NO ROOM AT THE INN
The nights are growing longer and we have had the first frost, some of the signs that another year is coming to an end. In thinking about the year that is almost gone, taking stock and wishing to somehow relate it to the Christmas season, the words because there was no room at the inn come to mind.
I write this on Election Day and whatever the outcome, the harsh reality is that there was no room at the inn for us with either candidate. Of course we have our definite preference because of the importance of the appointment of circuit court Judges and Supreme Court Justices, but the bottom line is that both candidates supported the death penalty. No room at the inn, and we understand that to support the end of state murder in these United States is not a vote getter. The words of my dear unforgotten friend Darrell Grayson come to mind: the more’s the pity. (From his poem Resurrection.)
There was also no room at the inn for us with the German government, whose representative did talk to us, and acknowledged that his country is against the death penalty, but felt that the guest could not tell the host, in this case the State of Alabama, what to do.
My brother in England, one of our biggest supporters, wrote: history is on your side but it is rarely in a hurry. So where did we see signs of history this year, where did we find room at the inn? We found it with the U.N. team, and its scathing condemnation of Alabama justice. We also found it with Senator Hank Sanders who continues to introduce moratorium bills; with Alabama New South Coalition and Alabama Arise, as well as the NAACP and it’s Alabama president, Edward Vaughn, always only a phone call away. We also found it with some members of Alabama law enforcement who came out in support of a moratorium. And of course we have found room at the inn with you, our readers and supporters. You know who you are and the difference you are making.
I ask myself whether the fact that there has so far been no execution this year, (not for lack of trying by the Alabama Attorney General), should be considered an indication of history being on our side? We would certainly like to think so and are grateful to those responsible, the attorneys representing those on death row. Maybe that is how change happens, imperceptibly, which in these long nights is difficult to see? Perhaps the current economic disaster will produce at least one positive: the understanding that we cannot afford the death penalty? Could there be a crack in the door of the inn for us after all? One thing is certain: we cannot open that door to the inn of justice without you! And so we thank you for all you did during the past year to help us and ask that you do not weary of the fight, even when it is hard to measure progress.
We wish you the peace, love and joy of the season. We hope that you may always find room at the inn and help us to find it as well.
Season's Greetings from the Editor's Desk
2008 is coming to a close and above all, I am thankful that there have been no executions in Alabama this year. Of course, thinking about that brings to mind all of my friends who, over the years, have been executed and are no longer with us. I have gotten to know, and become friends with, over twenty men who were intentionally killed by the society that I grew up in. The society that claims to be the best in the world. I still believe very strongly in the idea of a democratic society and I love what America could be. I just think that our collective arrogance and the "might makes right" mentality have blinded us into thinking that we are a fully formed, complete society that is at the pinnacle of maturity when it comes to civilization, governance and morality. I would imagine that many of the societies around the world that are much older than America look at us like the strong, young teenage boy who thinks he knows it all. Just because we can beat up our dad doesn't mean that we have more wisdom than he does. Please pay special attention to the quotes in this issue and give them some real thought!
I so wish that my best friend and mentor Darrell Grayson could have been here to see history made when America elected President Obama! He would have been so proud of his country. This wonderful event has proven to me that all is not lost and that there is hope of becoming the Nation we claim to already be. Racism, however, is not gone and we have a very long way to go. We are not going crawl out of this hole over night and I hope we, as a people, give our idealistic new President enough time to effect real change without expecting too much too soon.
Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty and all of our supporters in this struggle have already accomplished a lot in the last several years. I thank you all for all you do to help us. Without you, there would be no PHADP. On a personal level, without you I would not be able to do this meanigful work of which I am proud. You give me the chance to do something positive with my life and I can not express how much that means to me. Thank you, thank you! Thank you for for allowingme a shot at some small measure of redemption and peace of mind in what is left of my life.
Over the years I've heard many little adages such as, "It's not the quantity of firends, but the quality that is important." I don't have a lot of friends any more, maybe, I never did. I do have a small circle of true friends that have become my family since I lost the ones related to me by blood. I have come to realize that family is what is in your heart, not what is in your DNA. I extremely thankful for my small band of new family and I wish them all a very happy holiday season and an even better year to come. You know who you are and you are all tasked with the job of eating wonderful holiday foods and shamefully rich desserts in my stead. You know me, so you know how much food means to me. You'll know that I'm very serious about this and I expect to hear all about it after the holidays are over.
