Tag Archives: execution

When Writing Gets Dangerous

24 Mar

One day, I decided to write to someone on death row, USA. This wasn’t like one of my usual reckless fripperies (which tend to be more along the lines of ‘shall I risk putting green underpants into a whites wash?’ or ‘if I grate some vegetables into my daughter’s pasta sauce, will she notice?’)

No. This was something that had been brewing in my mind for several years.

It all began when I was 15 years old and I watched a certain documentary called ’14 Days in May.’ A very powerful film that shows the last 2 weeks in the life of a young man who was executed in Mississippi’s gas chamber in 1987.

You can still watch it – here

The film centred around the last days of Edward Earl Johnson and his (then) very young lawyer – a now rather well known chappie who goes by the name of Clive Stafford Smith.

That documentary left a bitter taste in my mouth. Something was wrong here. Something was very, very disturbing about the way that we were operating in our so-called ‘civilised society.’

Unlike the marvellous Jan Arriens – who immediately began to write to inmates on death row and who very soon afterwards set up the letter-writing organisation ‘Lifelines’ however – I didn’t embark on a call to action (hell – I cared, of course I did, but back then I was rather more worried about ‘will I ever get a boyfriend? Oh woe is me!’)

Thankfully, Jan is the forgiving type and it wasn’t until 2000 that the notion of writing to someone on death row actually took root.  I’m an avid letter writer. I still prefer the old fountain pen and Basildon Bond in comparison to email. So after some long, hard contemplations (the issues of ‘do I care what kind of crime the person I write to might have committed? Will they think that I’m a nutter British woman who wants to have some kind of romance with them? What if they escape, track me down and fry my liver with onions?‘) I applied to Lifelines.

Thankfully Jan and Co had trodden these very paths before me. They gave me sound advice and urged me to think long and hard about my true motivations for writing. In the end, they allowed me on board and I joined Lifelines. And then I ‘met’ Anthony.

And I did meet Anthony. We wrote for many years and I flew out to Texas to visit with him. This isn’t the forum though, for me to prattle on about the friendship that we struck up, how dear he became to all of my family….how I never expected to get so much love and support back from some random bloke who was shoved in a cage for 23 hours a day.

This point in time is where I remember him and why I don’t get letters from him any longer. Where I remember how sick the system is. How even the innocent note to my little girl was twisted and used in order to murder him. My daughter  had asked me to tell Anthony that she would like to learn to fish as he used to when he was free – and would he show her one day?  Anthony wrote back –  joking as always – and said ‘Sure – but I’ll have to use Ms XXXXX as bait!’  A certain female prosectutor was hiking up Anthony’s dates for execution. But without us knowing – our correspondence was being monitored.

So the little comedy moment between Ant and a tiny snip of a girl in the UK ended up as ‘evidence’ in court that Anthony had threatened to take the life of the prosecutor.

Which ultimately led to an even faster execution date for him, even though Clive Stafford Smith’s crew at ‘Reprieve’ did all that they could to help the bizarre miscarriage of ‘justice’ which Anthony had become embroiled in.

Dangerous to get involved in the lives of people who have nothing.

Dangerous to joke about how sick the so-called judicial system is in the USA. Dangerous to laugh and to reach out to others, maybe…

But still, Anthony told me that he would never have had it any other way.

In memory of you dear pal….and of your own poor, family who never deserved the shame and the grief inevitably involved.

And with a big hats off to all who go out of their way to give something to someone else  who has nothing left to live for. Even if it is only the odd, kind word.

me and ant sml

Death Penalty – a light-hearted distaction for Tory screw-ups…

6 Aug

I know that I shouldn’t be shocked.  But  I am. Apparently it’s the power of the public. The power of the petition. If enough people have enough strong views about something or other – our adorable Members of Parliament get to collectively debate it. With the potential of re-establishing the legal -snuffing out of human life, according to how you and I (i.e. a Jury) believe what the evil scummers have done.

