1989 TWENTY YEARS OF HOPE 2009
As we gratefully celebrate twenty years of Hope it is appropriate to remember our history and those who made it happen, our founding brothers. There is none better to guide us in this than Jesse Morrison, co-founder of our organization, and so I asked him to help us to remember and here are his notes:
“In May of 1989 Jesse Morrison and Wallace Norrell Thomas got together a committee of five, which included Johnny Harris, (Danny Siebert after Harris was transferred), James “Bo” Cochran and Joe Duncan. This committee worked for 4-5 months getting the structure together.
Around September we had the structure in place, along with the name of Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty, and began open membership, setting up study groups, classes and different committees.
Around December, the officers of the organizations held the first meeting on the visiting yard with potential members of outside board of advisers and supporters.
The very first initiative was Wallace and I writing two articles, From Alabama Death Row and Black America and the Death Penalty. We sent out over 300 copies to black churches, black colleges, black newspapers nationwide, death penalty organizations and friends and families.
As our membership grew, we expanded the committee, and had to replace some. The new members were Brian Baldwin, Gary Brown, Leroy White and Ward Gentry.”
I asked Jesse to say a little something about our founding brothers and here it is:
Wallace Norrell Thomas, executed 1990:”the political and legal mind of the group. On death row, he was the constant voice for change in conditions as well as the legal system.”
Johnny Harris,” mentor/advisor, knew Alabama prison system officials and had outside contacts and support system but was transferred soon after the beginning.”
Bo Cochran, exonerated in 1997 and still supportive of phadp,”solid supporter who had the respect of all death row inmates.”
Joe Duncan “solid supporter, willing to take a stand against the system, eager to get involved.”
Danny Siebert, died in 2008, “knowledgeable about organizational structure and running a campaign. Got involved only at my request.”
Gary Brown, executed 2003,”was asked to come aboard to help recruit whites and Christian inmates. Proved to be a very hardworking and totally committed member.”
Brian Baldwin, executed in 1999, “my most valued co-worker; took on the job of building our newsletter; acted as my confidant and advisor on all the important decisions I had to make; brought a lot of outside members into the organization. Brian was very popular, fun-loving, outgoing but also had a quick, intelligent mind, which allowed him to not only grasp an issue but to see it from all sides.”
Jesse Morrison gave me the task to write about him. We have been close friends for the last ten years, ever since my dear friend Brian Baldwin’s execution. In recalling the birth of phadp he wrote: I was only doing what I thought was right and necessary at the time, and I was mad as hell. If ever there was an example of channeling anger into positive action, our organization was it. 1989 was the year of four executions, a record, which we are unfortunately likely to break this year.
In writing about Jesse I could talk about his natural charisma, his leadership qualities, his fighting spirit, but all of those would mean nothing if they were not about what was right and necessary. Jesse sees a problem and wants to address it for the sake of those around him. After his sentence was commuted to life without the possibility of parole, he tried to found the Lifer’s group, and when that was denied, start a NAACP chapter in the prison, all ways to bring hope and meaning to a place where there is little of either. It is the loss of the Department of Corrections that it denied permission for both.
Jesse is famous for his admonition to be the other voice. He lives that and is at his very best when he can inspire, motivate, work hard and bring people together for the common good. He wants to make a difference and he has in so many of our lives, even in the lives of some who do not know him because they came to death row after his re-sentencing.
I know I have repeatedly attempted to explain the spirit of Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty, which still endures now that we are 20 years old. When I read Bo what Jesse had written over the phone, there was silence and then I heard sobs and the words, we were family. Yes, you were and we still are and we thank our dear friend Jesse Morrison and all who were part of the beginning for this vision. We thank you for daring to dream a bold dream and for not counting the cost. We do not forget and we love you!
Jesse Morrison and Esther Brown
These are the names of some of the Hope members who, for one reason or another, are no longer on Holman's death row. Each man was integral to Hope in his own way and we honor them for what they gave of themselves.
