Tag Archives: death row

“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

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

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

Unity

 

(From Rob Will, on death row in TX, in response to I Am Troy Davis)

“The world is but a canvas to the imagination.” Henry David Thoreau

This book is haunting, beautiful but haunting… It is just past 2am and I am up listening to some nice jazz. “Lighthouse Blues” by the Jazz Crusaders is on and the sax is lovely and the vibraphone is quite nice. Good meditation music. Earlier I had to put down, “I Am Troy Davis” by Jen Marlowe, breathe deeply and just meditate, simply because this book has been evoking deep emotion from within me. This is the second time I have had to do this.

The first was yesterday when listening to Maurice Ravel’s orchestration of Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures At An Art Exhibition”. Mussorgsky wrote this piece of music in honor of his friend, the artist Victor Hartmann, who died too young. This piece is alright. I particularly like the triumphant ending but what really got to me was the reason Mussorgsky wrote the music. Like Troy Davis, Victor Hartmann died an untimely death… Mussorgsky honored his friend through the Art of creating music and Jen Marlowe has honored the life of Troy Davis, his family, his friends and their struggle through the Art of her writing. One of the most powerful aspects of this book is how Jen humanizes everyone involved and links individual lives and experiences with larger psychosociopolitical issues.

Thinking of these things and vibing with the music led my Mind into the realm of Artistic creation… I picked up my pencil, pen, paints, an illustration board and books and began creating… The idea of unity kept dancing through my mind and while going back and forth from jazz to classical music I, in turn, let my paint brush dance across the canvas. I glanced over at the book and quickly read the quotes on the cover and first few pages from well-known people in the social justice struggle… Sister Helen Prejean, Maya Angelou, Cornel West, Amy Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Eve Ensler, Gloria Steinem…Unity, unity, unity…

I let the motion of the color field background rock with the rhythm of the music and the Energy of the Color Theory I was utilizing. Once the background was done I put the piece to the side so it could dry overnight and be ready for the geometrical forms symbolizing Unity that I had envisioned… Some Fela Kuti – who is one of my favorite musicians – just came on and this sounds like an excellent signal to finish the painting. Fela was definitely about struggle, the vibrancy if community involvement and international solidarity. At the core of all this is Unity and all of those ideas are illustrated well in “I Am Troy Davis”, which I will continue reading once I am finished with this painting.

(please consider making a holiday gift of I Am Troy Davis to a prisoner! 40% discount just by entering coupon code Holiday40! Your gift will be sent to a prisoner along with a note explaining that the book is an anonymous holiday gift.)

Back of painting entitled "Unity" by Rob Will

Back of painting entitled “Unity” by Rob Will

Front of painting entitled "Unity" by Rob Will

Front of painting entitled “Unity” by Rob Will

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Filed under Criminal Justice, Death Penalty, Troy Davis

“I had never read a book in my life until I came to prison”

Chucky MamouThe correspondence I have been having with prisoners to whom we have sent copies of I Am Troy Davis continues to astound and amaze me. Below, are excerpts from two letters that I received from Chucky Mamou, on death row in Texas, posted here with his permission. His comments about the book and about his own writing moved me more than any response or review I have ever received…

Letter #1, September 11, 2014

Let me begin by ‘apologizing.’ Here’s why: My neighbor passed me a copy of your book, I Am Troy Davis. My intention was not to read it at all. See, Troy and I shared a pen-pal, of sorts. I knew about his case, and I received a message from him. In the Washington DC rally at the USSC in 2011 of Jan, my flyers was next to all his buttons and etc…We all know the death penalty is barbaric in nature, archaic in practice, and Americanly inhumane; such truths has been known, said and fought against since 1770’s. And still NOTHING has changed. Feel me?

For me, it’s not what’s right or wrong, or  just or injust. It’s about the entire social conscious of this country. The whole fatuitious hypocrisy that Americans ‘buy’ on a daily basis!…

Michael Brown was unarmed with his HANDS up in the air, and that cop shot that child in his eye, face, chest, and arm–a total of 6 shots. But the cop has raised a million in cash for his use to defend himself in court, ‘if’ it goes to court. Political and professional folks say, “Well we don’t have all the facts.” But you let me or you shoot anyone 6 times, and they gonna send us straight to DEATH ROW, without any damn facts!