To my PHADP family, I wish you joy, happiness and contentment throughout the holidays and the year to come. May you appreciate your loved ones, and be appreciated in turn. May the fallout from the Bush Doctrine not affect you too adversely, and may you be filled with hope for the future....and eff nog and pumpkin pie!!
It falls to me to remind you that without your support, we can not continue this fight for truth and common sense in our Justice system. Please help us to keep Hope alive. Thank you.
Dear Friends and Family,
Well another Christmas season is upon us and as we come together with our loved ones we should be mindful not only of ourselves and our families, but of those throughout the world who so not share our blessings. Yes, you may say the economy is causing havoc on our gift shopping and our life style but what of those who lack the necessities that we often take for granted. Clean water, roofs and walls that protect us from the elements and central heating to keep us warm in the coldest of nights. That is to say nothing of the basic nutritional requirements that we will be meeting with turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, potatoes of both the sweet and mashed varieties, green beans, gravy, rolls and those glorious pies. Some throughout this world (and in our nation) will not be so fortunate, yet will count themselves blessed to fill their bellies with whatever they can come up with.
This year on top of the many other blessings America and Americans recieved was a wind of change in the form of President elect Barack Obama, who we should definitely not forget in our prayers. We should also be mindful that change, as in the change that America so desperately needs, will not come in the blink of an eye, nor in the span of a few days, weeks or even months, although we may see the first inklings sooner rather than later. We should also keep our country as a whole in our thoughts and prayers, not to mention our countrymen and women who will be absent from their family homes this Christmas due to their service in our country's Armed Forces serving around the globe.
We, as death row inmates and even more so as members of Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty, have a lot to be mindful of including our advocates, penpals, friends, families, and especially our children. Mindful of our actions, words and deeds and how it reflects our love, care and appreciation for all they do for us. In other words, mindful of the men we wish to be.
How could I possibly not mention my good friend and the closest thing to a fairy godmother any death row inmate has ever had? I couldn't. So, I won't. No matter how unnecessary said "fairy godmotherlike friend" feels that it is. Merry Christmas and although it is not nearly enough, thank you!
Remember the "Reason for the Season".
Ronald B. Smith Jr.
Who's to Blame?
The Bush and Cheney policies of the 21st century produced one of the largest deficits ever. The country was run as if a deficit didn't matter. That's the kind of idiosyncratic behavior America does not need. That's the kind of thinking that leads to every child left behind. Schools in Alabama are being closed due to a lack of funding. But Alabama found millions of dollars to build new jails and prisons.
Alabama spens more money on building new prisons than education. The ideology when building prisons is, if we build them, they will come. Alabama has one of the highest drop out rates of all the 50 states. Alabama has dropped the ball and is throwing the babies out with the bathwater, when it should be, the better the child is educated, the brighter the child's future. When children drop out of school, most turn to the streets.
It's time to start filling up Alabama's class rooms and not the prisons. An education is a head start for life. Instead of building new prisons, Alabama should invest in better education and its people greater business opportunities. The average family in Alabama earns around thirty thousand dollars a year, or less. Why must Alabama rank at the bottom in everything other than crime, obesity, the fastest growing death row per capita and bigotry?
It's time to step out of the shadows of the high crime rates, a poor economy and the legal lynching that is the death penalty. The death penalty alone, if abolished, could put over four hundred million dollars into places that need it the most. It costs over two million dollars to put one person to death and we have over two hundred people on death row right now. It costs around four handred thousand dollars to keep a person in prison for the rest of his life. Do the math, it's time for a change.
Making Ends Meet
I've been watching the news this year about the economy and the effect it's having on the Christmas shoppers. Having grown up in the 70s and 80s I remember the lean years of recession and the hardships it caused my mother who struggled to make ends meet on a good year. I remember the Christmases when I would get one or two toys and a pile of clothes to see me through the year. I remember the look of anxiety on my mother's face when I would open my presents and the need to look happy with the presents I got. At the same time, I didn't realize why she was sad or why I was the only kid on the block with new pants and no toys. I just knew she needed me to be happy and that I wanted her to be happy. I knew that we were poor and she was doing the best she could, so I would wish that we were rich at Christmas when we lit the candles and made our lists. It never occurred to me to wish we were just rich all the time, but I was a kid, so cut me some slack!