Yep – the old Death Penalty chestnut finally wriggled its way out of the Tory coffers this week. I hope that readers are canny enough to see that the massive amounts of press and media coverage that surrounded this ‘new debate’ have very much heralded a convenient DISTRACTION for the disasters that we are now encountering as a result of this Tory-led coalition.

 So far, all that we have seen from this Government is a load of witless rhetoric from a bunch of public schoolboys who have the money and backing to pay for their own oratory tutorials and to purchase soundbite-awareness and the best PR/ Media  private company representation. These are a bunch of toffs , for whom it is clear that the only experience to encountering  the lives of anyone remotely working class has
been to purchase a kebab from ‘Jason’s Kebab Van’ in the middle of Oxford, round about 2 am during Trinity term and after a thoroughly smashing debate at The Union about whether more people  from those dodgy postcode areas (Academies! The New Comprehsensives! Eeek!!)should be allowed into Oxbridge….

It strikes me as highly amusing that this Government are obviously wetting their pants at the transparency of their links with a certain Mr Murdoch. Furthermore, it reeks of desperation now, that they are now going for the approach of ‘Well – if we are going to go by the strength of numbers via the general public signing petitions – Hell! Let’s drag the old death penalty one out!! An awful lot of people think that the death penalty will help our country out of all of these problems!  So surely, we have to listen to these people as an example of basic democracy! (Hoo…and those muslim-sorts are also pro-capital punishment aren’t they? We can even win back THEIR votes! Course, we wouldn’t want to go or the full beheading malarky. Bit messy that.  We would go with something nice and sanitised like the lethal injection.  Make a note – send fact-finding mission to Louisiana ASAP’…

As someone who has had a lot more to do with the subject of capital punishment during the last ten years.  Sadly, more so than the average member of the population in the UK. I am afraid that my feelings are obviously a wee-bit biased.  But my reaction is also just a little bit déjà-vouzed right now.  I feel incredulous that we are returning to this stupid debate, yet again.   As someone who lost one of their most wonderful friends – to a barbaric and ill-administered (i.e. tortuous) execution in Texas only a few years ago, I  feel utterly depressed at the prospect of any UK citizen who buys into this pathetic diatribe of ‘an open and public debate on capital punishment.’

Those of you who already know me, may remember than my own written words of a seven year friendship, even the  words of my (then) 3 year old daughter – were quoted in USA courts as an example of the sinister threats imposed by a poor, innocent black guy who was stitched up from the word go.  Anthony joked in a letter to my little girl, Ruby that he would like to teach her to fish (as she had requested earlier), using the prosecuting lawyer ‘as bait’.  He shared the same impish sense of humour as I still do. We spent many years getting to know each other, taking the P out of each other, sending tiny little tokens of care and love (so far as you can from Texas when you are not allowed to send anything out other than a drawing, or a letter…..so far as you can from the UK when you can’t even send anything other than a card or something printed off on a computer).

Little did we know that the crazy letters that we sent during the last year of his life – mine, my daughter’s, my mother’s, my husband’s, even my muslim brother and family ‘s (whom many people WRONGLY supposed would be pro-death penalty..) were confiscated before delivery to him.  Each one of us were just quietly, doing their best  to try and keep this guys head above the water. To keep him from taking his own life at the horror of life in virtual solitary confinement in Texas. But ever letter was  seized and used as evidence of ‘a violent and corrupted mind’ of our friend. Anthony had never, ever had a violent criminal record. His only crime was being brought up in the ghettoes of Dallas, to an absent father and a mother who couldnt cope. As the second eldest he had to look out for all of his younger siblings. Now you tell me. How the hell does a nine year old boy manage to look after his tiny siblings within the 1970’s- to feed and clothe them – without learning the ropes of ‘coping’ aka the wavy blue line of the law?

