INTERVIEW: DAVID L. GOFF
by Paolo Pergolizzi
Q. O.k. let us get it out of the way. You were convicted of murder, robbery and kidnapping and sentenced to death.
Q. Did you know the victim? Were the crimes committed at the same time?
A. No I didn't. And yes, the crimes took place against the same person.
Q. And you maintain your innocence. Is that to say that you had nothing to do with the crime at all?
A. The first I knew about the crime I was being arrested.
Q. A matter of someone saying that you did this, this and that?
A. That's about it.
Q. O.K. Where were you born?
A. Fort Worth, Texas
Q. And you are 32 now?
A. Yes. January 9th (1969). I feel older sometimes. A lot older.
Q. What do you remember most about your earlier years?
A. Never having enough of anything...Well, that is not really true. There was enough of things like food, clothing, heat, water, concern and love, my mother just seemed to keep it all out of reach from us. At one time she used to put locks on all of the cabinets and refrigerator so that we could not get at the food when she was gone. And she would turn off the water and electricity.
It would not have been so bad, I guess, if she would net have been gone for days, even weeks at a time. And of course there were the constant beatings whenever she was in a bad mood. Which seemed like it was all of the time.
Q. Seems bleak.
A. Yeah, I guess. Though there are some memories of her when she would laugh and play with me and bake and sew and do all the things that a normal mother does.
Q. What brought about the change?
A. I really don't know. Looking back I think that she may have always in her life that she did not deal with well—like the divorce from my father—made matters worse. And the alcohol and drugs did not help either.
Q. You had a rough upbringing in Fort Worth?
A. Yes, I guess you could say that. But when you are dealing with all of the drama as a kid the only thing that you can think about is getting tough enough to be able to deal with what comes. Because you know every day will bring something new. Something more insane.
Q. Tough, physically?
A. For some, I guess, but for me it was focusing on getting tougher emotionally, mentally. Enough beatings and you sort of feel that That you can deal with. It is more of the pain of feeling uncared for; unwanted, unloved that a kid finds the most difficult. It takes emotional strength and a mental toughness to be able to deal with that and not blow your brains out...or someone else's. That is why some kids who never get beat, never abused or neglected, physically, will pick up a gun and go about shooting classmates and others. They feel a sense of pain of being unwanted, uncared for and unloved. They experience emotional torment. No doubt I got that from my mother along with the physical abuse and neglect. It was the most difficult to deal with.
Q. You lived with your older sister, two older brothers, your mother and...?
A. Well, first, my mother and father separated when I was a toddler. They would remain legally married until I was 13. In the years between my mother allowed a number of “friends” to live with me, my sister, brothers and herself. And even at one time we all moved to another state to live with my father. My mother as well. But the only person that I ever looked to as my father was a guy named Vincent Diggs. A stepfather, you could say. He was a real caring guy with me and I thought the world of him. I still can remember the first present that he gave me for my 5th birthday. It was a plain checkers game. For years I carried the pieces of that game in my pocket until I lost the last red checker.
Q. Your “stepfather” did something that shattered everything.
A. We had lived with him and he with us for about four years or so. He and my mother had purchased the house we were living in; a nice wood framed home that he, helped by us much as we could, did some remodeling on to make it more economical for a family. My mother didn't have to work because he made a pretty good living working for the railroad in Texas and in Louisiana and Mississippi. We took vacations and had a stable life for a while. And then one day I came home from school and all of our stuff was packed and sitting by the door and my mother was ranting about hurrying to get gone before Vincent came home. My sister was no where to be seen and my two brothers came home minutes later and were just as confused as I was.
Q. He harmed your sister?
A. Yes. I won't go into the details but he sexually assaulted her when she was about twelve. She stopped smiling after that. She used to smile all of the time. It took years for me to see that smile again. Many years.
Q. But he never harmed you or your brothers?
A. No. And that was why I doubted that it had ever happened at all. My sister simply looked at. me and turned away with tears in her eyes when I asked weeks later” if Vincent had really done what they were saying that he had. At that point the relationship between us changed. Where we had been close ~- she had often looked after me when my mother would not—a distance formed that never quite disappeared. I think that every time she looked at me she remembered my asking that question. And because I was close to Vincent I always thought that she was reminded of him when I was around. But then that may just be my guilty feelings for having asked a stupid question because I didn't want my life to change.
Q. What happened to Vincent?
A. He was never prosecuted, though the police did investigate—if that is what you want to call it. And...let me think...I have five uncles on my mother's side and a few of them—don't know which ones exactly—took a few shots at him and almost killed my sister by a few inches as well as Vincent. Neither were hit. After we moved to live with my biological father in another state we heard nothing of him. But on our return my sister, brothers and myself soon learned that our mother was seeing the guy again! I can recall that my sister didn't say anything but just turned away with tears in her eyes and went to be alone as she had been doing often since the assault.
