteps? Like I said, we have to make it a point to get it done at a young age, and like I said before, it starts at home. This is just one man's opinion.

Lasamuel Gamble Z-626 O-2


BINGO...REALLY?

I've read article after article, seen one news story after another. I honestly think that the taxpayers of Alabama were lied to and misled when it came to the fight between the Governor and the Attorney General concerning bingo gaming in this state.

The Governor was very adamant about his decision to shut down all the bingo halls in the state at whatever cost to the Alabama taxpayers. He was so gung-ho about the decision that he actually went against his former ally and attorney, the top law officer of the state, a man the Governor himself appointed to the position.

They battled months over the question of law. Are bingo slot machines in Alabama illegal? So then the Attorney General went into these businesses, inspected the machines and said that they were legal.

Well, you would think that ended up, but not with this elected official (Governor). No, he went and formed a new task force to go in and shut these businesses down, putting thousands, not hundreds, out of work.

The shocking thing is in the midst of it all, he did what President Obama has been criticized for not doing. The Governor crossed party lines and selected a Democrat to lead his task force. But not just any Democrat. He picked the adversary to his Attorney General in his last election. Wow! Was this really about bingo?

So, after I carefully looked at his ambiguous choice, I began to wonder more about decisions and choices that politicians in this state make and one would be, of course, is the death penalty about justice? Is it really in place to deter murders? Is it really about closure? Really?

Anthony Tyson
Z-641 F-19


AN APOLOGY

There seems to be a double standard when it comes to making an apology. There also seems to be a rule on when it is not okay to say one is sorry. It's clearly seen when it comes to politician and prisoner, the poor and the rich.

Lately, we've been hearing a lot of politicians apologizing for their infidelities of one sort or another. They are quick to hold a press conference and pour out their hearts to their families and the public. All of it is done to save his or her political career. The thing about that is, it's about the only time you will hear one apologize. Never will it happen when a person has been exonerated due to DNA evidence. Never will it happen due to the withholding of evidence or prosecutor misconduct. It's like they don't care about ruining a person's life and causing them to miss out on the rearing of their children, graduation and marriage. We are so often taken advantage of. Why is it like this? Do we not deserve to hear the phrase, "I'm sorry." Does our family not deserve to hear it? Is it so hard to admit their mistake?

I truly hate that there seems to be a different code of conduct or code of ethics when it comes to atonement. Of course, and apology will not change what happened, but it definitely will go a long way into making things right.

Omar D.


A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE

Dear Family and Friends,
Happy Mother's Day to all the  moms out there!

In April I attended a Kairos Inside Retreat. Along with the other attendees from death row, I sat through short talks by the presenters, participated in the table discussions and enjoyed the free world lunch provided by our Kairos hosts. (Thanks fellas!) One of the table discussions followed a talk about the Lord's prayer and forgiveness.

I had never thought about the conditions we place upon ourselves as we pray, "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." I have prayed the Lord's prayer countless times in my life without much thought to how well I forgive others. And yet I am asking God to forgive me as I forgive others. If I refuse to forgive others or if I grudgingly forgive others, when I pray the Lord's prayer, I am basically telling God he can refuse to forgive me or take his time forgiving me or do so grudgingly. What about the times I've told others that I had or would forgive them but I would never forget what they had done? Is that what I want God to do for me? Of course not. But I am not allowing God to do that when I ask him to forgive me as I forgive others. Yes folks I am 39 years old and I just realized this. My mom always said my mouth was going to get me into trouble if I wasn't careful but she never said anything about it keeping me from receiving true forgiveness.

Needless to say I have become more aware of my heart and intentions when I pray now. Who truly wants conditional forgiveness when unconditional forgiveness is being freely offered? Change is rarely easy. Especially when it involves habits built over a lifetime. Even more so when it involves a belief that is built over a lifetime. Sometimes evolution comes gradually like a rock that is being shaped by wind and rain. Sometimes evolution comes quickly like an egg becoming hard boiled after a few minutes in some boiling water. Still a rock and an egg but different from how they began. So is the nature of man. Who is to say when or where evolution can and will take place. And that is why I am against the death penalty.

Please keep Thomas Whisenhant and John Parker in your prayers as well as their families and the families of violent crime in Alabama. And please keep me, PHADP and Esther Brown in your prayers.

There is a long year ahead of us but we have already gotten farther in some spheres than we have ever gotten before. We know what we are fighting for. And in the words of Paulo Coelho, "There is suffering in life, and there are defeats. No one can avoid them. But it's better to lose some of the battles in the struggles for your dreams than to be defeated without ever knowing what you're fighting for."

Keep Hope Alive!