So, I wasn’t inclined on reading ‘any’ book about something I am so passionate about myself. I see this nation the way its suppose to be seen. I make no excuses for this nation and the atrocities it manifest.  What happened to Gary Graham, Todd Willingham, Troy Davis and countless others don’t make it right. Don’t comfort others in the same situation. At least, I speak for myself.

Let me tell you something. At this very moment of me typing this out to you, the state of Texas is about to murder (they call it execute) Willie Trottie, and you know what? He ain’t innocent, but if there was anybody I would fight for to have another chance at freedom, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN  HIM! He made a mistake…don’t we all?

As far as your book, the reason why I did ‘read’ it and was glad that I did: I have always been a fan of Martina Davis and the unyielding fight she devoted towards helping her brother. We all would be so lucky to have a family member such as her. And it’s not that our family love us any less, rather they just lack the courage and devotion that she displayed. She is (not was) a rarity.

Plus my neighbor told me that Troy had several photos inside the book where he shared with his family members, and I wanted to experience that defacto joy that he experienced. Sure I can never capture the moment, and any feelings that I felt were faux in nature; but I am American, and like the majority, I like my Reality TV (even though it’s not real ) too.

Now I must commend the author, cause the book was well written. Sista-gurl, you got some skillz. (smile.) I write books too, and I do appreciate a good read. The photos are a delight, and I would be willing to give up my soul, if I had a chance to hold any of my children the way Troy held his niece and nephew. I would give anything if I could be close enough to my mother (or any damn body) where I could smell them, hear them laugh in my ear, or just touch them. I haven’t touched another human being since 1999, and I’ll be the first to admit that the idea of touching another human being now seem shameful for me. It would be awkward…

I have never once lied about my innocence nor the unbelievable chain of events in my case, not once. I feel like Dorothy in the land of Oz, but there is no wizard that can help me, there is no friends that I can walk the golden brick road with, hell, there isn’t even any flying monkeys in this real struggle I find myself in.

Good day to you and God bless you.

Chucky

Letter #2, November 13, 2014

(in response to my asking him about the books he writes)

I write ‘fiction.’ What one may call urban novels. Be it romance novels, or thuggery in nature, all of my books have a ‘moral message’ that I try to translate. I do not glorify nothing that would cause harm in any way. I simply try to explain how things can actually get so fucked up...I am working on my own autobiography…I don’t write for money. I write for the appreciation of the art. With each book I write I make sure that my level of creation and creativity is raised. i want to show the progression of my writings, if you will. I had never read a book in my life until I came to prison. So in a lot of ways I am raw. Still learning on the fly. Still eager.

(in response to I Am Troy Davis)

I feel that if Catholics are allowed to Saintanize the members of their flock that they deem ‘activist’ then surely we should be able to place the same Saintship on those that are within the struggle with every purpose of ‘fixing’ the injust within this country’s justice system and social ornery circles too which we all live and are divided within. Martina is worthy of such a title. And I think her son will continue what she started. In fact, I would be ‘shocked’ if 20 years from now he isn’t a major activist in a field of justice in America.

But you know what? The story you told is sooo common within the minority of the 99%. The struggle is real, so is racism, classism, elitism, and prejudice. It’s all of these traits that we all judge one another, and seem to relate to the other. Don’t make it right, it just clarify who we are as a nation of people within America.

BUT!

I Am Troy Davis was made beautiful–so by your writing skills. Never lose sight of the work that you did. When Mrs. Virginia sat in her chair and died peacefully, it was the way you described the event. The climax that lead to it, that tugs at a reader’s heart…but ‘you’ and only you gave Troy’s story and his family a feel of sincere humanity that wasn’t pretentious. And I have no doubt that it was hard for you to relive a story that you found yourself a part of. Pictures of you inside of Mrs. Virginia’s house, hugged up to Saint Martina–tells me that they trusted your person. And there’s no telling the stories you could have told that was personal too, which they shared with you. Your writing made it beautiful. Real talk.

