IN THE DARKNESS THERE IS HOPE
It is the end of February and already the State has set six execution dates, a number that broke a 60-year record in our small state. As I write this, the state has executed two men; one man has received a stay from the courts and three men face execution in the upcoming months. It is indeed a dark time! So what is this hope, you may wonder, that I am talking about? Am I thinking about the progress on the national scene, New Jersey, Maryland and New York, as well as other states? Actually not, as they have nothing in common with Alabama, in fact for us they are another world.
The hope I am referring to is Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty, the caring, intelligent, dauntless men on Holman Prison’s death row with whom it is my privilege to work. Obviously this is a very difficult time for all of us for various reasons. How easy it would be to just kick back, block it all and say this is none of my business. Many on death row do just that, and who are we to blame them, but the very opposite is happening with members of our organization. As each date approaches there is a reaching out, a being there, a desire to help in whatever way possible. Whether it be inviting the individual to our weekly board meeting to find out about the Talking Points he would like brought up for our appeal to the Governor, or whether it is kicking it with him about cars or just listening to his concerns. We are there to do what we can to help and be respectful. And when the final week comes, refraining from sports and gathering in small prayer groups for moments of silence during yard show respect. (This means giving up the only time out of solitary for recreation afforded death row prisoners.)
To really understand how extraordinary this many facetted caring is, please put yourself in the position of a death row prisoner and imagine how these execution dates might affect you. Each one is a stark reminder of friends lost and each one also conjures up a vision of the future. I can’t help wondering how many of us in those circumstances, surrounded by the apathy and ignorance of many of their neighbors, would remain steadfast in our commitment to make a difference?
I could tell you many stories of individual and group caring by my family on death row year round, but for now I feel it is crucial to speak of how focus is not lost during these dark times, how rather the opposite is true as we seek to support and are in turn supported. And what of our larger family on the outside? Please forgive me that one of my concerns when confronted by this avalanche of dates, was that some of you might tire. I know that you lead busy lives and are affected by the economic turmoil. How easy it would be to forget us, especially as the death penalty is not a pleasant topic! But you too are rallying and standing with us by the letters you write to the Governor and the newspapers, the vigils you attend, the events you organize. It is reassuring to see new groups like JAM (justice and mercy) out on the streets of Birmingham on days of executions handing out information and braving the cold. It is hopeful to see young people being creative in their protest in Montgomery. It is encouraging to hear a new voice raised in Alabama in Life and Death Matters by Robert L. Baldwin. Please rest assured: in the darkness there is hope and together We will overcome one day!
Greetings from the Editor's Desk
The State has executed 2 men already this year. Two more have died from disease and the State is trying to execute a person each month.
While Alabama has started this year off fast, and last year sentenced more people to death than anyone else, Alabama seems to be slow in acknowledging rulings of law by our United States Supreme Court.
For example, it was years ago when the USSC ruled in Atkins that it is unconstitutional to execute the mentally retarded. Yet, Alabama still does not have a law on the books which sets parameters and defines "mentally retarded" for legal prposes. The USSC made the hard decision and asked the states only to come up with a standard definition, but Alabama can't be bothered. Plus, as long as there is no set standard, the State can continue to claim that no one on death row meets the legal definition of mentally retarded.
Also, years ago, the USSC ruled it unconstitutional to execute those who were minors at the time of their crime, yet, Alabama still has no law reflecting that ruling even though Senator Hank Sanders routinely introduces bills that would bring Alabama in line with the Supreme Court.
Now, to top it all off, there is a proposed bill in the Alabama House of Representatives to execute pedophiles for crimes in which no murder occurred. It seems as though some of our lawmakers don't even read the paper because the USSC just ruled this idea to be unconstitutional in a Louisisana case. If they won't let Louisina do it, they won't let Alabama do it. I wonder how much money and billable hours went into this bill that Rep. Hurst is proposing? Doesn't it seem that the money could be better spent, in these tryinng times?
