Category Archives: Death Penalty

“Ideals are our north stars:” Reflections on THERE IS A FIELD from death row

(Dear friends, 
I sent a copy of my play “There Is A Field” to my friend George Wilkerson, who is on North Carolina’s death row. George is part of a drama group that is considering performing the play. With his permission, I am posting here his reflections upon reading the play, which are both on the play itself and the larger Palestinian/Israeli conflict. If anyone has comments or responses for George, please post and I will send them to him!)

Hey Jen,

I finished reading There Is A Field. It’s very poignant. You have a gift of making people relatable–of finding the common humanity in everyone. I thought it was clever of you to  begin the play with the emails. It allowed me to view their intimate exchanges without asking anything of me, without arguing for/against anything. It had the effect of drawing me in, of investing emotionally with the sibling relationship; I have 3 brothers and one sister. That shared experience gave me a framework for understanding.

I identify with Aseel, in that people tell me I’m an idealist. The way it’s said is as if6idealism is disconnected from reality. Like I’m just a dreamer. However, to me, idealism is what shapes reality. Ideals are our north stars. They guide us, give us direction,  provide a point of reference. Ideals have practical applications. They are governing principles…

One thing I see [in the world] is reactionism. There’s a temptation to demonize the oppressors and lionize the oppressed, but the issue isn’t so clearly defined. Just to be clear, oppression is wrong. Period. However, it doesn’t justify the reverse racism or prejudice that is common amongst the oppressed. I believe Gandhi said it well: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Think: If I allow your treatment of me to determine my behavior and beliefs and how I treat you (and others of your race), then I don’t stand for anything. I am a puppet in your hands. Then, if you allow my treatment of you to determine your behavior, etc, then where are we? We are trapped in a vicious feedback loop. Dr King recognized this, so did Gandhi, which is why they advocated nonviolence. They said, stand firm, adhere to our beliefs. Do not compromise your integrity. Someone must break the cycle. Someone must take the first step. Someone must set the example. It says, “Do unto others as you want done unto you,” not “Do unto others as is done to you.” You know?

I won’t pretend to know a lot about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. As I read your play, and now your book, having connected with your real-life characters, I see a temptation within me to only see their side of the story. However, I recognize that there are more sides to every story. I sympathize and am moved to compassion for their (the Palestinians’) struggles. But if their roles were reversed, would they do the Jews any differently? I see Christians persecuted and martyred in Muslim-controlled countries, run out of their homes, their families slaughtered. None of it is okay. None of it is justifiable. Killing Jews because they killed Palestinians because they killed Jews because they killed Palestinians is not okay.

I know it’s not politically correct to speak like this, but every party involved is in violation. Christians persecute Muslims; Muslims kill Christians; Jews kill Muslims; Gays hate Christians, saying they are “intolerant” even while they themselves are being intolerant of Christians, as if Christians’ intolerance justifies their own. It’s madness. Where does it end?

Picking sides only furthers it. I am a Christian, but I believe Christianity is about LOVE. I may disagree with others’ beliefs and behaviors, but I love/accept them nevertheless. I’m not anyone’s judge.

I believe this is the place Aseel had reached. Beyond the rights or wrongs of any one religion, there is a field. We are that field: humanity. Without the religions, the biases, the prejudices, there is a law written in every heart which tells us how we ought to treat one another. It is woven into the very nature of us. This begs the question of why we hurt each other, then, if it is within our nature to love. This is a question, the answer to which determines everything that follows. Sin. The entrance of sin corrupted our nature. But I’m not here to preach. I’m here to tear down the veils, and to demonstrate humanity as God designed us, ie, to live a life governed by love.

The way I give people my friendship immediately is because I believe in love. Sure, people have hurt me and no doubt will again. But I heal, and quickly, because I forgive. Refusal to forgive is what keeps wounds open. The more people hurt me and I forgive, the stronger I get.