Ronald B. Smith, Jr.
Editor, A Christian Perspective,
Z-586/H1-6A


Change

I think about change in my life as an analogy of a caterpillar. Before a caterpillar receives its wing it crawls upon the face of the Eather which makes it subject to all kinds of dangers. It could get stepped on, fall prey to birds or other animals, or weather condtions. So it is not guaranteed that the cateripllar will make it to the tree branch to build a cocoon around itself. But if the caterpillar does make it and builds the cocoon around itself then a tremendous event takes place. Metamorphasis.

Life to me is the same way. When I was out in the streets I was crawling on the face of things which left me subject to so many mishaps. But being in the cocoon of this cell has brought about a metamorphosis in my life. My wings are knowledge, wisdom, and understanding of life, myself, God and events, etc. Now I'm not longer subject to crawling. I can fly above the things that I use to do. Everything in life goes through stages of development, which in essence is called change. Seeds don't come as trees. They are planted and over the course of time change is taking place even though you can't observe the change because the seed is covered in dirt.So just because politicians, DA's, police, family, etc. can't observe the change that is taking place with death row members because we are covered in cells, blocked from the view of society doesn't  mean it's not taking place. One day you go outside and see that from the darkness in which the seed was planted has emerged a beautiful sprout.

Craig Newton
Z-727/H1-1A


An Eye for an Eye

If a man or woman commits adultery and the spouse retaliates by committing adultery doesn't the spouse become an adulterer too? And if someone molests your child would you be just in molesting the perpetrators child? No. You would become a molester. That would just propogate the evil committed. It seems simple. Justice is not about repayment of evil. We don't burn down the homes of arsonists. We don't molest molesters. We deal out a penalty in the hopes of correcting the offender.

When we impose the death penalty, we coldly calculate and carry out the murder of the offender. The State commits murder. Allowing the State to carry out executions is no different from watching someone murder someone without even trying to stop it.

We cannot prevent murders that have already occurred. We can only stop future evils. By working to abolish the death penalty, we act to stop another murder.

James Largin
F-18


PHADP vs. VOCAL

Some would think that Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty and Victims of Crime and Leniency are at odds with each other. But, both groups are striving to promote justice. Both sides believe in the rights of the victims. And both sides feel that killing is wrong. VOCAL, for all of you that don't know is an organization that supports and aids victims of violence. And they seek justice for victims of violence.

Recently I read an article in the Montgomery Advertiser. I saw where VOCAL hosted a vigil along with the Attorney General to uplift victims of violent crimes. It was titled, "Violence against the young." Little kids had been abused and murdered, some by their own families. It was a hard article for me to read being a father and all. I tried imagining myself in those families' seats and asked the questions, "What if my son had been murdered and tortured at an early age? Would I want the criminal to receive the death penalty?" As I sit here on Death row the answer is easy. NO! But, would I have advocated for it before coming to death row? Probably so.

So, as we fight to end the death penalty and VOCAL continues to fight for justice on behalf of the victims the way I see it, we are really a part of the same fight. The only big difference is we see justice and define justice differently.

But, we do sympathize with all the families who have been victims of crimes all over the U.S. But especially those affected by the crimes that happen here in Alabama.

Although I know we will never be welcomed with an open handshake to join VOCAL in the fight for justice on behalf of victims of violence our hands will never be closed in prayer.

Not a foe,
Anthony Tyson


The Universal Order of Things

Good and evil. Love and hate. There are two sides to everything in which God created. Just think about it for a moment. Do married couple's actually think about their child's future? Knowing that we are all born to die, what kind of planning can prevent this from actually happening? I often think back to the "Cause and Effect Theory" who are we to question the balance of life?

Since we (the human race) seem to understand all of this, why do we cry when a loved one passes away?

Do politicians look at matters from life's point of view? Or are they so blinded by their own agendas, that it's of no concern to them?

In today's society, death is as popular as hot dogs and sodas at a baseball game. If you would take just a few minutes from your daily regimen and put yourselves in the shoes of those individuals who would like another opportunity to rectify matters while they have the chance to do so. I'm not speaking as a guy who is seeking pity or wanting some charity. You know what, when you sit in an 8x10 apartment 24 hours a day, you have no choice but to analzye and dissect your own thoughts.

I must say that I'm truly blessed to have learned that everybody dies but not everyone lives.

As Mother's Day slowly creeps over the horizon my heart becomes a bit heavy as it marks the 3 year anniversary of my mom leaving this physical world. I can't help but to reflect back on the good times we've shared here on Earth. My biggest regret is that I didn't tell her that I loved her enough.

(Miss you, Mom)

They say when you are facing death, you quickly value life a whole lot more. To the physical world I am already dead but for the last 17 years I have finally accepted the beauty of living life ot it's absolute fullest.

