Time for a Change
by Deb Shilling
Texas State Coordinator    

I've been having trouble finding my voice, a means of expressing the way that I really feel, as honestly as I can, about my friend on death row, about the death penalty , about where I stand in the midst of all this. I got an e-mail yesterday from a friend and his thoughts on the value of a life brought me to a place where I felt I could at least begin to sort the odds and ends and make a statement. A mission statement, if you will.

Have you ever had the wind knocked out of you. Stomach-wrenched and breathless? That's how I felt when I heard the Judge's words. Death. I'd been anticipating, almost expecting it for over a month. but, now it was here, I just felt the numbness sweep through me.

The judge had told us we could not be present for the sentencing unless we showed no emotion; no matter what the verdict. In that instant, after the sentence was read, I didn't know how to show emotion.

All I could do was stand there. Frozen. All I could think about was getting out of there, away from that courtroom, away from the jury , away from the prosecutors, just ...away.

It wasn't until I reached the hallway that I could finally take a breath. But when the breath came out, the tears came with it. I wasn't really sure who I was crying for, if I was crying for my friend, myself, or some fusion of the two.

I stood there, swept up by the horror of the situation, and my memories threw me back, full circle, to the moment when it all started for me. It was like a strange slow-motion nightmare; winding toward an inevitable and unstoppable conclusion. Initially, shock, mixed with confusion, combined with the absolute certainty that the whole situation had to be some kind of horrible mistake.

What did he say when he was interrogated? Will anyone ever really know? The State doesn't want any prying eyes. No independent witnesses to what they say or do. In this, the 2Oth century , only the memory , human and faulty , of the interviewers and their subject can tell us what was said. A tape recorder or video camera might give witness to something other than justice.

The detectives who came to interview his friends weren't interested in the truth. They only wanted to fill in the picture of a preconceived jigsaw puzzle that left no room for human decency or kindness. Anything that didn't fit into their picture was stupidity , naivete, or a lie. There was no middle-ground.

To them, the man I knew was a figment of my imagination, of my gullibility . Anything not fitting their preconceived notion was, if not a lie, then a fabrication of imagination.

But, in the end, the truth remains. A man, made up of both good and evil, created his past and strives toward a redemptive day. His choices liner his past. They built his present. And they will guide his future. But, I cannot believe that I witnessed the righteous hand of justice. What I saw was petty men and women grasping for power and prestige, at the mere cost of a soul.

As I try to make some sense of all the tangled trains of thoughts, words and deeds, these words above all remain in the forefront of my mind... "And now these three remain. Faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love..."

I, too, have made my choices, and they are my own. I choose to believe in redemption and the power of forgiveness. 1 cannot change the tragedy of what has already happened. But, I will not waste what I have been given. I am one person. I cannot change the world. I can choose to change myself. And. in that choice, I can be an example to others. I cannot in good conscience stand idle any longer.

We, as humans, are too flawed, too subject to error, to function with the discernment necessary to judge a man or woman incapable of rehabilitation and reform. Life, any life, has a value beyond price. There must and reasonable alternatives to the death penalty. A sentence of life served in conjunction with restitution programs, or a life served without possibility of parole are among the reasonable alternatives possible. The ARE other options. Capital punishment is not justice. It is a crime. I will no longer be a silent witness to this crime. The time for change is now.