–George T. Wilkerson

 

 

 

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Filed under Asel Asleh, Black Palestinian solidarity, Criminal Justice, Death Penalty, Palestine/Israel

Justice would have served us all–reflections from Kenneth Foster, serving a life sentence in TX

(Below, please find reflections from my friend Kenneth Foster, who is currently serving a life sentence in Texas and had previously been in Texas’s death row. Spoiler alert: my favorite quote is at the end: “Remembering and forgetting are both political acts”)

Imperialism is a word that many of us are familiar with. While the word itself may not be ancient, its ideology has been around for eons. And while we may think of wars over-seas, armies encroaching other territories, war ships when we think of Imperialism—what happens when it becomes local? Domesticated? How do we recognize it? How do we see it upon ourselves as we see it inflicted upon other places?

The average citizen does not realize the stretch of the U.S. military which executes Imperialism to precision, and affords its allies to do the same. Does the average citizen know that there’s only around 46 countries (if not less by now) with NO U.S. military presence? Thus making it around 156 countries with U.S. troops. Then 63 countries (give or take a few) with U.S. military bases and troops? How about the fact that the Pentagon currently rents, or owns, around 702 over-seas bases in about 130 countries and has at least another 6,000 bases in the United States and its territories. That doesn’t even scratch the surface.

But what happens when this mentality turns in? It is no longer extended outwards, but is focused inwards? This is not just a nod towards the advancements in technology which brings more surveillance, but brings a force that crashes down on the heads of its every day citizens. What we are seeing in the news every day—unarmed citizens being gunned down with no charges being brought, more police presence, more laws attacking citizens’ rights to organize, exercise free speech, vote —is not just being “tough on crime,” but is an unavoidable manifestation of what has been practiced years upon years by this government.

There’s two places I see these behaviors being carried out on a daily basis, though they are two places to have unlikely similarities: Palestine and the American prison system. Before you shake that off, understand that there are five main institutions in the world: mental, educational, religious, military and penal. All of which share commonalities that might put a shiver in your spine. The educational, however, separates itself from the other four because it is an institution that has become a social vehicle used to publicly establish rank and class. Yet, the other four possess a dark side that dabbles in the physical (and sometimes violent) which seeks to bend the mind and spirit. Especially the latter two institutions.

The military and penal institutions are ones that mirror each other with a chilling effect. They both are built on bringing in a person, breaking them down from their old self, making them the same as everyone else, instilling brutal discipline and order, and even more brutal punishment if there is any deviation from protocol. These behaviors have become the breath of the American society. Is it that hard to believe when America possesses the most military bases in the world AND the most prisoners?

Prisons have become breeding grounds for the Imperialistic mentality. Prisoners-by law-are deemed non-citizens, therefore they are nothing to be respected. We see these same attacks being carried out in places like Palestine, on the West Bank, where homes are bulldozed, people are brutalized. How vile is it that prison authorities carry somewhat the same mentality towards its prisoners that Zionists did of Palestinian people, that it is “a land without people for a people without land.”

When people are viewed in such a scope, they are no longer people. This is why we see such indoctrination inside the military and penal institutions, because if you extend to a person the basic elements of humanity (compassion, empathy, sympathy) than they can pull themselves from under any rock.

Prisons, too, are becoming more technologically advanced with cameras filling the prisons, X-ray machines, metal detectors, urine analysis, K-9 dogs trained to sniff out narcotics and cell phones. Prisons are even filled with check points where prisoners must show ID and/or a pass to go from one part of the unit to the other. Accompanying it is orders barked at them to stay in proper uniform, stay on certain sides of the walkways, no talking! A form of control used to destroy moral, free thinking, happiness. Not much different from the military.

Now these tactics go into the neighborhoods where youths can’t go to certain areas without scrutiny. Methods like ‘stop and frisk’ are deployed to attack the every day citizen. But it’s gone from red and blue colors to who is wearing the kuffiyeh, the hijab, who is the dissident? Woe to the Arab-American who is the new nigger of the U.S.A.

As settlements rise in Palestine, American prisons continue to boom. Like twins they continue to sprout side by side. Tactics to destroy the undesired people continue to bloom—more restrictions, more oppression, more violence, more crooked laws. Kinda hard to tell which group I’m speaking of, isn’t it?

And that is my point! Imperialism is an entity without a face. It is a “thing” that can be used in any border, in any institution and by any person/group with heart cold enough to carry its flag.

