THOUGHTS ON FORGIVENESS
A couple of years ago Antoinette Bosco, the mother of murder victims who in her book Choosing Mercy pleads to end the death penalty, asked me whether I would be interested in writing a piece on forgiveness. I am honored to call Toni my sister, but somehow, at the time, the task seemed overwhelming. There is so much to say on this issue!
It was not that I didn’t have some very definite ideas about forgiveness, but rather the question was how to express them coherently. There is the issue of closure, which can only come from within; the issue that not to forgive pollutes the love and memory of the one we lost; the issue that not to forgive allows the one who hurt us power over us; all in of themselves compelling reasons to forgive and all ones which have helped me along my path. But then there is also the question of justice, which is the hardest but also the most persuasive reason of all.
A little while back, whilst out on a walk and thinking about forgiveness, I suddenly had an insight that the words: forgive them for they know not what they do were the answer I was looking for. It made forgiveness a question of justice. If the one who offends us did not know what he did, how can I possibly in all fairness not forgive him? I fully understand that many would disagree with me about whether someone knew what they did or not. I am convinced that no one does, not fully. How can I be so sure? Because I know that I can never know fully what prompts my own actions, and that at least I do understand with absolute certainty.
Do I think the Governor, the Attorney General, the warden really understand fully what they are doing when they pursue executions? Absolutely not! They are trapped in their limiting cultural ignorance, in their need to please the voter, in their sense of self- righteousness, in short, in their ignorance. The old saying of not being able to understand someone until one has walked a mile in his moccasins holds true in this case, as well as in all others. Not only can we not fully understand someone else’s actions, but also, we can be sure that he does not really comprehend why he does what he does either, not with a really deep knowing. Again, I know that from myself.
And that is why forgiveness is a justice issue for me. If someone does not really know what he or she is doing, my response cannot be hate. Obviously those words, forgive them, for they know not what they do, are not mine and date back over 2,000 years. For me they make forgiveness possible.
FROM THE EDITOR'S DESK
The good news is, we are two months into the new year and Alabama has not executed anyone. The bad, but not surprising news is, that the State is still trying as hard as it can to remedy that.
We are thankful that Robert (Lil’ Rob) Melson received a stay of execution. He was scheduled to be put to death on Feb.18th but it was stayed, pending the outcome of a Florida case with similar issues. (Holland-v-FL)
The American Law Institute, (made up of 4,000 judges, lawyers and law professors) which created the intellectual framework for the modern capital justice system has declared the entire death penalty system to be a failure and no longer supports it. Law students from now on will be taught that the very institution responsible for creating it, now says that the whole experiment of capital punishment is a moral and practical failure that should be abolished. We agree completely.
The list of Alabama judges (inside) who override jury recommendations of life, and instead impose death sentences was researched and compiled by some of the Hope brothers here on the row. Thanks go to each man for his time consuming hard work and effort.
Before I go, I want to mention some logistical problems we are experiencing at the moment. The typewriters for death row were recently broken and that leaves with no way to complete our usual work on the Newsletter. The men here take great care with, and pride in creating each issue. We hope to be back on track with the next issue. As for this issue, our love and thanks go to Esther for pulling our bacon out of the fire by doing the work that we are unable to do. Without her, this issue would not be in your hands right now.
Until next time, please help keep Hope alive.
STOP THINKING BACKWARDS
Alabama ranks near the bottom of the fifty states when it comes to education. And now to make things worse, Alabama has had another budget cut for education. But somehow Alabama found enough money to spend on building new jails and prisons. Alabama spends more money on prisons than on the education budget. Closing schools, cutting funding for education is like throwing the baby out with the bath water.
After President Obama said that he wanted longer school hours, more days for students to be in school and for teacher to have better pay, people wanted to protest in Alabama. But when Attorney General Troy King asked for more money to build a bigger viewing room so that more people would be able to view executions, that bill passed and the money was granted.
While Alabama is one of the poorest states in America, with the average citizen earning $30,000 or less a year, its Attorney General, Troy King, is the highest paid Attorney General in the country with a salary of $168,000.
In addition, it costs Alabama over two million dollars per execution. And there are over 200 individuals on Alabama’s death row. When one considers that Alabama’s death row is the fastest growing death row in America, (a country that ranks fourth in the world for executions), and has one of the poorest educational systems, it is not hard to see cause and effect. What we spend on killing people we should be spending on educating our young so that they might have better job opportunities, which come with education.
Let us start moving forward together, and backwards never! Let us stop killing people to show that killing is wrong and calling it JUSTICE! Instead, let us provide quality education to the next generation!
From our Student Representative:
As a student advocate I believe whole-heartedly in the phrase Execute Justice and not People because the state of Alabama does just the opposite. With only a population of 4.5 million people, the State of Alabama has the highest per capita death row population and leads the nation in the rate of new death sentences for the fifth straight year.
