Not so long ago, I posted an article written by a Rev. Cari Willis, detailing the day she had to say goodbye to her friend on death row. Her words changed me.
I didn’t want to think about ‘Death Row’ before that post. It was distant and removed from my reality, the least of my worries – until she described what it was like for her to accompany her friend on the day of his death and being separated by glass as she watched him lose his life surrounded by men doing their job – killing him. She made it real.
So – I contacted someone on death row. One handwritten letter later, I knew I would keep moving forward with my penpal. And – I’m scared, honestly. I’m scared, because after one letter I felt his humanity, let him into my heart, and now consider him a friend. A friend I will have to say goodbye to when his day comes to be surrounded by men whose job it is to take his life.
I didn’t have a solid plan when I wrote that first letter. I wanted to, in some way, try and share death row through my blog. I wanted to possibly get to know someone on the ‘row’, as he calls it, sharing that experience – so people would no longer feel that it was far removed from their lives. I wanted to impress on people the gravity of this country’s practice of taking life as a form of punishment. I didn’t necessarily want to ever talk about the law, or crime, or even a name. I had no plan. Still don’t.
What I know for certain is – after holding one handwritten letter in my hands – I will never turn back. I heard someone say this week, “When you see injustice, you can’t turn away,” and I can’t.
It turns out my new friend isn’t very keen on the idea of me getting to know him in a public forum. And, I won’t share his thoughts or feelings or details of our friendship without his permission, so you may not hear much more about him, or you may hear a lot. We’ll see.
What I do want to share about him is this. In spite of the actions that got him where he is, he has a heart that beats. He has a mind that remembers a life he will never be a part of again. He is as human and flawed and vulnerable as I am. He doesn’t like to call it ‘death’ row, because he doesn’t like to keep saying the word death. It is the ‘row’. And I also know my heart hurts for him, knowing he wakes up every day to the knowledge he will one day be executed. Some people would call that justice, to try and justify it for the pain he caused others. That is excusing the horrible act of murder. There is no excuse for murder.