Last Friday the 26th, I was under the surgeon’s scalpel undergoing surgery.
Three days later, I drag myself out of bed and a friend drives me to the Georgia Diagnostic Classification Prison, a maximum security prison in Jackson GA, about 90 minutes away from
As we turn into the entrance of the prison we pass beautifully landscaped gardens, a lake, a park and beautiful little houses sprinkled along that lush greenery down a long and winding road. It is one of the most peaceful, scenic places you could find. The sound of children laughing as they play permeates the air. I guess the homes belong to the caretakers of the prison. It is also something none of the inmates ever get to see.
A fork appears and the instructions tell you to turn left and drive towards the prison. The velvety green grass, awash with rays of the setting sun, fades from view and we approach the gray concrete building. We park and as I begin walking towards the entrance doors, I’m surprised to see a police woman, with kind eyes, welcome me with the warmest smile. And then I hear someone calling my name.
I turn around to see Martina Correia, Troy Davis’s tall, elegant and lovely sister, holding her 8 month old niece, as her son Antone and her mom Virginia, get out of their car along with a friend to head inside.
The place is guarded like a ..well like a prison! Enter through door number I and you are welcomed by metal detectors. I’m only allowed to take my ID, and some one dollar bills and quarters for the vending machines. They do not let me even take the little transparent Ziploc bag, I have the money in. One more door and we hand our IDs, collect a token that we must return to get our ID back.
We walk through yet another door to get our hands stamped with a number to indicate we are visitors and not inmates. Then we walk along a tunnel like corridor which Martina tells me is underground. That means none of the inmates get to see daylight. She says in winter they have to put humidifiers along the corridors, or the dampness spills through. There are several photos with inspirational phrases hanging on the walls in the corridor, but not too many inmates see that wall either unless they are being released.
We pass an elevator for the handicapped which seldom works according to Martina. A couple of days ago they had to literally carry two relatives up the flight of stairs that leads to the waiting area where you first get seated before you can meet the inmate you’ve come to visit.
But first you have to put your hand under a machine so it can read the stamp and record your arrival as visitor. You have to put it through the machine again on your way out as well.
There are already many people in the waiting area to see Troy Davis when I arrive with the family. This visit today, the 29th of September was supposedly his farewell visit, in case the US Supreme Court turns down his appeal for a new trial when they returned to session. The Supreme Court decides it won’t give its verdict this Monday. It could be this Wednesday or later.
We were all unsure whether the visitation would happen now that
Troy Davis is dressed in a white shirt and white pants, and he has sneakers on his feet-and not the flip flops they give prisoners about to be executed. He gets up when he sees me and the first thing that strikes me as he gives me a big warm hug, is that I’m looking into the gentlest, kindest face, with honey brown eyes that are full of genuine warmth, intelligence and a smile that is still very childlike and innocent. It’s a strong gut feel but in that moment I know that supporting Troy Davis’s case was the right thing to have done.
I believe that the eyes are the mirror of the soul. And when I look into someone’s eyes they tell me instantly what this person is all about. There is nothing shifty eyed about Troy Davis. He looks at you straight in the eye when he talks. He is utterly calm, and serenity emanates from him.
I have had a lengthy conversation with him on the 21st on the phone about so many different things, but one of the things I had asked him was whether he had been afraid, or worried when he came within 23 and a half hours of being executed last July. He had responded, “I think I didn’t know what faith really was until last year. I asked the lord to take away all my fears and my worries and carry me through this and give me the strength I need to endure this. The day before my scheduled execution I don’t remember exactly what had happened but I wasn’t worried about anything. It was as if the thought of being executed 24 hours later never crossed my mind that day. I was having fun as though it was just a regular day in my life. God had erased all those fears and it was not until a couple of months later when someone asked me how did it feel, in those 24 hours before they had scheduled to kill you and I stopped to think about it. It dawned on me that yes you are right; I actually came 23 and half hours before death. I thought about it a little bit more and I think all I can say is that I finally found out what faith is.”
That night I had asked him if he still had the same faith as he sat talking to me barely 2 days to go before his supposed execution on the 23rd, a year later. He had said without a moment’s hesitation-“ Yes”.
Tonight as we sit face to face, I asked him to recall the moments of the 23rd of September when he came within 90 minutes of being executed.
The family came to visit. No one talked about death and dying. The conversation was about his birthday on 9th October, fun and laughter, until the last 30 minutes which Martina tells me were the fastest on the planet to whizz by.
Rev Sharpton had come to visit
I look at the guards who are letting us in and out of the meeting cell. They stand there poker faced, but when you talk to them, you see a kindness, and a warmth that permeates through their seemingly hard exteriors. I’m told most of them have a lot of admiration and love for
I think of the former Indian Police chief Kiran Bedi who introduced meditation in one of the most notorious prisons in
Martina wishes the MacPhail family had been allowed to interact with hers. She wishes they had come to know who Troy Davis really is. But that exclusiveness, spills out beyond the incarceration of Troy Davis. How often do we travel to the same destination and yet try not to make eye contact with our fellow passengers. How often have we all sat apathetic and passive, watching something bad happen to someone else, and not done a thing? We only react when it happens to us.
No one is born a killer, or a criminal from his mother’s womb. Circumstances make us act in certain ways. Most crimes are crimes of passion, so is an eye for an eye the answer for changing this world-of transforming humanity?
I know today I’m firmly against the death penalty. I wasn’t 3 weeks ago. I am a better human being today than I was 3 and half weeks ago-the Troy Davis case has been the catalyst that has changed not just the way I look at the death penalty, but the way I look at injustice, at crime and criminals and the way I look at life and fellow beings.
And it took a death row inmate to teach me that godliness, and purity of soul can be found in the oddest of places…