So just before Anthony was 16 – he nicked a car.  I am sure that he had been doing dodgy stuff now and then before this.  But he got caught.   And there happened to be a few dollars in the glove box. So he got a double rap. He told me that he hadn’t even been aware of this.  The daft bugger.  And he got out of prison when he was well into his 20s.  He then went on to work as a volunteer, advising ex-offenders who had just gotten out of prison.  He volunteered for the NAACP.

I won’t use this opportunity to tell you about the horrendous corruption that followed this in relation to a violent incident that Anthony and his nephew Claude were alleged to have carried out.  Anthony was hundreds of miles away from the robbery and murder (and had evidence to prove this – which got ‘lost’ by the police). There are MANY reasons as to why this case became a ‘stitch up’ and I won’t go into it here.   I am all too aware that Anthony’s nephew, Claude – is now on the 11th year of his life sentence in Texas. I am all too aware that the words I have muttered before – even light hearted banter between Anthony and a toddler – can nail a life in good ol’ Texas.

When Anthony realised that he only had a a couple of weeks to live, he asked me to witness his execution and to be there for him as his best friend. Even now, a few years later, I am still horrified when I think that the daft words exchanged between him and myself, and my tiny daugther were re-constructed as to become a death threat to a US lawyer.  I still can’t believe that every letter of the last week prior to his execution was  held back until after his execution. So he never received my family’s last words of love. (They were returned to all of us two weeks after his execution with a handwritten ‘Inmate Deceased’ written on them).

The issue of the death penalty is so much bigger than us so-called ‘bleeding heart liberals’. That caring, sharing, enlightened bunch who feel sorry for the poor inmates who never had much of a chance in life….There are  of course, the victims to consider.  And although I know that Anthony was not ‘your typical death row inmate’ and his case was somewhat unusual, in terms of the death penalty per se for ‘an eye for an eye’ for me, getting to know about organisations such as ‘Murder Victims for Reconciliation’ simply took my breath away. I got to meet  people like Bud Welch whose daughter was killed in the Oklahoma City Bombing and who himself became friends with Timothyy McVeigh’s father when he realised that execution would only make his situation and experience as the father of a murdered daughter much, much worse. I met the mothers of murdered children both in the UK and the USA who had somehow (God only knows how – I don’t know if I could do this) moved beyond baying for blood and who wanted some peace and form of reconciliation.

But as Bud Welch himself said to me, ‘no one would ever think that Tim Mcveigh’s dad is a victim. But he is as just as much a victim as my daughter’s family are. He loved his son, did not want to see him also killed.  He knew that his son had been misguided and messed up the most horrible degree. And now Tim’s dad – this poor guy has had to change his identity, name, state, livelihood – all because of something is son- not him – did.   He is in exile. As are the rest of Tim’s family.  This goes for everyone who is remotely related to someone who is executed.’

Remember this. We are not just executing people that we think are guilty. We are executing entire families – parents, aunties, uncles, brothers, sisters and tiny little children- who have done nothing to deserve losing their loved ones. This is not something that you can share during a lunch break with a sympathetic colleague.  This is not something that you can chat about nonchalently to your next door neighbour.  You child screws up big time – or is stitched up big time – and you also have your own life, your own freedom – snuffed out.

And yes, despite what many of their loved ones have done – they are still utterly loved…. and so these relatives’ own lives become miserable and scarred – and many of them will tell you that they feel that they are not even worth living  – as a result.

So please, before you open your mouth with an opinion on the death penalty. Think beyond your own gut reaction. I know that if anyone hurt my own family or friends, I would want to see the perpetrator dead.  I would want to nail the bastard myself.  I know that this is only a natural reaction.  But I also know that – through my own experience – that ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth leaves the whole world toothless and blind’… You may feel better for a few seconds, after crushing the one who hurt your dearest so badly. But to be a human is to be more than just blood-lust and knee-jerk reaction.

PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION – http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/1090

For more on how/ why I got into all of this – see www.lifelines-uk.org

me and ant  (PHOTO)