We are lost in a sea of rockets, troops and machinery. We are drowning under bars, walls and batons. In a world of wars with rapid firing bullets, the only thing we may have that can keep up is words. Which means we have to fire off 1,000 words to very 100 bullets. This is why plays like “There Is A Field” and books like “I Am Troy Davis” become essential. REMEMBERING is key to humanity’s survival, because remembering and forgetting are both political acts. It’s an act that the penal and military figures know well, because when they can erase what you once were and make you something new, something trained, something robotic, then they can reign in your non-existence. Where we lack the tanks and bullets, we have to remember the power of the core of humanity. We live those on through art, poetry, music. Memory and documentation require imagination which rejects amnesia. A spirit in opposition, rather than in accommodation.

Recognizing the ailments is the first step to treatment. When people think fanatics, it’s not just people who blow themselves up. It’s also people that murder and destroy under the guise of technology or in the name of a better God.

So, as we face the same apparent inevitable Armageddon, what are we to say in the face of all we’ve done? Probably—“Mercy!”

When all along “Justice” would have saved us all.

–Kenneth Foster Jr

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Filed under Black Palestinian solidarity, Criminal Justice, Death Penalty, Human Rights, Palestine/Israel

Who in the Circle is going to speak up?

I received a letter from Tina Brown, a woman on Florida’s death row who read “I Am Troy Davis.” With Tina’s permission, I am posting her letter here:

Hello, my name is Tina Brown 155917. I’m a female Death Row inmate in Ocala Florida. You may have by now received mail from one of my Death Row sisters Emilia Carr. She let me read her “I Am Troy Davis” story. I would like to thank you and a host of others for doing such a remarkable job. You showed the Love, Strength, Courage, hope and fight Troy, his family and friends around the world shared. Also a family that stayed together against all odds. The story so clearly pointed out how racist, unfair, bias and corrupt our legal and judicial can be. Starting with police, detectives, jails, courts and prisons. I thank you for using your talents to deliver such a story of awareness on all levels. Thank you and the others so much.

Our lives are really in the hands of other human beings that we know not their intentions or their hearts. When will these people in these life-changing positions, our legal and judicial system stand for what’s right and not just simply agree? how can you believe some of what someone says and choose not to hear the rest, or How can you know that what someone is telling you wasn’t to direct attention off themselves? How do you know? So how can our legal and judicial system really know how to judge someone’s life? 2 or 3 words can determine a person’s life or death. “I’m sorry.” Sorry for exactly what? “He/she did it.” Did exactly what? A person’s facial expressions can determine their guilt? A smirk or a smile could be of “fear” or “I have to be brave.” Everyone is not the same, so how do you know? So, who gives anyone the right to assume without knowing? Something has to change the legal and judicial system. It’s so obvious that bullies are not just dealt with among children.

Someone needs to speak up in the Circle, someone needs to ask the questions that others are afraid to ask. Who in the Circle is going to stop being a follower of injustice and speak up?  Who in the Circle is going to stop thinking that their opinions, their questions, their reasonable doubts are going to interfere with their job security or their health? Who in the Circle is going to stop being afraid and state the obvious: “Do we really believe we have the right person?” or will you just go along with “It really doesn’t matter because someone has to pay regardless.” When will this type of reasoning stop?

Jury, how do you really know? Sure, some cases are without a doubt to the point but there are other cases that leave behind unanswered questions. Why is intimidation, tampered questioning, recanted testimony, mistaken identity or coerced answers not an issue? Why is that not of major importance? Who’s going to ask the question or state the obvious, “Something’s not right here, there’s more to this.”

Why are there higher levels of court to address when the lower level of court won’t let in all the facts for the high levels of courts to see? God forbid someone says, “We need more proof for why this and why that.” Why is the evidence that is so needed to make a difference always the evidence not forthcoming?

Someone needs to ask those big pink elephant in the room questions. I dare you to stop letting that Circle intimidate or bully you any further. Don’t just simply agree when you know it’s not justice.