As I've gotten older and more reflective, I've realized that all that she did to make up for the lack of toys and treats. I've remembered that despite the lack of material things, I never had a Christmas with my mom that wasn't as happy as anyone could ask for. What she couldn't purchase with money, she bought with love.
I have no candles and will make no list this year but I will wish my mother a very merry and truly happy Christmas, where ever she may be. And the same for all the moms making ends meet. Merry Christmas, Mom!
I pray that I find you and yours doing well and in good spirits. We have reached the end of another year. It has been a challenging year, as well as an eventful one.
I imgine a lot will be on the minds of you this holiday season. With the economices challenges we face, many families will be cutting back on their holiday celebrations. It is said that Thanksgiving and Christmas are the two holidays that people find themselves most depressed. I encourage you though to keep your trust in God, as He will provide. I often tell others to think of those less fortunate, and you will realize that you are truly blessed.
This holiday season, I ask you to focus not on what you don't have, but on what you are blessed to have. Take time out to show your friends and family how much you love them. Don't overshadow this opportunity with the act of giving physical gifts, but give the reatest gift God gave us, the gift of love. Tell them how much you love them and how love gets us through.
I send you my best wishes for a loving holiday season. I thank you for the support and encouragement you have given us. May God continue to bless you and strengthen you. Keep Hope Alive!
In love and peace,
This will be the first Christmas in 10 years that I can honestly say, "I'm proud of myself." I voted this year. You may say how is that possible. Well, being a part of Project Hope makes you want to expand your reach and use all the powers that you have at your disposal. And of mine is my voice! My physical body is locked up, but mentally and spiritually I'm free as I want to be.
I was first registered to vote in 1989 at Selma University. But I never voted. I did not see the importance of my one vote. And even today in 2008, I found 6 people that believed the same way. And letter after letter trying to encourage them, they still wouldn't budge. So, I asked them to each give me an early Christmas gift. Allow me to have your vote. Go to the polls and vote for my candidates. And they all agreed. But it did not stop there. I had a few people close to me that had let my birthday slip by (3 to be exact). So, I asked them to give me their vote. But here is the exciting part for me. After November 4, 2008, I got a few responses, telling me that they now understood why it was so important to me to vote after all the past years that I had neglected that privilige and right.
So many people look down ono us here and I can understand their frustration and pain. But what I can't understand is how with a God that we have, that anyone is above change. I lost my rights a long time ago and after growing in knowledge of God and myself, I have learned that all things are possible. And in this year's election this has proved true. A lot of people have died and shed blood for me and others to have the right to vote. And as I saw President elect Obama walk out on the stage, I felt the tears of joy running down my face for those who did not live to see this happen, who could only dream of it and pray that it would. I quietly sung in my cell and old Christmas song...."Joy to the world" because my joy was overwhelming, and the fact that even on death row I felt a part of it. I voted. And now I can never stand by and listen to someone say that my vote or their vote don't matter. Most of the people I asked for their vote were not going to vote for one reason or another. It was great seeing most of my candidates win and feel as though I still mattered in this country. And this will make this Christmas much better.
It is usually during the Christmas holidays that I put the last touches on my goals and vision for the next year. I go into every year by faith and not by sight hoping that all God's plans for my life are met. But this Christmas I'll make plans with so much more hope. It makes me want to yell from the pits of the row,"yes, we can!" do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens us. "Yes, we can," have faith in things we cannot see, touch, taste, smell or hear. And "yes we can!" believe that all things are possible for those that love the Lord. And as I go into this new day, new hope and new year I stand strong in the face of adversity and believe that all men are created equal!
So, as you all say "yes, we can!" to God, know that it is only then that you have the ability to go up against the odds and win. My chief lesson that I learned from God in 2008 was that He is never content with the status quo.
Still I stand,
I know it has been a long time since you heard from me, but I've really been good this year so I thought I would write and see about your spirit of giving. I don't want so much for myself though I will ask you later to throw in a special stocking stuffer.
I wondered this year as you made your rounds if you might be willing to sprinkle some magic dust. It actually needs to be dropped all around the world so maybe you could affix it to your sleigh exhaust. If you could, would you mix in some stuff that would make people want to be part of the solution as opposed to the problem. We have a mess down here right now and we need some magical spirit of Christmas help. We have got wars going on, our economy is plummeting, our health care system is a disaster, our educational system is suffering, and really the spirit of cooperation is bordering on extinction.