As a student I am shocked and appalled to find out that approximately $2.5 million is spent on the execution of an individual, when there is no money for students who are upstanding students, want to get an education and are forced to take out loans from private banks. I, for example, am forced to take out loans for an undergraduate education here at Tuskegee University, while the state of Alabama is using funds for the execution of people. Funds that could potentially provide a few of my colleagues and me with funding for our education; an education that will allow us to become productive citizens of society and taxpayers with a prosperous future.
Alabama needs a moratorium on the death penalty and must re-evaluate the institute called Death Row. And, to the State of Alabama, remember: Execute Justice and Not People because while you are executing people, you are also doing my generation a grave injustice.
SHEPHERDS OF A NATION
I have to say that I am truly upset with our Congress at the moment. Mainly with the Democrats. I expect the Republicans to spend their time fighting a Democrat president. I do not, however, expect the same from his own party, especially when he is trying so hard to help those who have so little.
As I watch the News, I see over and over again that the people are blaming Obama for the lack of jobs, the weak economy and the loss of the health care bill. What I don’t understand is how they never seem to see the true problem behind the issues.
The President cannot force the Congress to care about the people. He cannot force them to do their jobs. He can only ask them to use the tools he has given them to better the country.
Had the Democratic majority simply passed the bill on health care when it was first presented, and agreed to work out the kinks later, the President and his staff could have focused on job creation immediately. Had they used the power they held to help the middle and lower class people who elected them, as promised, they would not have lost their senate majority and become a useless force in the nation.
Rather than show a little solidarity and work toward a better future, they started cutting deals to further their own agenda as soon as they walked in the door. They are already paying for that mistake, with the loss of a Democratic seat, which was held for over 40 years. Some might say that’s just, but I don’t think they realize that the people who voted these Democrats in are paying as well. These people are the life-blood of this nation, the ones who make our world work. Without them our houses don’t get built, our food doesn’t get grown, and our cars don’t get fixed. These are the people who gave the Democrats their majority, in the hope that they could help make their lives more secure. These are the people who were let down by the backbiting practices of Congress. To quote one of our Congressmen, with today’s partisan politics, the work of the people is not getting done.
We lost something precious when the agenda became more important than the people. We lost hope and the faith in our leaders, as well as the faith in ourselves to choose our leaders.
The President is not to blame for this failure. The people are not to blame for it. The blame lies with those who broke faith for their own gratification. If you can’t see a doctor, blame your Congress. If you have no job, blame your Congress. If you have no home, blame your Congress. If your small business is going under, blame your Congress. They are the shepherds and they have led us over a cliff. They could have worked for you. They should have worked for you. Instead, they worked for themselves and now we all suffer the repercussions.
All hail the Congress!
· Robert Melson, scheduled for execution Feb.18th, received a stay from the Alabama Supreme Court, pending the outcome of a Florida case.
· PHADP received the Mike Riegle Tribute Grant and Award from RESIST for leadership in the movement for Prisoner’s rights. We were also featured in the RESIST newsletter, which goes out to Public and University libraries and over 10,000 donors and allies.
· PHADP welcomes our new Student Representative, Patrick Jackson, president of the NAACP student chapter of Tuskegee University. Patrick is also the chair of the Death Penalty Moratorium Committee for the Alabama Youth and Student group of the NAACP.
· Esther spoke to the Tuskegee Student Chapter of the NAACP.
· Esther attended the Quarterly meeting of the Alabama State Convention of the NAACP and continues as chair of its Death Penalty Moratorium Standing Committee.
· Senator Hank Sanders, a strong and long standing moratorium advocate, will run for reelection.
· Death Penalty bills sponsored by Senator Hank Sanders in Regular Session 2010:
· S.B. 27- Innocence Inquiry Commission
· S.B. 219-Procedures to determine if defendant is mentally retarded.(Out of Judiciary committee).
· S.B. 217-Moratorium on executions and imposition of death penalty
· S.B.-222 Under the age of 18 at time of crime exempt from death penalty.
· S.B. 226- Prohibits judges from overriding jury recommendations.
· H.B. 280- Rep. Merika Coleman, Moratorium on executions and imposition of death penalty.
· H.B. 385-Rep. Laura Hall, Procedures to determine if defendant is mentally retarded.
· Esther attended Alabama Arise Lobby Day.
· F.Y.I. Alabama now has the highest paid Attorney General in the nation. Wouldn’t it be nice to have, say, the highest amount spent per student, on education?
· We are delighted to welcome a new, very capable, volunteer, Kathy O’Gorman to the phadp family and thank her for all she has already done.