Jesse Morrison Wallace Norrell Thomas Danny Siebert Johnny Harris Brian Baldwin Edward Horsley
Gary Brown James Bo Cochran Joe Duncan Ward Gentry Henry Hayes James Martin Gary Hart III
Darrell B. Grayson
GREETINGS FROM THE EDITOR'S DESK
PHADP was founded in the Spring of 1989. It is now Spring of 2009 and the struggle to end capital punishment in Alabama continues. While it is a shame that there is still reason and need for Hope's existence, I can't help but take great satisfaction and pride from the fact that Hope has survived and flourished for two decades. Considering where it was started and where it has been run from all of those twenty years, I think I can say, without hubris, that this is an achievement of some note. Make no mistake, this is not something that I accomplished. I am merely the current chairman trying to do right this amazing organization and its amazing members and supporters. I would never have had the vision, nerve and audacity to think that I could launch a lasting anti-death penalty organization WHILE ON DEATH ROW. I am truly in awe of Mr. Jesse Morrison and the other men who founded Hope. That said, Hope would never have lasted withou YOU, the dedicated and caring believers who have kept us afloat and bolstered our strength and purpose with your own determination and desire for social change, Thank you, for everything.
Sadly, I must end this with a sobering does of Alabama reality. Since our last newsletter, the State has executed two more of our brothers. They killed Jimmy Dill on April 16, and Willie "Chub" McNair May 14th. Robert Coral died of "natural causes" in April. I realizwe that to many these are just names on a list but I'm telling you, the world is a lesser place without them. They will be misssed and mourned.
The State plans to kill Jack Trawick on June 11th. I can't think of a time when Hope was needed more. My wish is that soon there will be no need for PHADP. Until then, please help us to keep Hope alive.
Z 540 H-8A
WAITING TO EXHALE
We have all experienced it. That moment when were just relieved when something was finally behind us. And it was then we were able to exhale. Currently eyes are being opened to the truth of, and reality of the death penalty. Not only does it not deter murder, but it is a prime example of senseless spending. Seriously, why would anyone close a school to be able to continue executioons? Our own Attorney General ran on the premise that he wanted to protect our kids. Well, since my kds are included in that promise, how about doing so by preventing their demise by not preparing for their failure. Because that is exactly what is happening. When you consider that we have over 200 inmates on Alabama's death row, the largest in the country considering our population, you are planning to spend over 200 million dollars to see no change. Wouldn't it make more sense to spend that money on education and after school programs that will keep kids away from gangs, drugs and other criminal activities? If a seed of of confidence and encouragement is notplanted into a child at a young age, you are setting that child up for failure and the chances of them visiting some kind of institution before his/her adult years arrive. But this argument has been made over and over again. One minute we here at Hope feel so close to our goal, then the news comes on and shows some horrific crime. And each time this happens, it feels as though so many on Union Street in Montgomery are happy.
We hear about other states discussing the possibility of abolishing the death penalty. Alabama however, seems to hold its breath and hopes no one sees it and its flaws. How can the State not offer DNA testing without a court order? Or legal assistance at post-conviction? Men here have to climb the channel of appeals and be rescued by Federal judges. In the last year alone. seven men here have been given relief in the Federal courts.
Others have woken up. We applaud the Governor os New Jersey and New Mexico. And also the District Attorney in Dallas, Texas who has taken upon himself to look into the innocence pleas of several men in prison. What a great example of integrity! Faced with adversity and peer pressure but despite the odds, does the right thing anyway. And to all the other staes who have even considered and possibility of shutting down, repealing or abolishing the wasteful spending and senseless killing by the goverment that capital punishment entails, we say, keep trying! Closing down schools now will definitely cost you later. And you can take that to the bank! All these concerns and more are circulating the country at an alarming rate, right now, for good reason, especially during these tough times. Still, I believe Alabama's day is coming. Meanwhile, I and others like me are waiting to exhale.
WHAT IF JUSTICE COULD SEE?