Ulysses Sneed
I1-1A Z-590


Pleasant Memories

I think it is fair to say that we all have moments when something jogs our memory. It can be something we see, hear, taste or smell. I find that oftentimes, those are the moments I enjoy most. A moment that I can be swept away from the confinement of this cell I'm in. One moment that seems to strike me more often than other is a cool morning when the sun is just rising. This brings back the memory of traveling to my favorite fishing spot. Fishing has always been my favorite pasttime, since back when I was a kid. It is something that stuck with me through the years. I can sit here and remember the scent of the water, when I arrived at my destination. I'd get out of my car and fill my lungs with it's scent. It always made me feel good inside. Reminding me of the good times. The still of the water at sunrise was always so calming. I could get drifted away on my thoughts, hypnotized by the scenery. I could fish for hours and not catch a thing, but as I departed for home I always felt renewed.

It is those pleasant memories that are bittersweet. On one hand, I'm reminded of the good times, and on the other I'm reminded that I may not see those days physically again. They are memories though, and they can never be taken away from me. They are my hope for tomorrow. So if by chance while out on a cool summer morning, remember me and know I've gone fishing!

In Love and Peace,
Nicholas Acklin


In the Constitution of the United States of America, you'll see the words "We the people." It is my opinion that these words meant the people, citizens of this nation. Meaning, NOT the King, Not the legislature, not the Courts. None of these positions or titles are the true rulers of this nation or of the American government. This principle is known as popular sovereignty.  Now I can take these first sentences a whole different route but I only wish to point to a particular matter at the moment. Remember, we the people, not the King, legislature, courts, etc. Well, from my point of view and maybe other's also, this We the People is non-existent. How can it be, when the jury of one's peers decides that the punishment should be life in prison, but a single judge can undermine the jury (who are the People) and sentence a man to death! Why is it, when the people cry out by the masses for change or to correct an injustice, they are not heard?

So, does "We the People" really mean the people are the rulers of this country? The very thing this country fought to free its self from, it basically has become. Maybe not literally, but to a degree. America is one of only two democratic nations who continue what they call legal executions, Japan being the other. Something about this sounds strange. How can a nation declaring itself to be the leader of the free world still murder its citizens? In the name of the law. Is not a murder a murder? I say this because America needs to re-evaluate herself. The people are not ruling this nation. Individuals in positions of power are. Think! The Governor of a State signs the death warrant for a fellow human being! How can a man of conscience do this and not lose sleep or without a heavy heart? And in the same manner, declare themselves to be a person of great character, morals, and principles?How can a judge sentence a man to die? Even when a jury  deems otherwise? Aren't these individuals murderers? Yes! They are, because the pretense is "tough on crime" and to further a career or gain a vote, they will murder. It's just that simple. But the blame is not on their shoulders alone; the people must take a stand and ask themselves this question, "What if??" What if it were me, my son, daughter, or father or mother sentenced to death. Would it still be a proper sentence or is life in prison just enough? Think of the thought of a man knowing he'll never eat homemade cooking, never raise his children, never see them graduate, never touch his wife again.

Isn't that punishment enough?

Demetrius Jackson
E-750 F-25


Perspective

Is the glass half empty or half full?
Is skinny beautiful and fat undesirable?
Is Communism evil and Democracy good?
Is the East Coast better than the West?
Was the Health Care Bill of 2010 a good thing for the country or no?
Was the deregulation of the big banks and financeers in the early 90's (after 70 years of regulation) a wise decision or a bad thing?
Is there anything good that can come out of the current financial crunch?
Is poetry a useless collection of words?
Is the British pronunciation of the word schedule correct or is the American?
Is the fight for Justice a useless drudge that is making no progress?
Is there any hope left in this world?

Well, my friend, it is all a matter of Perspective. What is your perspective? Whether the subject matter is light or heavy it all depends on whow we look at a matter.

Father God when I'm in a situation that I cannot change and one that You know I need to go through, please enable me to change the way I view that situation. Strengthen me with perspective . A Christian Perspective!

In Love,
D. Mason Z-582 I-4A


I'm Just Me

I refuse to submit to this superficial world I live in.
I'll be my own person and have my own mind even if it means no friends.
I've never been shallow or a follower and because you don't like him, I would never choose to not like him.
Because the people say that isn't right for me, doesn't mean that Kilo will agree.
I do my own thing and in my own time.
And most of the day I'm inside my own mind.
I observe contemplate and meditate. I get high off wisdom and
I think of knowledge and elaborate.
I am who I am and it is what it is and just because the majority
Likes him doesn't mean that I will still.
No guts no glory Who is to say you're right and I'm wrong?
I guess they will get tired of playing the same song
Once they realize I am me and they are them.
Who can go wrong being who they are.
There is a limit to change. Some things you don't rearrange.
Why? Cause...God made me. They didn't.

Kilo-C