· Dr. Robert Baldwin, a member of our advisory board, is the Alabama presence at the 4th World Congress to Abolish the Death Penalty in Geneva, Switzerland. He will give a presentation entitled, Justice: Dead and Denied in the Heart of Dixie, which highlights the grievous injustices in the Alabama death penalty system, one of the worst in the nation.
· Daniel Wade Moore, Alabama’s most recent death row survivor, who was cleared of all charges in 2009, was featured in 48 hours Mystery. Congratulations and best wishes to Danny and his family!
A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
Dear Family and Friends,
I often wonder what other people think and what they remember when they speculate at the emotions an inmate on death row experiences while confined in his cell, awaiting the day when the State fulfills its promise to take his life? Many people completely discount the time an inmate on death row spends going through the various stages of his life in his mind. Seeing and reliving good times, bad times, goals met and actions regretted. We see the many people, places and things we have experienced; remembering things that we said and or done; trying to figure out how we came to say or do these things, and of course trying to find out how we came to be here and why.
We seek forgiveness and mercy from friends, family, God and the courts while knowing that the chance of forgiveness or mercy being granted is slim to none. Well-wishers, prayer groups and old friends corresponding positive thoughts offer only temporary relief from this solitary existence. Not living really, just existing! I am therefore I exist.
My experiences occur mainly in my mind. How do I justify to others what I cannot justify to myself? How long can I hold off the execution? How many years do I have left? What reward will I be given for obeying the rules? Will I ever be granted freedom? Will I ever receive the forgiveness I crave so badly from others and myself? I know that change can be made in the system and know that others realize the same, but I am and feel nearly powerless to correct the system, the past or the State’s intention for my future.
My hope therefore is in what I cannot see. I cannot see mercy in the eyes of the governing authorities of Alabama. But, I desperately hope it is in their hears. I cannot see justice in the courts, which I pass in my appeals, but I desperately hope that it is there. I cannot see any light at the end of this tunnel but I stumble forward, grasping and clawing my way forward and hopefully upward towards freedom.
The debate on the death penalty continues amongst the general public. Polls show that fewer Americans support the death penalty today than just a few years ago. Yet, I do not raise the issue of the death penalty as right or wrong and expect the public to decide the issue based solely on what they hear from politicians and/or T.V. The American People are largely unaware of the information critical to a judgment on the morality of the death penalty…if they were better informed they would consider it shocking, unjust and unacceptable. This quote is from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. I believe the recent actions of the United States Supreme Court are opening people’s eyes to the complex nature of capital punishment.
As far as this Christian is concerned, only God knows the time of our end and it is foolhardy for man to attempt to play God.
Keep Hope Alive!
Ronald B. Smith Jr.
FROM YOUR FRIENDLY EDITOR
One might think that there is nothing like having to do a job oneself to really get a feel for its challenges. One might indeed think that but, unless one were doing it in the same environment, with the exact same tools, one still wouldn’t have a clue. I am talking about the Newsletter. Imagine yourself in a small cell with no desk, no computer with at best a typewriter with no memory. Any typos and you’d better redo the whole thing! One really needs a table to be able to lay things out, at least I did, and definitely a computer that allows one to copy and paste, change fonts to make things fit and, even with all of that, it is still quite a job. Papers everywhere, gentle editing to be considered, spaces to be filled with no resources available except for what you have in your cell and definitely no friendly google to help you out.
We hope that by the next edition the State will have provided death row with a typewriter so that it can be typed and formatted there once more, as we so proudly state. I say proudly because it really is an achievement and while I am at it, let me also say we are the only death row, which can say that. And you know what? I am glad you will be doing the newsletter next time!
HOPE + FAITH+PATIENCE = JUSTICE
Well, here we are well off into the New Year, February 2010. This is the month that we celebrate Black History and so I thought it only right and proper to touch on it for this quarter’s A Christian Perspective.
When I ponder on the deep meaning behind these four words I think about the many Americans from times past who had warm, righteous blood coursing through their veins. Men and women, black and white fought for justice in this our beloved country. These men and women had to possess the kind of faith that was described in Heb. 11:1. A hope that could be beheld through the eyesight of faith…any other kind of hope would have faded long before they saw the seeds of their hard work come to fruition.
Think of the mighty giants of the Abolitionist movement…William Lloyd Garrison who was a white man who fought against the evils of slavery in his generation, when it wasn’t popular for a white man to do so. That only comes from strength of character and integrity of spirit. Think of Frederick Douglas! There was a hope that burned within that man’s heart that could not be quenched! His light burned bright and filled him with courage. He escaped from slavery, learned how to read, (which could get you killed in those days) and began to fight against slavery vehemently once he became a man. Think of Harriet Tubman! What a mighty example of Hope+ Faith+ Patience = Justice! She went from escaping slavery herself, which all by itself is a gigantic task, (most slaves were killed doing this), to coming back and re-entering the South (unheard of for a sane ex-slave), repeatedly to free her whole family. Imagine that! What kind of courage and hope and presence of mind that took? This was a powerful woman! She went on to be a spy for the Union Army. A valuable source of intelligence, she was blessed to see the elimination of that wicked system that had been a destroyer of souls. With patience she got a taste of justice.