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Filed under Criminal Justice, Death Penalty, Troy Davis, Uncategorized

If we can help people to SEE us as human beings, it’ll change the way we’re treated

Recently, I’ve begun corresponding with a prisoner on North Carolina’s death row, named George Wilkerson. About a year ago, I sent him a copy of “I Am Troy Davis” (which I co-authored with innocent death row prisoner Troy Davis, who was murdered in 2011 by the state of Georgia.) He wrote back to me, an extremely powerful response to the book… it took me a year to respond to his letter (yes, I feel terrible about that)–but I finally did on Christmas day…and his response to my response came almost immediately, in which he gave me permission to post here anything he wrote in his letters. One of his goals is to reveal the humanity of those society has encaged and invisible-ized. I  hope that by posting bits of his correspondence here, it helps achieve that.

“Ms Marlowe,
Hello. My name is George Wilkerson and I’m a prisoner on Death Row in North Carolina. Recently-as in the last 18 months-I’ve been learning to write, and I realized that writing is nothing without having something to say, something that’ll make a difference, you know?…You, me, and many others on both sides of the wall are engaged in a war–a war of ideas.  If we can help people to SEE us as human beings, it’ll change the way we’re treated. Change the way a person THINKS, you change the way they behave. One moment, one crime, doesn’t define a person. We have feelings, and moms, and kids. We love. We suffer.”

Then, in response to my belated response….some other words from George:

(in response to my remarking on his talent as a writer:)

“I appreciate what you said about my writing, but really, if I have any talent at all, I have to say it’s a God-given gift, although I think maybe it’s my context that fools people into thinking I have any: I’m a prisoner on death row; the expectations are pretty low. :-)”

(in response to having read “I Am Troy Davis,” and the fact that Troy has never been officially exonorated)

“People like us are fighting battles in a larger war, eh? Sometimes, there are decisive battles upon which turn the war, but often there is no clear demarkation. We have to have faith that what we do, in terms of fighting where we are, with the tools/weapons we possess, all plays a role in the larger scheme of things. Let’s say you reached a few preachers and teachers–I’m simplifying to create a formula from which we can extrapolate. Preachers and teachers directly influence the thinking, and therefore behavior, of thousands of people. Right?…To me, activism surrounding the death penalty and the justice system need books like yours. They are our weapons. You gathered the facts, you humanized a problem, you showed how an abstract idea like “injustice” looks and feels and cries. You provided an entry point for those who can’t comprehend abstractions, for those who don’t operate on principle, but need instead concrete connections to their world before they’ll act.

And, you do a great job of contextualizing Troy Davis’s situation, showing how it is symptomatic of a greater problem. That’s the interconnectedness you spoke of. These situations aren’t isolated evenets! But we need people like you to show how they are connected.”

George: I have much to learn from you. We all have much to learn from you.

I’m sure I’ll be posting more of your words, and often. But for now, may those who read these words see you–and all those locked up with you–as a full human being.

 

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Filed under Criminal Justice, Death Penalty, Troy Davis

Troy Davis’s nephew De’Jaun is at the halfway point!

Dear friends,

Troy Davis (an innocent man on Georgia’s death row executed in Sept 2011) wanted more than anything for his nephew De’Jaun to achieve his educational dream.

In the fall of 2013, De’Jaun took his first steps towards that dream by beginning Morehouse College, pursuing a dual degree in engineering and physics (and making Dean’s List several semesters while he’s at it!) In his 2nd year, De’Jaun co-founded and is running Morehouse’s Makerspace Lab.

De’Jaun’s ability to attend Morehouse is enabled by the generosity and solidarity of scores of supporters who believe in this young man and want to ensure he’s able to build the future he deserves.

Now it’s time to raise tuition for De’Jaun’s Junior year at Morehouse!

Whether you watched De’Jaun grow up as you worked side by side with his beloved mother Martina and grandmother Virginia, were inspired by his speaking about his Uncle Troy’s case at an NAACP or Amnesty International youth conference, or learned about his growing into a powerful activist from the book I Am Troy Davis–it is clear to all who have encountered De’Jaun that this phenomenal young man deserves our support.

We’re trying to raise $20,000 for De’Jaun’s 3rd year of college tuition—and we need your help to meet that goal!