I am told that Justice is blind. If Justice could see, it would see the ugly injustices that are being carried out, such as 12.7% of America's is black, yet 48.2% of the American prison population is black. If a black person is charged with killing a white person, they will more likely receive the death penalty than they would if they were charged with killing a black person. Some people believe that this is no accident, because of America's history, and that what's taking place is the result of a society's reaction or rather, society's inaction.
If Justice could see, it would see African Americans robbed of their civil rights and human dignity by pervasive white supremacy that lurks beneath the surface of a so-called democracy that's more hypocricy than democracy.
If Justice could see, it would see people being killed by a barbaric, at times corrupt legal system and calling itself Justice. Some of the people murdered by the state were almost surely innocent. It's about nothing but murder in any way. It's a system that's imperfect and has the shedding of innocent blood on its hands.
We all can see that what's taking place is not Justice, and it's time to stand up for Justice. Maybe we should give true justice a try. Then we can become that first-class nation that Dr. King dreamed of. A first-class nation without second class citizens. A nation with true Justice across the board, on every level. And no one will be oppressed due to socioeconomic conditions. There would be no death penalty and we would live the American Dream. If we take to heart Dr. Martin Luther King's words, maybe one day we will be able to overcome the stigma of racism and the legal lynching of human beings to show that killing people is wrong.
Murder is murder no matter how you dress it up. The ten commandments made it clear; thou shalt not kill. Not thou shalt not kill, UNLESS....
Let's move forward together and make a change. Yes we can!
Z 536, H12
A THANK YOU TO JIMMY DILL
I have been here over 2 years. I have witnessed five executions already. I did not know any of the five men the State had murdered. Not one of the five executions had any effect on me, not even the first one that happened a few weeks after I got to death row. I guess I was just numbed by it all.
The sixth execution is a different story. I knew the man that the State was going to kill. At first it didn't bother me when they moved him to the death cell. I did not believe they would go through with the execution. I told him I'd see him Friday and we'd play basketball Monday. I made a bunch of excuses why they couldn't execute him. Mainly because he was not guilty of capital murder. I don't get into people's cases, but what I heard about his case didn't make any sense. Another excuse I had was God wouldn't let him die. After all, he encouraged me to stay in the Word. Why would God take my encouragement away?
Long story short, my excuses weren't enough. The State of Alabama killed Jimmy Dill. The effects it had on me weren't expected. I have gone through five executions, remember. This one was different because I knew Jimmy Dill. I played baskedball with him, laughed and joked with him, and even argued with him at times. If I needed something, half the time I didn't have to ask, J.D. would have already sent me something.
When it was known that he wouldn't be coming back, it hurt. What hurt worse was seeing other men who knew him longer than I had, hurt too. I wanted to give up. I wanted to stop talking to people so I wouldn't have to feel what I was feeling any more. But my brothers here wouldn't let me, These same men who have been portrayed as vicious killers and animals wouldn't let me give up. I've written before about becoming a better, more mature person since coming to death row. I have mentioned the brothers helping me. Jimmy was one of those brothers.
To Jimmy Dill, my brother, I appreciate everything you've done for me within the 2 years I knew you. I don't wish you were here because I know you are in a better place. Rest in peace my brother and thanks for everything.
THE WAR WITHIN
I am living a true soldier's story, filled with uncertainty. The enemy is unknown,coming from every angle in deceptive forms. Like all wars, there are to be casualties. It's a mental and spiritual struggle daily. How can you fight a war when you don't know who the enemy is?And to make it even worse, being surrounded by guys who have no presence at all doesn't help a bit. In fact, it's as if they have made a conscious effort to reduce themselves. Some find it extremely difficult to focus on anything that is required, like saving their lives. This type of war is inexcusable.
Sometimes I get so tired of people telling me how strong I am and how great I am doing. These things I don't need to hear all the time. Would someone step up, grab me by the shoulder and tell me that I don't have to be strong all the time or tell me that it's okay to have a soul cleansing cry occasionally, it keeps the soul clean? Idon't care what anyone says, we all cry; it doesn't make you any less of a man. Not crying makes you less of a human being.