Any time I think about some of those men and women of our nation’s past, I am compelled to think of our own Abolition movement in the 21st century. Our cause is just as righteous and just. In our fight against the death penalty we face a formidable foe: ignorance! We must underwrite our task, our movement with the same kind of Hope, Faith, and Patience and surely we will taste of their fruits. My only hope is that my character measures up to the work, like the mighty giants of yesteryear.
Until next time, America,
Peace and Blessings!
When one finds oneself facing the possibility of execution, it is easy to become down and out, disconnected from life. You have the uncertainty of your outcome, and search for a way to cope. Even the strongest of minds can struggle if there is not outlet, no hope. What I wish to share with you is not about the struggle, but what effect encouragement has had on my life.
Encouragement has allowed me to mature in ways I never thought I could before. It is those close to me that have helped me to grow, mature. I’ve learned that I can live this life not being closed up in a box. I live my life day to day, making the best of each day. I recently married, which five years ago I’d told have told you that you were crazy to think such a thing. I met my wife through her efforts to encourage me. She will tell you though, that it was she who was encouraged.
My wife has helped me to understand that even in my current situation, life on the outside does not end for me. I owe the credit for my growing to my wife. Together we have been an encouragement to each other. Together we have helped each other to overcome our insecurities. It is hard for one not to be selfish in this situation, but her sincerity has both humbled me and made me selfless. She has entrusted me to be the decision maker, the head of our family.
Life today for me is no different than if I were there on the outside, only that I am not there physically. I’m a better brother, son, father and husband because of my wife. She does not allow me to beat myself down. Yes, there is power in encouragement and it has carried me a long way!
I’ve also come to the revelation that all along the way I’ve been being prepared for each step of my life. My Christian brothers who encouraged me to stay prayerful and faithful; my brothers in Project Hope who encouraged me to educate myself, read and write; all have played a part in my destiny. To all of them I say thank you for helping me to appreciate the life and the wife I have today. I live now not searching for what my end may be, but for each new beginning. Each day I wake up encouraged, anew!
Dedicated to my “Destiny”
Z 648/ N1-07A
Heaven or Hell?
Is there such a thing as suffering that’s supposed to feel good? Well…if you ask some of the people they say that death row is the ultimate vacation for those who don’t want to live life any longer. There is a Heaven and Hell right here on earth, but the question remains…which one are you living in?
Personally, I believe in the after life. At least this way, I can see that I am living in hell presently; in the after life things will only be better. Considering how my life was, first during my childhood and now, I see being here on the “Row” as a kind of purification. We all have to purify our lives, thoughts and ways.
I’m absolutely certain that we don’t just stay in bad situations forever. At times it feels like being here on the “Row” is a one-way trip.
Actually…I believe there are lives here on earth that are harder than others, to the point that we may think it’s unjust and unfair, but this is only because we cannot yet grasp or understand God’s way of teaching us. That’s why some people don’t believe there is a God because they expect Him to do the work for them, whereas they have to make their own efforts.
Since my arrival on the “Row”, I’ve not one time pointed my finger at God accusing Him of my mishaps. I’ve learned that if we truly believe in God then we must understand why we have to go through so many difficulties and suffering, while other people seem to have received all the benedictions, even the nasty people sometimes.
A lot of people refuse to see what’s really going on. I guess they are still asleep and won’t wake up until something bad happens to them. They are not ready yet. But what about ourselves? Are we certain that we see everything around us and that we have a true appreciation of life?
I wonder very often about how much I still have to discover about who I am. Remember one thing….”Attractive things may be hiding monsters.”
WHEN I SAY….
Behind the walls Christianity has it’s own definition to all…but there was this poem written by the great Maya Angelou that sums it up best for me. Here’s a small version in my own words:
When I say….I am a Christian
I’m not trying to be strong,
I’m professing that I’m weak,
And need his strength to carry on.
When I say…I am a Christian
I’m not bragging of success,
I’m admitting I have failed
And I need God to clean my mess.
When I say…I am a Christian
I’m not claiming to be perfect.
My flaws are far too visible,
But God believes I’m worth it.
So, when you hear me say I’m a Christian, please know I’m whispering: I was lost, but now I am found and forgiven. I’m not holier than thou, just a sinner who received God’s awesome grace…by calling upon His name…and nothing more.