The Impact is not just on De’Jaun alone! De’Jaun intends to use his engineering degree in ways that will have far-reaching impacts (for example–he spoke to me about his involvement in an organization called Green For All Engineering, through which he educates young students about “going green” and the importance of environmental safety through engineering.) He also intends to continue to serve as a mentor and role model for other youth with dreams who may not see a clear path on how to achieve them.

If you can’t make a donation at this time, here are some things you can do:

–Make some noise about this campaign–use the CrowdRise share tools to spread the word on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

–Email Jen Marlowe to ask her to let you know in the future when De’Jaun’s tuition is due once again.

–Purchase an I Am Troy Davis T-shirt–proceeds go directly to De’Jaun’s college fund! (Email Kimberly Davis for more info)

–Purchase a copy of the book I Am Troy Davis and learn more about De’Jaun, his incredible family, and their ongoing fight to end the death penalty!

Thank you for helping make De’Jaun–and his Uncle Troy’s–dreams come true!

In solidarity,
Jen Marlowe
Author, I Am Troy Davis

De'Jaun Troy1 De'Jaun Troy 2

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Filed under Death Penalty, Troy Davis

Supporting humanity, dignity and equal rights


Dear friends and supporters,

I am so grateful for your support. You make possible all that we do at donkeysaddle projects.

2014 has brought into stark relief how much critically important work must be done, and how interconnected are so many struggles for freedom, equality, and dignity, whether in Ferguson, Palestine, or Bahrain.

The racism inherent in our country’s state violence (be it the death penalty or police killings), the utter disregard for human life that enabled the recent devastation in Gaza, the continued targeting of human rights defenders from Bahrain to Brazil…these all serve as powerful and painful reminders of how vital it is to highlight everyone’s equal humanity, and to insist on the protection of everyone’s rights and freedom.

In 2014, your generosity helped donkeysaddle projects in the struggle for human dignity and human rights by supporting our ability to:

I will be in Israel/Palestine when you receive this letter, perhaps in Gaza, assessing the impact of war and siege on Gaza’s health and education systems; with Israeli friends in Tel Aviv or Haifa as they struggle to dismantle their country’s structures of power and privilege and replace them with structures of true equality and justice; at the Freedom Theatre in Jenin Refugee Camp, filming artists who bravely continue in their path of cultural resistance to oppression; or in Jerusalem, documenting the boiling-over tensions of the city, and examining the conditions that led there.

In 2015, your support can enable donkeysaddle projects to continue this ongoing work in Palestine/Israel, in Bahrain, and in the U.S.

Here’s what we have planned in the year ahead:

Your contribution allows donkeysaddle projects to have impact for years to come and supports a vision of the world in which every person’s humanity, dignity and rights are equally respected and equally protected.

Please support donkeysaddle projects with a contribution that feels meaningful to you this year!  For online donations, including monthly donations, please click here. For info on donations via check, please click here.

With warm wishes for a New Year that brings us closer to peace with justice, dignity, freedom and equality for all,

Jen Marlowe
donkeysaddle projects

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Filed under Asel Asleh, Bahrain, Brazil, Criminal Justice, Death Penalty, Human Rights, Palestine/Israel, Troy Davis

Honoring a warrior for justice

Dear friends,

Today marks 3 years since the world lost one of our fiercest and most loving warriors for justice: Martina Davis-Correia, sister of innocent death row prisoner Troy Davis.

In Martina’s honor,I hope you will consider sending a prisoner the book we wrote together (“I Am Troy Davis”) as a holiday gift.

All you need to do is click this link, and fill in the billing information. And use the coupon code HOLIDAY40 to receive a 40% discount!

Joining with Martina, Troy, their mother Virginia and the entire Davis family in their struggle for justice has changed my life–and the lives of so many other people–forever.

You can read more about Martina here.

And you can, in her honor, give the gift of “I Am Troy Davis” to a prisoner here.

With much love, always, for Martina and the Davis family,

Jen Marlowe

http://www.donkeysaddle.org

Martina, your imprint never fades

Martina, your imprint never fades

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Filed under Criminal Justice, Death Penalty, Troy Davis