These are indeed trying times. With the executions, deaths and even more executions scheduled, it's hard to fine a happy thought to write about and hold on to but our friend and co-founder of PHADP, Jesse Morrison came through for us when he reminded us that it was during trying times like these that PHADP was born. Good things do come from strife and struggle. We just have to rmember that and keep fighting. Please help us to keep Hope alive. Thank you.
S 540 H1-8A
TIME IN A BOX
The longer I spend in prison, the more it seems as if the D.O.C. has managed to find a way to trap time in a box. From my cell I look out on a world that I am no longer a part of and realize that it haS passed me by with a speed I find astounding. Although I understand that it moves no faster than when I was a part of it's current, my incarceration has allowed me a rate view of just how fast that current flows.
Throughout my tenure on death row, I have watched the computer age blossom from the isolated obsolete islands of my youth into the hub that the world revolves around. I have seen the toys of the rich grow into the cell phones and Blackberrys that have become the lifeblood of a nation.
I have seen the t.v. shows of my youth come to life through technology that allows a man to replace whole limbs with working replacements, and contacts that allow you to see the Net float in the air before you.
I have watched the birth of an age of conservation and preservation where the very wind is trapped and used to fuel our energy needs. And oil, the staple of my youthful worldm hears the first tolling of it's death knell.
I have seen a nation of institutional racism put aside its antiquated hatred and elect its first black president. A nation where women have thrown off the image of support staff to become a true force in their own right, through a refusal to be anything less.
In my decade plus in this cell, I have watched the world explode and grow as only outside that world can. And I wonder, having truly been excluded from that growth, if I can find a place in this new world should I be released. I wonder if it has in truth passed beyond my reach as I sit in this time warp called prison. Questions I am most eager to have answered should the chance arrive. It is indeed a brave new world. The question is, can I escape my time in this box and become a brave new man?
SCHOOL VS. DEATH
What do we do? We've elected a new President....the people have spoken and the people have resoundingly spoken for change. But isn't that easy to say? How do we manage this change, and furthermore, to what do we change? Our economy is on a desperate downward path and we have half of congress who would rather argue than to get with the President and pass this stimulus bill se we can try to right this ship.
Down here in good old Alabama the economic pressures are beginning to show. The State is having to tighten it's fiscal belt and the local municipalities are scrambling, trying to figure out creative ways to stretch a dollar. Many of our school boards don't know what to do.
They're having to make the decision to fire certain teachers and some are even wrestling with the idea of closing some schools. These are heavy decisions that have to be made in dire circumstances. Yet, in the midst of all of this, Alabama is still churning away with their machinery of death. The millions that the State is having to shell out in order to pursue capital punishment is simply mind boggling when you consider the present situation.
College grants are down, teachers are getting laid off, schools are closing, the health care system is far below where it ought to be. So many Alabamians aren't covered and we are making it on a wing and a prayer. I wonder, dear Reader, when wil it dawn on all those heavy thinkers in Montgomery that they have a choice to make? They can begin to vote for schools or continue with playing on the people's fears and frustrations and casting their voices for death.
Let's run capital punishment up out of our State...That's one good thing I can see coming from this economic crisis.
Z 582, I1-4A
A NEWCOMERS PERSPECTIVE ON HOLMAN'S DEATH ROW
These words are not directed at our PHADP supporters, but at my peers of the row. Please dont' let the content discourage you or sway your determination to fight the injustices of the death penalty. I am writing this only in the hope of opening the closed eyes of those who have fallen asleep or lost focus of what is truly important.
I'm still a fairly new addition to death row here at Holman. I was sentenced to death in March of 2008. Before coming to the row I had fixed opinions of how it would be. I thought it would be a serious, dangerous, violent and intense environment. I was so wrong!