(In response to my asking how he was holding up.)

Thank you for asking me about my well-being, However, nothing has changed with my mental-state, emotionally…not everyone in prison is innocent or unjustly convicted. But for those who are truly innocent (like me) how can I ever wear a daily smile on my face? How can I ever do away with despair, depression and ill feelings? Because faith alone has never been an antidote nor cure to severe brokenheartedness. The favored Mother Teresa wrote in her book, “There was a time when I saw all the rape and murder of babies, and defenseless women that I questioned the existence of a God who would stand by and allow these atrocities to go on against the weak and innocent.”

What gets lost is that this was not just a thought that crossed her mind the way wind blew across her face. She was depressed, and her depression didn’t stop until she was removed from that crazy war zone. Same with me. I can never fully begin to comprehend what a recovery really is, until I am given my freedom again.

Chucky wrote a lot more…about the poverty in which he grew up, how he was one of four children sharing a bed, tussling at night over an extra share of blanket, about sexual abuse he experienced at the home of a neighbor, about having been in shootouts, being kidnapped, left for dead with his head split wide open. He wrote, “I’ve been that kid stealing from grocery stores just so that I can experience what a cake taste like.”

And he wrote:

Through all my ‘struggles,’ from the depths of the low of the lows, is why I am able to sit in this moldy, germ-infested cell; and still cling onto my sanity after 16 years of all this bullshit. I’m always mindful just how vulnerable I am emotionally, so I do not tease or test the boundaries of my sanity’s limitations. I do not pretend to be better than I really am. I do not play chess with my honesty.

To purchase a copy of I Am Troy Davis as a gift to a prisoner:

http://www.haymarketbooks.org/pb/I-am-Troy-Davis-Gift-to-a-Prisoner

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Mumia Abu Jamal responds to I AM TROY DAVIS: “May it fuel the anti-death penalty movement”

Mumia Abu JamaI knew that my publisher (the amazing Haymarket Books) had sent a copy of I Am Troy Davis to Mumia Abu Jamal.  So when I saw his name and return address on the envelope, I should not have been surprised–yet I was. Surprised, and a little star struck. I had been following Mumia’s case–and his writing–for years now. It took me a few minutes to really process that he was writing to me, and that he was writing in response to the book I had written with Troy Davis and his family.

The next day, I got another letter from Mumia. This one was the text of what I later found out was a radio spot he had done about the book for the Prison Radio, an independent multi-media production studio dedicated to challenging unjust police and prosecutorial misconduct that results in mass incarceration, racism, and gender discrimination.

You can listen to Mumia’s three-minute radio spot about I Am Troy Davis here.

And, below, is the letter he wrote me, which I received his permission to post.

And–you can buy a copy of I Am Troy Davis to be sent as a gift to a prisoner here.

Dear Jen,

As you may know, I’m in the midst of working on a book, so it took me awhile to get to Troy’s. But, of course, I did.

It is, as I’m sure you know, a powerful, damning story of a human tragedy.

It is, moreover, a real condemnation of the U.S. Way of Death.

When reading it, I couldn’t help but think of how politics has completely dominated the judiciary–and, without question, the pardon/parole machinery.

His family (esp. Mom & Sister) fought–quite literally–to their last breath, never doubting that in an injustice so strong, surely they could finish their days in the company of their son/brother.

I think, in many ways, the family and the activists underestimated the level of rot in the system, never really believing that they would betray their oaths–and visit on Troy the foul fullness of state murder.

I remember being buoyed when the U.S. Supremes actually sent it back for an evidentiary hearing.

Once again, they raised hope, only to spit disappointment on the friends and family of Troy.

I will surely distribute it, and, perhaps, donate it to the library, so that many, many guys can read it.

I thank you for sharing it with me. And I thank you for writing something that I can imagine was almost too painful, too horrific to bear.

May it fuel the anti-death penalty movement, and make it more powerful than they are today!

Alla best,

Mumia

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Filed under Criminal Justice, Death Penalty, Troy Davis