I've learned to isolate myself a lot. I move on a spiritual vibe, acombination of what I see, think, learn and feel. Stricly moving on feeling can get you into a lot of trouble emotionally. On death row, every face here has a story behind it. Depression seems to be the ultimate enemy here. It robs every person of their inner esssence.
The other war is a lack of unity. How can get men and women who are hunted like foxes, trapped like rats and treated small like ants understand the concept of unity? Are you prepared to go to war for your fellow man? Are you willing to fight until God calls you home? The justice system put you away because their plan was to let you die. If you are reading this and grasping the message, then you are ready to do battle.
The hardest war is to get involved with is the war of heart and soul. Some ask where is the soul for which I seek? Where is my soul? I feel empty. A shell without substance, without purpose, without meaning, who am I? I encourage you to fight the good fight of faith. We will not go out like this; we have to realize what we have to offer to the world. Stay strong borhters, represent yourselves to the fullest, don't give up no matter the cost.
Peace and Respect
Ulysses C. Sneed
Z 590, I 1
SUPPORTERS? MORE THAN THAT!
I should be the one braving the weather, the ridicule, adjusting my schedule, contacting the powers that be, holding that poster, that candle, my voice should be one amongst all the others, my hand should be squeezing those I hold to encourage and strengthen, the hard earned, thoughtful and genererous donations should come from my pocket, I simply should be...
I am so very grateful for you all, our supporters, our voice, our warriors,(smile) but I must admit, it is so hard to sit on the side-line; I want to battle with you all in more than the spirit because we face a mighty foe. Capital punishment is an ever hungry, ever thirsty destroyer, but this true monster can be defeated, its murderous cycle ended.
You all endure so much for our sake and the sake of the future, even with the odds stacked against you, you all remain, never growing weaker, but forever stronger, and sadly I must admit not everyone here is enlisted in our army of Hope and change; but don't be discouraged because while they many not have the heart to fight themselves, you all's example of courage, care and devotion shine brightly through those of us who follow you all's lead!
Writing this has truly magnified as as yet unseen thruth: we are fighting on two fronts, which means I'm not "sitting on the bench."
You all are so much more than supporters, you all are teachers, shapers of minds, hearts and souls; you all are the true face of humanity and I sincerely thank and appreciate you all, from one warrior to the many others!
Z 611 F24
The older I get, the worse my memory becomes. But, as I sit here and reflect upon this fact, I realize that perhaps itis not age that eats my strength of recollection but, rather, the experiences that age thrust upon me. I wonder is it possible that in defense of my sanity, I have allowed or even facilitated the degradaion of my memory?
If I have made of my mind a slave that can hold pain with which to haundt myself; am I the author of my mind's destruction? Or, through destruction, its savior?
What do I gain in losing so very much?
Z 598 H11
Dear Family and Friends,
This has been one of the toughest years I have spent here at Holman. We have lost six of our brothers on the row. Two who expired of natural causes and four who were executed. And the State is not finished yet. They have set an execution date for Jack Trawick on June 11th. All this is happening as Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty commemorates its 20th year in existence. Begun in the humble environs of the Holman Unit, Alabama's death row, it remains guided and directed from those same humble environs, aided, assisted and befriended by caring and concerned supporters to abolish the death penalty by educating the public.
The founders Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty faced numerous challenges, as do we, the current members of the Board of Directors. None of us has received any special training for the various and assorted roles and duties we find ourselves doing. Applying for grants, putting out a newsletter, not to mention networking with like minded groups and individuals. This does not take into account the running of the various PHADP sub-groups in which information the Board receives from various sources is disseminated to our peers on the row.