One would think men facing the ultimate sentence would be very focused. Most would think as such. You wanna believe ALL or at least the majority would support PHADP. Not so! I am frustrated with the things you dwell on! What is the problem? A house divided amongst itself cannnot and will not stand. Yes, we are all different. From different cities, races, culturess etc. but we are now one family. Why? Because we're all we got. Yeah, you may have people you can call, receive mail etc, but we are the ones who you live with and are facing the same fate if change doesn't come. You wonder why the administration does not respect us. Simple, we don't respect ourselves or each other!
What would you think of a man sentenced to death who is petty and small minded? I have seen men curse and wish ill on each other over a single 38cent bag of chips. Some of you only focus your all on store items, T.V. shows, and frankly, gossiping about each other. There are men here without lawyers, some who don't even communicate with the lawyers they have and sadly, those who don't even know what the appeals process is.
We all, or most, have a common goal and that is to help in the fight to abolish the death penalty. Just think of how much we could gain, accomplish if we could work together on this common goal. How can we expect others to take us seriously or listen when we don't take ourselves seriously or listen to one another?
Men, there is strength in numbers, two heads are better than one. Let's stand for something or you can keep falling for foolishness. To my brothers of PHADP, thanks for all insight, help and love. I could only imagine how I would carry on without you. PHADP is what I thought the whole row would be. Men fighting for justice. But sadly, PHADP is only about 30 or 40 percent of a 200 plus death row population.
A STRIVING YOUNG MAN,
Z 750, F1-25A
Dear Family and Friends,
This year has started out roughly for those of us at Holman. We have lost four of our brothers on the row. Two due to State sancitoned executions and two due to natural causes. I mourn the loss of each of these guys. I know that there are more execution dates set and the possibility of even more dates looms large. This is a reality for those of us on the row. This is also a reality for our loved ones. I am not always sure how I should feel about this reality but, I am not sure anyone else does either. So I lift my questions, cares and concerns to God. I don't always get an answer when I want one. But, He does answer and I know He loves me and cares about me because He answers.
Not all of my brothers on the row share my faith and to be honest, I am not the greatest example of Christianity. I toil and struggle as much as anyone. I possess and express the full rnage of human emotions and not always appropriately or in accordance of God's will. I am human. I am fallible. I am imperfect. I do not have all the answers. Sometimes I doubt that I have any. But I have not and will not give up hoping that my reality changes. I have not given up hope that the lives of my brothers will be spared until God calls them home at the appointed time. I know I am not alone in these hopes. I know that you are not alone in whatever hopes you may have.
The struggle has dealt us some tough blows. We mourn the loss of these men. But, I refuse to wallow in the deep pool of self pity that lies before me as do my fellow brothers who belong to Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty. Please keep us in your prayers. The fight continues and we may feel down due to the loss of our brothers but we are definitley not out of it by a long shot.
Keep Hope Alive!
Ronald B. Smith Jr.
Z 586/ H1-6A
Editor of A Christian Perspective
I recall some of the things that were told to me when I was a young child. They were to be lessons or values I would need throughout life. For the most part, these things stuck like glue, such as compassion and forgiveness. But I was always a work in progress, so I often had first hand lessons on the subject due to horse-playing gone wrong, cheating in games ot whatever the case may have been. I would end up in a shoving match, hand to hand fight or verbal tug of war with either one of my brothers, a cousin or a friend. As we all know, children don't always know how to deal with altercations "the right way". It's almost automatic to strike back, an eye for an eye kind of thing.
I suppose this is why children need adults to show them the error of their ways. I recall how the adults, parents teacher or pastor, would sit us down and lecture us on the importance of forgiveness and compassion. They all had different ways of delivery but the message was still the same. After what seemed like an eternity, we would have to apologize, shake hands, sometimes hug and be sent on our way to either timeout or to put what was said to use.
I also recall attending church. The sermons were often about God's love, His compassion and forgiveness. How He is faithful and just to forgive us all of our sins. No matter what church or denomination, that was always accompanied by applause, Amen or Hallelujah or tow or threes. Looking back at all those things, two questions in particular come to mind. Why are children taught to show compassion and to forgive when adults do the exact opposite? Why do people of faith support capital punishment, premeditated, revengeful murder? It's wrong for a child to react on the eye for an eye approach, but right for an adult to kill to show that killing is wrong. Whatever happened to the applause, the Amen and Hallelujah, the importance of compassion and forgiveness??
