by Lady Gray
A mother holds the picture of her teenaged son tightly close to her hear as her tears drip onto the back of the photograph. All present join in the closing prayer, "Lo though I walk through the valley of death . . ." The "Amens" having been said, there is nothing more to do but place a flower on the casket and return home to live with her memories. This is all too often a repeated scene in California’s ghetto areas. A teenager gunned down in the prime of his youth over some gang rivalry of no importance!
Across town another mother visits her son in county jail. This is her first time into the jail and she isn’t sure just what she must do. But, she gets through it and before long she is seated at a window with her son on the other side of the glass. She is overcome by sight of her son in an orange jail suit and she starts to cry. She places her hand on the window and he places his hand on the window from the other side as if to touch her. She breaks down and starts sobbing, "Why my boy, Why, she repeats over and over?" Overcome by the emotion, the boy begins to cry also. Finally, when he can take no more, he just gets up and leaves.
When the trial is over and the guilty verdict is in and the judgement pronounced, there is little remaining for this mother to do but to find the picture that she will hold close to her heart for the final prayers.
As for her son, During the next few years he wakes up every morning and builds hope that this will be the day when he hears something about his appeal. But, by night, he knows the court is closed and he has heard nothing. So, his hope is dashed in flames to the ground in the reality that he is only one day closer to facing the end. Every night, he faces execution in his dreams. The human mind is not equipped to handle the impending destruction of the body. The very hope that so set him free in the morning now shackles him by night. But, by morning it rises once again like the Phoenix building hope anew from the ashes of yesterday’s hope and the whole cycle starts over again. This emotional roller coaster begins the destruction of the man long before the gas or chemicals that will end to his biology. But, along the road there are other things to hep more weight on his chest. In California, they give him a form, CDC 1801. They say that it is to give him a choice in the matter of how he wants to die. But, I think it is just another way to throw it in his face. To be sure that he never forgets, as if he could! The guard rushes him to finish deciding whether to die by gas or lethal injection so that he can hurry off to the love and security of his family as soon as his shift ends. It is a cruel contrast thrown in the face of a condemned man. Whatever he puts on that paper, he is stuck with unless he gets a stay of execution and a new death warrant. So, he must think it through. Would he rather choke on gas or convulse like a stay cat on chemical poisoning? There are no kind words. There is no place of comfort. There is no hope except in the torments of the Phoenix. Letters come! They are like little treasure chests of love that come from a life that was built before. The sobs of a crying wife, the fears of children about to lose their father, they cover their sorry with brave words but behind it all there is nothing in this "Justice" but the creation of more victims. The condemned man holds on to each letter as if it were a life raft. But, he knows that his ship is sinking and he doesn’t want to drag those who love him to the bottom with him. His wife must have a new life without him. If he loves her, he must find it in himself to free her from the millstone that he has become. So with his pencil and paper he takes his treasure chest, the last bit of kindness he has, and he smashes it so that she can have a life. He picks fight after fight until she is through with him and each time she writes back trying to fix things up, he dashes her efforts to the ground until the day she cuts free of him and the letters stop coming. Now, he is faced with the knowledge that whatever of beauty he has built in his life, he has now killed it and he is ready to go to his doom as empty as the first day he starting writing on life’s slate. He fragments into a fantasy world of scenarios in which he gets to live that he tries to convince himself of their truth. But, then another victim on Death Row spends the night praying, crying, shaking and vomiting in fear of his execution which is close at hand. He keeps all of the men on the Row awake. Every one of them wishes he would shut up because he is reminding them of their own fate and they share in his fear. "Just don’t remind me," they say to themselves. Tired from the previous night, they look forward to a good night’s sleep now that the noisy inmate has been put to death. But, the silence of the night is worse than all of the noise of the night before. No one says anything. All of the fantasies of life are shattered by this intrusion of reality! There is no place to hide in the deadly silence to think about it. Then comes the day when the inmate is moved to Death Watch. Now, it is just a short time until he has to face the end. He is put in an isolation cell. He is completely deprived of all sensory perception. This is a place where he is supposed to prepare for the end. Well, it is not for him. It is a place where the panic can finish him off mentally. Destroy any spark of life that may remain that he might want to fight to keep. It is hoped that he will just want to get it over with so that the C.O.s will not have trouble with him at the end. It is, as it has always been, all for the system. The door to the isolation cell opens and a guard walks in. The time is at hand. The prisoner’s fear is at maximum. He shakes so badly that he can hardly stand up. He begins to vomit again. But, his stomach has only blood to give. The guard, seeing his condition, says, "Relax, the governor called." "They arrested the murderer last night." "He confessed and knew all of the details of the case that the police had withheld from the press." With his marriage in ruins, his stomach with ulcers, and his nerves shot, he is not sure whether he is dead or alive. He is only sure of his status as a victim!
The system is imperfect! Death is final! Protect yourself and your loved ones, abolish the death penalty!