Tag Archives: death row prisoner

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

The conversations that matter

Dear friends,

When I first put out the call asking for people nation-wide to join me in the I Am Troy Davis Community Book Club, I could not have anticipated the results. I never imagined that 20 inspiring organizations would sign on to partner with the Davis family and me, helping to organize 45 book discussions throughout 20 states.  (See responses to the Community Book Club here!)

But what really blew me away was the enthusiastic participation from the most invisible, marginalized members of our society: those behind bars.  donkeysaddle projectsHaymarket Books and the Campaign to End the Death Penalty partnered to send 50 copies of I Am Troy Davis to prisoners–many on death row, others serving life sentences without the possibility of parole, and responses to the book and to the invitation to participate in the Community Book Club came flooding in.

As Kenneth Foster Jr (formerly on TX death row, now serving a life sentence without parole) wrote, “The dream for every prisoner is to be a part of the conversations that matter.”

And as Emilia Carr, on death row in Florida, added: “Thank you for inviting me…to be able to be a part of things such as this…reminds you that people care that you are a human with a voice.”

In light of the lack of an indictment in the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, these correspondences have taken on a new level of meaning. The “Black Lives Matter” signs that I’ve seen at protests resonate powerfully with the letters I have been receiving from the mostly young, black men whom society and the state has rejected and warehoused.

I hope you will take time to read and reflect on these prisoners’ writings, including a radio spot by Mumia Abu-Jamal.

You can help the conversation continue!
Give
 I Am Troy Davis as a gift to a prisoner this holiday season!

Haymarket Books has set up a special webpage for the purpose of gifting I Am Troy Davis to a prisoner. All you have to do is fill out the billing information, and Haymarket Books will send the book to a prisoner who is waiting to receive one–along with a note, letting him/her know that the book is a holiday gift from an anonymous donor. (Haymarket Books is offering a 40% discount! Just enter the coupon code Holiday40 at checkout!)

(If you would like to gift The Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian’s Journey from Prisoner to Peacemaker to a prisoner, let me know! I’m planning to get that book inside many prisons as well!)

You will be hearing more from me in the weeks to come about what donkeysaddle projects accomplished this year and what lies ahead. Please know that none of our work can  happen without your support.  I hope you will consider making a monthly contribution to donkeysaddle projects, or, a one-time donation!

I look forward to being in touch as 2014 draws to a close, and, together, to continuing to foster the conversations that matter most.

In solidarity and in struggle,

Jen Marlowe
donkeysaddle projects
Twitter: @donkeysaddleorg
Blog: View from the donkey’s saddle

Senior seminar on the death penalty at UNC-Wilmington read and discuss “I Am Troy Davis” as part of the Community Book Club.

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Filed under Criminal Justice, Death Penalty, Troy Davis

Reviews from the Row #5: The impact of a family’s love & support

(I received this review of I Am Troy Davis from a death row prisoner in Texas named Ker’Sean Ramey. Another prisoner had passed on the book to Ker’Sean, and had invited him to send me his review. If you are interested in reading reviews from other death row prisoners, you can do so here and here. And, here are responses from prisoners about why books like this matter, and what the experience was emotionally of reading I Am Troy Davis.)

From Ker’Sean Ramey:

I Am Troy Davis is very well articulated. It not only opens your eyes to the things that go on in the judicial system, but more importantly, it allows you to relive vicariously all the things the Davis family went through in their struggle to save a loved one and an innocent man. Through it all, they refused to let their personal issues or Troy’s situation tear their family apart. The sacrifice, strength and love the Davis family showed is a beautiful thing. I enjoyed this book to no end. I appreciate Sis. Martina Davis and Jen Marlowe for having both the courage to tell the story and the sense to know it’s one that really needs to be told. I recommend all family members and friends of those incarcerated read this book. It shows just how much of an impact their love and support has on us.

Stay focused, push, and believe!

Ker’Sean Ramey

 

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Filed under Criminal Justice, Death Penalty, Troy Davis