As God continues to shed His grace on all of us, it is my prayer, my hope that we adults will not only say what we mean, but live by what we say to our children. Children are not the only ones who should show compassion and forgiveness. Politicians and supporters of capital ppunishment should too. All adults would do well to remember the lessons of their childhood.
As America goes through its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, States such as Alabama rank at the bottom of the list of the poorest states, which are hit the hardedest by the economic crisis. Yet, somehow, Alabama finds the money to sentence more people to death than any other state in America. Death penalty cases stand out, demanding more money than any other case. It costs over two million dollars to take someone from arrest to execution. Yet, Alabama is having to close some of its public schools as well as lay off many of its teachers, due to a lack of funding. In some cases, it can't afford new updated text books for its poor students.
It's shameful how the government would rather spend Alabama's tax payer's dollars on the death penalty than on education or health care.
Alabama is the only state that allows the judge to, with no guidelines, override the jury and give a person the death penalty when the jury voted for a sentence of life with the possibility of parole.
Income, race and education are common factors when it comes to the death penalty in Alabama. If a person is poor, black, with little or no education, and is accused of killing a white person, that person is extremely likely to be sentenced to die by lethal injection in the State of Alabama.
This brand of justice is an eyesore that needs to be erased if the is ever to be just a glimmer of hope for Alabama. It reminds me of two of Dr. Martin Luthers King's famous quotes: "Injustice for one is an injustice for everyone" and "There can't be a first class Nation with second class citizens." Those are words to live by.
A NEW ERA?
What a difference one man makes! On January 20th 2009 there was so much spirituality, not just over here in the USA, but the entire world felt the effect of President Obama making his mark for all the old schoolers to finally be fully acknowledged for all the struggles, blood, sweat and tears they have endured. Just for one day....everyone was united, holding hands, sharing songs and tears everywhere.
I do believe that a change has truly come, finally. I just hope that all the people who are expecting President Obama to resolve all the problems in our country and the world won't fall too hard on their faces, because it's really going to hurt. I can understand how many of these people feel, having an African American for president but he does not have the key to make everything right at once. Once the euphoria is gone, a lot of people will be disappointed. After the last eight years, there is no doubt, and every good reason to be optimistic but we all have to stay here in reality.
No materr what President Obama might say, he can not change people. To be honest with you, it's much better to do some real soul searching to modify our attitudes. We still have a long way to go, but...I do think, with President Obama we are all attempting to more in the right direction.
Can we do it?
FOCUS VS HOPE
10 years---20 years----30 years....how long is long enough to stay focused, so that you won't lose yourself, lose your integrity, lose your manhood or your dignity, but most importantly, lose your hope? I once read this story where these scientists ran an experiment with a lab rat. They first put him in a glass jar with water and put the jar in a dark area. The rat swam for five minutes, then drowned. So, then they allowed a ray of light to shine in on the rat. This time he lived for ten minutes. Why? He saw hope and he focused on that light, hoping that something would come of it.
It has been said...you could live 4 days without water, four minutes without oxygen, but you can't live four seconds without hope. Most of the men I've known over the last ten plus years here who have taken their own lives or ended their appeals, did so mostly because they lost focus and once that was lost...hope was gone...then came death.
Z 641, F1-19A
WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO YOU?
I'm sure that many for and against the death penalty have heard every argument, for and against. In my personal opinion, I feel it comes down to the individual and what is important to that person. Being the caring and humane people we claim to be, we as a people still allow our country to use the death penalty.
I'm not going to attempt to say the topic of the death penalty is a simple one or one that is easy to discuss. Each and everyone of us has our own reasons for being for or aginst. Maybe you feel that it makes you and your family safer that we execute murderers. My question would be, why then do murders still occur? Surely your family is what is important to you and I expect that. I just ask that you not be maive enough tobelieve that killing those that kill makes you any safer. What ever you find is important to you concerning the death penalty, you have a right to your opinion as do I have a right to mine.