Maybe you could throw in some human kindness where folks would stop being so mean to one another. Mix in some peacefulness so people woule be willing to work with one another. Some mercy where people would stop jacking each other for their differences. Some joy would be nice so people would quit being as hateful to one another. It would also be appreicated if you could put in there a bit of common sense so folks will stop being so complicated. Anything else that you can think to add in there that would lead to a togetherness and answers to the problems we face would really be nice. One last thing I would ask is that maybe, just maybe, you could go to Troy King's house and drop off something that would make him want to stop killing people in the name of justice. There are folks like him all over so maybe you could just put something in the mix for all of them.
There is a lot of stuff in our world today that needs that special Santa's touch so I'll leave it to you to use your judgement, but you know if we keep doing stuff the same way, we can't really expect different results. Just handle it in your own unique Santa way.
And about that special stocking stuffer...You know me too well old friend and even if Britney Spears is too much to ask for I wish you and every one a Very Merry Christmas!!!
FAITH vs. FEAR
As I pen this article I have cause to pause for a bit of quiet reflection on the state of things in our country. We are in a very fearful and uncertain time full of possibilities. Our country decided to go the way of faith and hope rather than fear in it's selection of Barack Obama. But with the economy doing a roller coaster ride, fear and uncertainty are ever present in the hearts of the people. So...what to do?
It is certain that these two, faith and fear, cannot occupy the same vessel. Crime is on the rise in manyof our cities and this quite naturally gives rise to fear. Fear that is manipulated by dishonest politicians gives birth to draconian laws that do more harm than good. What we need in this country is more of what we have just witnessed in this recent election....People stepping out in faith.
For the past few years we have been a people besieged by fear and as it turns out we haven't made very good decisions in terms of our leadership, and I'm talking about both parties. The scriptures say in one place that "perfect love casts out fear." And in another place the scriptures say that what matters in Christ is "faith working throug love.: This is the key to all of the emotional bitterness that has come to the surface during the election cycle. This, of course, is the key that society has missed with regard to the question of capital punishment. Sure, I understand the despair at the constant incidents of crime! I'm in prison, and I watch the news and hang my head at some of the stories I hear. It sickens many of us, who are incarcerated, to see the crime rates. But at the same time, we know that a knee jerk reaction out of fear will only apply a band-aid where surgery is required. We must change our methods America! Change is in the air. Change the philosophy behind our corrections policy.
Step out in faith and try a new thing! After all, where has our current way of thinking gotten us? Where has "locking 'em up and throwing away the key" gotten us? "Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out." Where has this fearful line of thinking gotten us? It certainly has not made us any safer! Surely, there has not arisen a deterrent from any of these lines of thinking. It does not work on an international level. It has not yielded fruit on the national level and as we all know, it has not changed a thing on the local level. There must be a balanced approach to solve the problems that we face on a global scale. You can't just go to war with every perceived offender. And you can't win every conflict with bombs from the sky. We need a thinking, reasoning, fluid leadership. And this type is not weak as we have painfully learned. Likewise, we need this kind of leadership on a state-wide level. Obviously not giving crime a tap on the hand but at the same time not being fearful of a different approach. It takes faith to take the road less traveled.
Faith vs fear, what will we take, America?
Z 582/ I 1-4A
Christmas approaches, so many friends and families will be uniting or reuniting. So much love and joy, so many gifts will be shared. Everyone will be a Christian during this time of year and it doesn't matter if the birth of Jesus is recongnized or not. So, to all the friends and families of Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty, I pray that your Christmas is a very joyful and loving one....
My Christmas is celebrated with joy because I know that despite all that you all or I may be dealing with, we all get a break during this time. And I know that you all are truly living life, by loving, being loved, giving and receiving. I have peace knowing that during this season America as a whole works toward the common goal of all that this season asks of us...America is truly one nation under God...
Now, I will most likely get up, cut on the radio to listen to some Christmas songs. My favorite is, "Let it Snow" by Boyz to Men. I'll stare out the window up into the sky full of hope and know that somehow, some way, all my family and friends can feel my warm embrace of Good Morning and Merry Christmas. And before turning away, I gather all of my strength and send forth a burst of love, then I drift off into my thoughts which is where I spend my Christmas! (smile)
May you all's every day after Christmas be as it was on and during Christmas....
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a what?? You finish it! (smile)
Thoughtfully and Respectfully,
Tony Barksdale Z-611 F1-12A