Here is an article based on her discussion with Troy. Please forward it to all you know!
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 Atlanta where close to 1800 male inmates live behind bars, many of them on death row. I’m going to meet Troy Anthony Davis– the man whose case I took up on 3rd September and whose cause I have supported since then with an intensity that has surprised me.
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. 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 has a reprieve. The prison decides to let it happen, since there are some people who have flown in from out of town to meet Troy-a Professor from Washington DC, an award winning documentary film maker, several other loving friends.
Troy is waiting in a narrow cell like waiting room, with a heavy locked door being guarded by two tall and burly guards. At any given time only 5 people can meet with him. Martina’s family is very generous and as soon as they go in to greet him, Martina is out in a few minutes asking me to go in and meet him.
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.
Troy says he was totally at peace just like the last time. Usually he needs blood pressure medicine because he has had a tendency to high blood pressure, but that morning when the nurse checked she got a perfect reading. “When she said I had the perfect reading,” recalled Troy, “I pointed upwards and said because of that. And she didn’t quite get it as she stared up at the ceiling vacantly. I said, it’s because God is carrying my burdens.”
Troy says he had prayed on that day that the US Supreme Court protects him. When the Georgia Supreme Court said they couldn’t do a thing, it didn’t faze him. “I had already forgotten about the Georgia judicial system. It really didn’t bother me.” I start laughing when Troy says very tongue in cheek that they took away his shaving razor that day. “I was like- what do you guys think-that I’m gonna do? Kill myself- a few hours before my supposed execution? I had 19 years to do that. I’m the wrong man if you think that may happen!’ He was taken to see the gurney where he was to be strapped and executed. He walked in and all he saw were butterflies floating around in a surreal way. Troy had earlier shared stories of some personal miracles that he had seen in his life-but the greatest one was to occur that day a few hours later.
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. Troy says after they left, he was later taken to record his final statement. “I mentioned to each loved one what I liked most about them and gave instructions on how to continue. I asked that they pray for the MacPhail family that they find peace and understanding because they too have suffered all these years. That they find the real killer.I did not say I will miss you. I said I will see you soon. As the statement was done, I looked up at the TV which had its back towards me and it was turned around, so I could see the screen-and I saw my face staring at me and the news that the US Supreme Court had stayed the execution.” Troy called his sister from the prison to tell her the good news while she was outside with family and Rev Al Sharpton, the famous civil rights leader.
Rev Sharpton had come to visit Troy on the 20th-and that was the first time Troy Davis saw grass in 19 years. He was taken from a different door-and was so enraptured he forgot everything and walked on it, touched it and the guards let him. He talks about the feeling being euphoric, without a trace of self pity. And I think to myself-when was the last time, I looked at grass that way. How in the maddening hustle and bustle of our daily lives, we forget to really live, to love, and give thanks for so many of God’s creations, and God’s blessings.
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 Troy, who is respectfully addressed as Mr. Davis. I see the warmth with which Martina is received by the police woman ushering us in.
I think of the former Indian Police chief Kiran Bedi who introduced meditation in one of the most notorious prisons in India and saw the inmates transform into loving, productive human beings. I hear from Troy how here, they try to break every one’s spirit before executing them. I hear about death row inmates from San Quentin calling Martina and praying for her brother. Yes those killers and sinners we have condemned to die whenever that happens. They cry when they hear Martina’s mother talk to them lovingly-many who have lost their own mothers, or have mothers who don’t visit them any more.
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.
Troy’s life and how he has lived it so far in spite of these badly lit, closed spaces, untouched by sunlight or any positive life or energy force, has taught me a lesson on how faith and forgiveness can really set you free from fear and self doubt. That the mind is a tremendously powerful thing, and makes you boundless and free from boundaries- and that faith can really move mountains.
And it took a death row inmate to teach me that godliness, and purity of soul can be found in the oddest of places…
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