We keep ourselves and each other motivated and I can speak from experience when I say that we have all needed a morale boost that only other Board members could provide. Bad news from the homefront or an unfavorable ruling from the court, can make a person feel helpless and dispirited. But, we are not alone. We stand, at times literally, shoulder to shoulder in this fight against the death penalty. We play together, pray together and grieve together. I can't say enough about the men I have served on the Board with and those cureently serving on the Board. And lest I forget our Outmate who knows who she is and what she means to me and us. With her on our side we persevere amd accomplish much more than we ourselves often expected.
And I want to personally thank all our supporters past and present. May God repay the kindness you have shown us. Please continue to keep us in your thoughts and prayers. The fight continues and so does Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty.
Doing our best to keep Hope Alive!
Ronald B. Smith Jr.
Editor/ A Christian Perspective
Copied below is the testimony I did not give to the Judiciary Committee during its public hearing on the moratorium bill. The hearing ran late, and I was cut from the list of speakers-appropriately so, I hasten to add. The most compelling stories are those of murder victim families, exonorees, and law enforcement officers. The religious argument may help people feel comfortable with a decision to support a moratorium-it gives them "cover" if you will. More pointedly, it changes the debate from a moral argument about God's ultimate justice to a more relevant (in my humble opinion) debate about how we carry that out here on earth. I've asked to have these remarks included in this newsletter with the hope it may help you in your advocacy, too.
Rev. Paul Britner
Spiritual Advisor to the Project Hope Board
Testimony for the Senate Judiciary Committee March 25, 2009
Good morning. My name is Paul Britner. I am the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Montgomery and I also serve as the spiritual advisor to Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty. I am pleased to speak to the committee today on my own behalf about proposed legislation that I believe will enhance the administration of justice in Alabama.
I make no apology for my opposition to the death penalty . Yet, that is not the issue today. Rather, the issue is whether the State of Alabama intends to guarantee that the death penalty is carried out with the degree of justice that the imposition of the ultimate penalty demands.
There's no doubt that the ancient Hebrews who composed the Bible approved of the death penalty, at least in principle. Yet, among the many passages that include the phrase "shall be put to death" are many other passages insisting on a high degree of due process. For example, no person could be put to death without the testimony of two eye witnesses. (Deut. 19:15) Likewise, in practice, those given death sentences had automatic appeals to the highest tribunal in the land, the courts of the Sanhedrin. Thus, extensive due process and multiple appeals are very much rooted in the Biblical tradition.
Let us not forget, too, that God spared the first murderer, banishing Cain from Eden after Cain killed Able. Likewise, Jesus only had the occasion to intervene in one execution-that of the woman accused of adultery-and he stopped that execution.
It is not enough to argue that the one's faith perspective affirms the validity of the death penalty. One must also ask whether the administration of that penalty comports with the rigorous demands of that faith as well. I respectfully suggest that the death penalty system in Alabama does not meet the demands of any faith tradition practiced in this state. I do believe, however, that favorable consideration of Senator Sanders' proposed legislation may be a first step towards meeting those demands.
A BLESSED LONG JOURNEY
Soren Kierkegaard said, "Adversity not only draws people together but brings forth that beautiful inward friendship!" My name is Arthur Giles and I am incarcerated on Alabama's death row and a member of Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty. This year we celebrate our 20th Anniversary of the founding
of PHADP and our involvement in the struggle to abolish the death penalty. We are an organization that was founded by our dear brother Jesse Morrison while he was on death row himself!
When I arrived in 1979 I was placed in a cell next to Jesse and upon introducing ourselves, he seemed like a very caring and giving person. Being 19 years old at the time, ignorant and stubborn as a goat, one could say that I could not have been placed in a better spot than in a cell next to Jesse. Like I said, Jesse was a caring and giving person and when I say giving I don't just mean in the material sense, but in giving of his time to an individual! Something that I needed. He freely gave and took every opportunity he could to instill in me the importance and value of education, while inspiring brotherhood, hope and unity among those around him.
When he asked me to join Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty, How could I not but feel deeply honored, as the words flashed across my mind, "to whom much is given, much is expected!" Upon becoming apart of the family, not only did I quickly learn what my brother Jesse had created, but that it gave men like myself an opportunity to be a part of something good, meaningful and special for the first time in our life. Also as time went on, the family and you our supporters taught me that what good one gives of himself, always has a way of corning back around to him. You also taught me what humanity really means and that always standing up for life and justice in this world of ours is always right.
