Many of you have been following the responses to I Am Troy Davis made by a group of prisoners serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole in Texas. They each wrote in response to several questions I had posed, including:
—How was it for your emotionally to read I Am Troy Davis?
—Are books like this useful for challenging and changing the system?
Here are their answers to my third and final question:
In what ways does I Am Troy Davis reflect your and your family’s experience? In what ways does it not?
The men’s answers, which I have consistently found thoughtful and illuminating, are below.
Mr. Charles McKinley:
To begin, the ONLY way this life story doesn’t reflect my own is the death row aspect. Every thing else is such a mirror of my own dilemma and the drive, love, and belief of those who help me to this day. I too am the victim of a broken, unjust, classist/racist court system. My attorney failed me unspeakably at a very crucial point in the legal process.
So there are many, many moments where I had to put the book down, take a deep breath, and just think and absorb it all. One of the most gratifying themes I took was that without the positive supporting network of family, the struggle is almost lost. For even though blood relations make a big difference, family doesn’t end there; each and every supporter is family too. I’ve seen so many people give up and give in because of the fact that they have no support outside themselves.
The fact that Troy was still ultimately killed is…a silent dread, I think most prisoners with inordinate amounts of time or death sentences share. There have been times that I’ve grappled with thoughts of possibly dying here in prison. It’s not a pleasant thought because a life term is its own slow death sentence. I’ve been fighting for 12 long and very frustrating years to be actually heard and listened to, and not just rubber-stamped denied. Troy Davis’s struggle is also my struggle.
I’ve seen the hurt in the eyes of loved ones, not hearing that I’ve finally prevailed. My mother’s soul has been severely blotched by my incarceration. My fear, too, is that heart break will be her demise. These are my silent and personal distresses dealing with a system that favors bottom lines over fundamental fairness. We, Troy Davis and I, share the painful experience of being poor, initially unversed in criminal law, naive to this ghastly beast of a system, being African American going through it all.
My plight and Troy’s plight was profoundly similar. While the circumstances of the crime we were accused of was different, the prejudice, corruption and family support was amazingly similar.
First and foremost, I come from a very faithful family like Troy’s. I was raised by my grandparents in a God-fearing home. Unfortunately, both of my parents were drug addicts and hustlers, thus while I had the best examples through my grandparents, I had the worst through my parents. Therefore, I became a by-product of both–a youth that graduated high school, started college, but also liked the wrong crowd. The wrong crowd put me at the wrong place at the wrong time.
My grandparents, like Virginia and Martina, stood by my side through thick and thin. That includes driving long hours for visits, staying on top of lawyers and gathering support.
As Troy watched his nephew and niece grow up, I, too, watched my infant daughter grow up behind the glass. Opposite of Troy, I didn’t touch my daughter for 12 years until I left death row. Like Troy, I had to build with my child in visiting rooms and letters.
And the same way Troy lost his mother while incarcerated, I lost my grandmother (who was truly my mother) while being incarcerated.
In Troy’s case he had an entire police department against him. I had an entire courthouse against me as the victim’s father was a prominent attorney in my city and it was common knowledge that revenge would be sought against the defendants. While the admitted shooter in this crime was executed, the victim’s family still cried for my execution even though it was established fact that I did not kill nor encouraged the killing of their son. I was sent to death row for being an alleged get-away driver. As Troy, I knew what it was like to have people screaming for your blood even when evidence was in their face that showed them I was not a guilty party.
Then, the sheer strength that Troy and I was invested with was perhaps the greatest trait, because we acted as the glue that kept our house together. If we had lost it, caved in, given up, how could our people have stood as strong and focused with us? Troy had tremendous faith. I gained a powerful faith and that faith allowed me to have vision and gain knowledge and understanding.
As highlighted in I Am Troy Davis, society rarely sees how the State turns a family in a victim as well, In truth, that is something that needs to be revealed more, because while people may not relate to a “criminal,” I do believe they can relate to caring for a family member. Not just “thugs” go to death row. Look at Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Randall Adams. As long as there is a box to put a check mark FOR the death penalty, there is no blue print for who goes to death row. While it may be disproportionate, it is not exclusive. It is inclusive.
This is why it must find its eradication so that the American mentality of “Kill” can be replaced with “Heal.”
David E. Davis
Like Troy, I was a young, black man living in a government-divested urban community in a conservative town in the South. A community militarized, after years of white-flight had taken place, by the state law enforcement bureaucrats occupying the area. The streets in the community were infested with illegal substances, high powered weaponry, and liquor stores on every other corner. There existed a high unemployment and crime rate. And absolutely no resources. As I’m certain Troy was, I was overwhelmed by the setting…with all this transpiring, should it be surprising that the environment is overflowing with criminality?
I received double-life sentence, which means I could’ve ended up on death row, just like Troy, for defending my home, now ex-wife, and adult step daughter who was four at the time of the incident, so, like Troy, I’ve seen children grow into adults while here incarcerated.
I Am Troy Davis reflects my experience personally in that: he was tried in the news by the local media-bureaucrats during the investigative stage of his case before being indicted. There were blatant miscarriages of justice during the investigations by the bureaucrat investigators while handling witnesses and other evidence, the evidence was collected to support the media’s theory and relied upon to lead to the truth of the matter. I was not allowed to question investigators pertaining to the destroying of exculpatory evidence. Like Troy, I also lacked the funds to employ an effective defense. Federal funding for the Innocence Project attempting to prove my “actual innocence” case after I was time-barred due to the anti-terrorism death penalty act, was halted at a critical time during the procedure. There are many more likenesses, because this is a system and systems repeat themselves, while hoping we’re not educated towards how it operates.
In the end, ultimately, my case resembles Troy Davis’s in that all of the social illnesses prevalent in our communities have been scientifically proven to ‘effectively exterminate’ those living in the areas where they’re being intentionally implemented. Place an agitative military [police] embargo/blockade around any community in the world. Then fill it with: drugs, guns, alcohol, and take away its resources, divest in the community, and what you’ll get is criminality!
My an Troy’s experiences don’t just resemble, they’re one in the same. We are men-of-color in an imperialistic society, our standing within the system is the same. We have one alternative, assimilate to one stereotype within the system, or another. We’re being dis-allowed to be ourselves.
I Am Troy Davis.