I have made argument after argument agaisnt capital punishment during my time on death row. Each time I attempt to make a point, my first thought is, the readers will just accept what I have to say as a biased opinion. Yes, it is , but when you've seens the injustices committed upon those you have come to know, and learn the politics of the capital punishment, you must speak out. The death penalty is blind and can claim anyone, anywhere, any time. How many have served time on death row and were exonerated 10-15 years later? Would you be naive enough to be;oeve that all innocents are eventually exonerated? If so, it would be total ignorance! So maybe it is important to you that incconcent lives have likely been claimed by the death penalty. Or, maybe you will continue to turn a blind eye to such injustices. It is again a matter of what is important to you. I assure you when it lands on your doorstep, whether it is your son, daughter, mother, father or yourself, it will then be important to you. I've seen it many times aand as long as we continue to kill as an example not to kill, the numbers will only grow. How may mroe will die, while families suffer, and political superiority is established by "tough" on crime politics as usual? These things are what is important to me.
Z 648 N1-7A
I'm learning that the hardest war ever fought is the one waging within yourself, for yourself. It is the most brutal war known to mankind because it is not about land, money, oil, respect or power. It is about truth. The truth of you, of who you are, what you are, and what you will become.
This war is every human being's trial by fire. It will either melt you down or strengthen you. What so many fail to realize is that either way you emerge renewed and purified. The fire turns flaws into perfection and perfection into flaws. We are a perfectly flawed and a flawed perfectly work of art fromed by all knowing hands of our Creator.
We were created with flaws so that we could face and learn froom our individual flaws and help someone else who is struggling with flaws, overcome our flaws, and help the next person with their flaws. However it all starts with self. And noone can start with self until they've opened themselves to accepting the truth about themselves.
This war can be fought by force or choice. Either way it will be fought. Why? Because the life you live depends on it. Running from your flaws usually forces you to follow or succumb to the dictatorial influences of this world which may lead you down many paths you regret ever having walked.
Facing your flaws can open a whole new world to you. You become the dictator of your life, thus walking paths that become joyful memories, lessons of triumph and lead to peace of mind, heart and soul. Running is only a solutioon when the problem requires you to run.
This war, this often times tiresome, lonely and even painful war is a war that can be won. Now let the truth, the truth of you, set you free.
Z 611/ F1-28A
I have a question to ask. How can we change when we won't accept, understand and love each other? This question is not very simple, so...bear with me while I do my best to give my answers regarding this topic.
First...I think that we cannot change for the better if we are not conscious of what is wrong within ourselves. But even if we feel something has to be changed, we must be spiritually guided in order to change in the right direction. And yes, it is true that one of the ways to change is, first, accepting, then being thankful and only after domes complete understanding. You may wonder why we have to be thankful when terrible things happen to us. It is because of thse trials and only through them that we become stronger.
That is why Jesus was telling us to love our enemies. Personally...I don't think He was asking us to really love them, but to accept them as they are and to love and be thankful for the opportunities that meeting them gave us as a challenge for our evolution.
So the bottom line is if you are grateful for the difficulties brought on you by some other people and events, you will automatically forgive and that's the beginning of actual change. One thing we can't predict or dictate is how the future's going to turn out. Growing and knowing equals solidarity. How would one cope with physical absence? It's mind boggling to think of someone not being there to help you heal those deep wounds in your heart.
Take some time out, have a good soul cleansing cry, listen to music, be receptive to spiritual thoughts. I personally can feel something divine in music and I can feel my soul being lifted. This is what I call touching the clouds.
When I have this kind of emotion I feel in communion with the universe. Under these dire conditions it is vital to have some kind of substance in your life. Got to have some balance to find the hidden mysteries of the soul. Continue the fight and don't allow circmstances to smother the light within you.
Peace and Respect,