Though our struggle has been hard and long, I think what we believe in and stand for is the reason for and a testament to our longevity. Our battle is not over yet. The first half
of this year has been topsy turvy for us with the painful losses of our four brothers. "We suffer defeats along the way: Yet to victory we are born!" Ralph Waldo Emerson I strongly feel and believe our victory is just around the corner. As I expressed it has been a hard and long fought battle for us, but I canlt be any more pleased and proud of who we are and our perserverance as an organization and family. Which is why I send a special thank you to all our loyal supporters! Remember, victory often comes at times when one least expects it.
An Ode To Mothers
Seeing that Mother's Day has just passed it seems only right that we give credit to all of the wonderful mothers out there. This article I really didn't have any idea what I would speak about. So, I want to take a moment to walk off the beaten path.
For the past few years that I have been incarcerated I have been blessed to have the love and influence of a very strong woman on my life ••• that of my mother. When things were down just hearing her voice could make me feel alright. I know that many of the guys who are incarcerated with me and across the country can say Amen to my sentiment. There are some amongst us who have had the misfortune of losing that special lady in their lives and my heart goes out to them. I will always admire those guys who have kept their strength up alone.
To all the mothers out there who are struggling to maintain their households, visiting their sons, husbands and fathers who are incarcerated; to the ones who are raising our children while we are gone, I give a resounding hoorah! And to all the grandmothers who have stepped up to the plate when there was no mother there, an equally resounding hoorah!
Happy Mother's Day! Amen! We love you and thank you for loving us even when it is hard (smile).
May God richly bless and keep you!
Life or Death
Death is promised to everyone, the struggle is promised to everyman and pain is promised to every woman. The form in which each is to come is unknown. Who other than God can answer my questions? No one! Who other than God can feel my mother's pain, when her innocent baby boy is on death row? No one! Who other than God will share with me my struggles? No one! Who will take away from me this cup of death?
It is April 16, 2009 as I write and a brother was just killed due to the double standards that rest in the evil eye. One kills and you say he is wrong. You kill one and you say you are right. People have put their trust in the one who holds the kiss of -death and distributes it vindictively. It is funny how death is given before life can be received. It is funny how what is so precious ••• life, will bring one to their knees.
I asked myself recently if I was cursed at birth? Why is the black sheet hovering over me? Why is the Reaper on my heels? Then I faced reality and took myself out of the circle in which I stood. One must find the blessing in the curse. Then one must turn a negative into a positive. The evil of men into good for God. A movement is before you. Don't stand still and pass up the opportunity to make your voice heard. The form in which change is to come is unknown. When progress is made change is near. Martin Luther King had a dream. I have a vision.
The voice of an innocent man.
Tethered by gravity, restricted by space
Over grand mountains, the wind in my face
Yearning to fly high atop the trees.
Like a great albatross far out on the seas.
Wind beneath my wings, wind in my sail
Flying through a storm pelted by hail.
Silhouette against the noon, cool October night
Diving from high atop a cliff aniticiapting flight.
Heart pumping gravity my friend.
Plummeting fast this be my endm
Learning to fly, warm wind in my face.
Pumping hard, ragged breath, climbing into space.
TODAY I DIED
Today I died
I died for you
So that you may live
Live longer so that you
You may see a change
Today I died
So that you may see
That you may see closure
That you won't go another day
Thinking of your loved one's death
Today I died
Tomorrow I will be forgotten
All for naught, some justice
Tomorrow I will be as shit
Fertilizer for the ground.
Z 648 N 7
When you want a breaker of spirits
Find us a brother-man.
To bind and break spirits
Give us an Alabama man.
If anyone can break'em
Big Black can.
Give'em black supremacy
That's the twenty-first century plan.
Darrell B. Grayson