Years ago I read a book by Victor Frankl called “Man’s search for meaning”. A friend had sent it to me and I remain grateful to this day as the book gave me a lot of insight to my own experience – as a man condemned to death. Frankl was himself uniquely qualified to provide his insight as he himself had spent years in a Nazi concentration camp at Auswitz and his insights were based upon his own observations and experiences.
The truth that I gained from reading that book so long ago is that surviving any adversity is all about maintaining the will to want to survive. It’s about keeping the hope alive and focusing more on the rainbow then you do the storm. In fact I have written about this in my website and in previous essays I have written about my experiences as a condemned man.
Through the many years that I have now been condemned to death I have personally witnessed too many around me simply give up and lose the will to want to live. I know only too well the transformation a man goes through, the way the “light” within his eyes slowly fades away until only a dark emptiness remains. Those of us who have seen this know that haunting look only too well and know the truth – that a man can die within by losing the hope and the will to live long before his body becomes “dead”.
I write of this now as recent events in my own life have brought me to that point where I felt that will to live erode and was so helpless to even stop that decent into that cold darkness of hopelessness. Although I was aware of this happening I was powerless to stop this very slow slip into that place where I have been before, but hoped that I would never be again.
Maybe I tend to think more about it then others do. I don’t really know. But at times I do wonder just what the point of the struggle to live really is. At times I even envy those I’ve known here who have put an end to their own nightmare in the most permanent of ways, such as my friend Bill Coday who recently committed suicide (see “Bill is dead” http://deathrowjournals.blogspot.com/2008/05/bill-is-dead.html ).
I am somewhat reluctant to admit my own weakness – that not only have I entertained (and even fantasized) thought about taking myself out but many, many moons ago I even tried, but failed. Does that make me weak when I admit such a thing? Maybe so. Or maybe not.
Most recently I went through an ordeal that is only all too common among those of us here. After being condemned to death, our only hope is depending upon the lawyer appointed to represent us and the quality of the appeals that they file. If, for any reason, they fail to properly present our appeal to the Courts then any hope of winning our freedom from this nightmare becomes non-existent. In the past I have had my critical appeals “procedurally barred” because of the incompetence of the lawyer the state had appointed to represent me.
What makes my own case unique is that I’m not just another condemned man trying to claim he is innocent – the evidence actually supports my long pled claim. In recent years an overwhelming wealth of evidence has been brought forth that substantiate my consistently pled claims that the entire, wholly circumstantial case upon which I have been wrongfully convicted, was deliberately fabricated. (Please see “http://www.southerninjustice.com/ ). But all the evidence substantiating my claim of innocence amounts to nothing if my lawyers do not adequately and “effectively” present it to the Courts. Recently the Court gave us until October 27, 2008 to do that. Actually the lawyer had almost a full year to prepare the appeal, but it had to be filed no later than that date.
As that court ordered deadline approached, I felt the lawyers were deliberately jerking me around. No matter how much I pushed for a working draft of what they intended to file, they simply would not give me one. It was as if I was their enemy and they would not divulge their “secret” of what they actually intended to file.
As the deadline approached, my own anxiety and stress built. In fact, I think it is fair to say that my anxiety was not at all unlike that I felt when I was facing imminent execution in 1988. When it comes down to it, I knew only too well that if the lawyers did not file an adequate appeal by that date, then I would be dead. It really was very much like again being on “death watch” and yet as that clock ticket closer and closer to that court deadline, my anxiety and stress only built.
With a week left to go, my confidence in my lawyer’s willingness to get this appeal filed reached a new low when I was finally provided with what they called a draft, but was actually garbage. When I read it, I already knew that if they filed an appeal that even resembled that garbage, I was dead.
I began to confront my own mortality – to accept my own death as a possible means of circumventing the fate that seemed only too imminent. If they filed this garbage they were showing me, then any appellate review would amount to nothing more than a pretense. I knew that if that was the case, my further hope I so desperately tried to cling on to would be lost.
As I struggled through these dark days, I shared my growing feeling of desperation with a few friends. For the most part, they were generously supportive and quickly rallied in their own campaign to compel my lawyers to do the best job possible on the appeal. And I know I am truly blessed with genuine friends, who in my own time of weakness and despair, they so generously give of their own selves to give me strength. I cannot even begin to thank them.
In the end, the appeal was filed at the last possible minute of the court deadline. Although it was not perfect, it was and is surprisingly good. What was filed actually did not even resemble the “draft” I was provided with previously. And now my hope has been renewed.
But a few friends actually were critical of the way I expressed my then overwhelming sense of anxiety and even hopelessness. It was even suggested that I was simply engaging in an “emotional powerplay”, perhaps to manipulate my lawyers. These are genuine friends who I know truly do care about me. But that got me wondering if maybe I was wrong to so openly and honestly share what I felt with my friends.
I do know that nothing I can ever say will ever allow those who do their best to stand by me to actually “feel” what I feel. So I certainly do not hold it against anyone when they just cannot appreciate the depth of my anxiety and that overwhelming sense of hopelessness that had compelled me to accept that even my own death would be a preferable course of action than endure what would become years of pursuing an appeal that I knew was already lost.
Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I do owe it to my true friends to simply keep how I feel to myself. A big part of being condemned to death is the never-ending rollercoaster ride through the extreme ends of my emotions. But no matter how much they might care, they cannot understand what I feel. Nor do they understand that there will be times that I need my friends the most.
My experience is not unique to me, but common to all of us who are condemned. So whether I was right or wrong, I thank my true friends for carrying me through that darkness when my own strength failed me. It is through my friends that my own hope remained alive. Now the journey will continue.