Have you ever thought about the concept of hope? Recently, I have. Funny thing about hope is that it can sustain you through the most difficult of trials and tribulations, but at the same time its absence can cast you down into the depths of despair, even to the point of making death seem favorable.
Here on death row I’ve often said that I will hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. That sort of became my mantra of choice and for many years I found some strength in it. For those of us condemned to death our existence is like being trapped on a runaway rollercoaster on a perverted path through the bowels of hell. With each twist and turn our guts are ripped apart as with each appeal our hope is escalated - then free falls to the lowest of the depths when the courts deny relief. Yet again and again we go through it, each time desperately grasping the imaginary rails that hold us in for fear that the sudden drop at the end of the ride will irreparably crush our mental state of mind.
My own case is but a single sample of what we all go through. After over 27 years convicted and condemned to death for a crime I did not commit (see www.southerninjustice.net ) I had good reason to believe that I would finally be exonerated and released – that I would be “home” for Christmas, and my nightmare finally be brought to an end.
My hope had a seemingly strong foundation as a virtual wealth of evidence supporting my claim of innocence had been developed in recent years and I couldn’t imagine any scenario under which the courts could deny relief. But I really should have known better. After all these years, if I’ve learned nothing else, it is that the courts are far more interested in “the politics of death” than they are in the novel concept of truth and justice, and few people today can argue in good faith that our courts are only too willing to ignore evidence of innocence and execute the innocent (see previously posted blog “Screw the truth”)
So, why was I so surprised when first the Florida Supreme Court, and then, a few months later, the Federal appeals court, denied my appeal? Why is it that this time my tried and true mantra of ‘hope for the best but prepare for the worst” failed me?
Now, once again I am forced to confront the probability that I will be executed and that nobody really cares whether I’m innocent or not. I’m sure that my dear friends will be upset – but nobody in the “justice” system cares. Only too often the courts deliberately turn a blind eye to evidence of innocence as they side with the State sanctioned serial killers to trust twist the truth around to meet their own agenda of carrying out an execution by any means necessary. And regardless of the fact that we see this again, our society chooses to ignore the inconvenient truth of how immoral, unethical and corrupt the American justice system has become.
I am angry at all of this. It is fundamentally unfair and as traumatic as being the victim of a violent rape – they raped me of justice. My dictionary tells me that “hope” is “a feeling that what is wanted will happen”, desire accompanied by expectation, and that “hopeless” is defined as “having no expectations of, or showing a sign of, a favorable outcome”. In a word I recognize that I have become ‘despondent”, which my dictionary defines as “utter loss of hope…implies such despair as makes one resort to extreme measure” (i.e. suicide) Hmm..That’s a familiar word – “suicide”, and not at all uncommon in my world where our hopes are often so deliberately crushed and the condemned do resort to that “extreme measure” of suicide.
I have actually contemplated suicide before. Once when my marriage was over and again when I was first convicted of this fabricated crime of alleged “premeditated” murder. Both times I could not follow trough and now I know that suicide is not something I could do so that simply is not an available option for me.
But at the same time I now struggle with the reality that I cannot win – that no matter how compelling the evidence of my innocence may be, truth and justice can never prevail before a judicial system that itself is completely corrupt to its own core. The cowards on the courts have neither the moral character nor the political courage to do the right thing and throw out a conviction that is now over a quarter century old.
Lately I find myself thinking about philosophical arguments I read years ago, such as Plato’s account of the Athenian philosopher Socrates being condemned to death by a politically corrupt tribunal. Plato tells of how Socrates faithful friend Crito stood by Socrates side, imploring Socrates to allow them to delay his execution in the hopes that after the emotional circumstances that led to his condemnation died down, they could appeal for a pardon. But Socrates accepted his fate and told Crito that although his heart was in the right place and he understood that his friends meant well in wanting to delay his execution, but, Socrates said “I am right in not doing this, for I do not think that I should gain anything by drinking the poison a little later; I should be sparing and saving a life which is already gone; I would only laugh at myself for this”
The words Socrates spoke so long ago still ring true today. I know that many of those who oppose the death penalty - and many of us here on death row - find it offensive and even a betrayal when someone “voluntarily” waives his appeals and seeks to expedite his won execution, which for all purposes amounts to a state sanctioned form of suicide.
But what of those of us who have already been through the appeals process again and again? And have been denied relief to the point where there is no hope left of getting relief? If we were to decide that enough is enough, and accept the inevitability of our own fate and simply choose not to pursue any further appellate review, then is it really fair to judge us as cowards and traitors to the cause, such as those are labeled when they decide to forego appeals altogether and “volunteer” to be executed?
Would I really be so wrong to accept the inevitability of my own fate and invite an expedited end to this nightmare by simply refusing to forego any further appeals, knowing that with the recent denial of my innocence appeal, my fate has now been sealed and all that really remains is delaying the inevitable at the expense of prolonging my own suffering?
I do not have a “death wish”. But neither do I have any desire to prolong my misery and suffering when I now know that my execution has become inevitable. As Socrates told his friend Crito: “What do I have to gain by delaying the inevitable but to make a fool of myself?” Like Socrates, I am blessed with a small group of dear friends who would be deeply hurt by my death, and their heartfelt desire to prolong my fate is genuine – but they are not the ones who must sit in this cage while the blanket of hopelessness and despair slowly suffocates the essence of life from me.
Such is the paradox of hope. For many years hope has sustained me as I had faith in our legal system to ultimately do the right thing. My hope and fate were my strength, generously sustained by my small circle of dear friends. But now I simply cannot find even a thread of hope left to cling on to and I find myself overwhelmed by the vacuum left behind – hopelessness.
But I find myself now struggling with the thought that increasingly haunt me. Even assuming that my fate is now inevitable, if I were to accept and embrace that finality would I be betraying the friends who stood by me and suffered through all of this? My death would bring an end to my nightmare but it would also bring pain to those who care about me. Would I be betraying their own loyalty and perseverance if I were to decide to forego any further appeals and allow the state to put me to death?
There are no easy answers. Perhaps I could believe in a merciful God, I would be blessed to simply die in my sleep and never again have to wake up to tomorrow and all these problems would be so easily solved as who could blame me of I died of natural causes tonight? But the God I believe in is not a merciful God – if he was, then he would not allow those who stand in judgment in our courts to pervert justice as they do.
So, I now struggle with this and pray that my nightmare will soon end. I no longer have the strength to hope for the best, but can only accept the worst. Soon I will have to make a tough decision and even now I don’t know what it will be. But I know that I have fought a good fight against the evil tyrant that is our legal system, and I know that I am now exhausted and even broken. Hopeless is now all that remains, with the only hope now left being the hope that my nightmare will soon come to an end.