Q. That had to be tough.
A. Yeah. But see, this is where things get weird. Apparently my mother had some sort of odd plan to “get” Vincent for what he had done. Though even oddly she had stated on several different occasions that she didn't believe my sister's story of the attack. That she (my sister) had somehow led Vincent on. At twelve! But my mother went out with Vincent a few times without ever bringing him to the rat and roach infested hovel that we were living in. The next day after one such “date” we heard the adults (our uncles and aunts) while over at our grandmother talking about Vincent having had his throat cut. That someone had tried to kill him. Eventually the full story came out that one of my uncles, with my mother sitting in the front seat of the car Vincent was driving used a knife to try killing the man. I was ashamed that I was both angry and sad.
Q. Why were you angry and sad?
A. Vincent had been a decent guy to me. He treated me like I was his son and was one of the kindest persons that I knew. A part of me was sad that anyone would try to kill the only dad that I had and still loved despite what he had done. And that was why I felt sad. I loved a guy who had done something terrible to someone else who I loved. I was confused and ashamed. Vincent survived the cutting but years later when I heard that he had died in Mississippi I was angry.
A. By that time I had grown and came to believe my sister totally and it angered me that it had taken me so long to do so. I was angry at hearing of his death because I would have liked to have confronted him with what he had done. I had no doubt that despite everything he really did love me and saw me as his son. My confronting him and shouting that I hated him, as I planned, would have destroyed him, I believed.
Q. You didn't have anything else on your mind? Like “getting” him for what he had done to your sister and your family?
A. In the visions of me confronting him that was the biggest fear that I had. That I would do something to “get” him back. But do y you know how that feels? To want to hurt someone you should hate but still love?
Q. Though Vincent never abused you your mother did?
Q. Was the abuse by her physical only or was there sexual abuse as well?
A. My mother used to beat us for anything that she would think of. If she was having a bad day she would find some reason to give us for beating us like slaves. Mercy unknown. I think that I was beat with everything but a belt. Never a belt. Being the youngest did not shield me from any of the beatings. My mother was very fair about insuring that everyone got an equal share of the madness. When I was seven she beat me so badly with a bed-slack (a wooden support that helps shore up the mattress) that I swelled up twice or three times my size and couldn't go anywhere for a week. My brother taped up one of my fingers with a Popsicle stick because he said it was broken. It felt broken. She also beat everyone else with the same bed-slack the same day so they would not think that she had gone soft. There was a lot of that sort of abuse over the years. And after I was the only one still living with her there was what you could call sexual exploitation if not abuse.
Q. First, what happened to your sister and brothers? Where did they end up?
A. My two brothers went to live with my father in another state and my sister started living with a guy and got pregnant.
Q. So that left you with your mother. And she sexually exploited you?
A. I guess that is the best way to say it. She had been drinking and drugging for years. Living a life within the streets of Fort Worth and Texas that was dark and depraved. The beatings continued, turning more into physical assaults with her hands, fists and feet at times. And a few times I was either with her or came home to find her romping around the house naked with someone I did not know. Sometimes men, sometimes women, sometimes both. And she would weakly tell me to get lost or leave and come back later. And whomever was present would say to let me stay. The men never touched me. Only wanted me to watch as they had sex with my mother. But the women would want me to touch them or have sex with them. Once that happened while a man was having sex with my mother right next to me.
Q. How old were you?
A. I was about 10 or 11. It happened when I was 10 and 11.
A. So, though I was not forced in the sense of the word there was a feeling of being compelled to participate. It made me hate my mother even more than I was growing to hate her.
Q. And your sister was living with someone who was an adult and she became pregnant by them? And your mother knew about this?
A. Yes. After the incident with Vincent my mother and my sister never really talked much afterwards. And when my sister decided that she was moving out my mother didn't really try to stop her. Not really. But then she couldn't have anyway because she was hardly around. I was pretty much staying mostly with my sister and her boyfriend. But my mother would show up. She always showed back up.
Q. At 12 you went to live with your grandparents.
A. Yes. But here and there I had "lived" briefly with several different relatives and family friends and strangers that my mother "left" me with until I called a relative or she came back to get me weeks later. But finally my grandfather, Tome Johnson (who was actually my step-grandfather) got tired of my mother's neglect and declared that he wasn't going to stand for it any longer. He informed my grandmother that I was going to live with them. So there I was living with the second man I loved with all of my heart like a father. He was a great guy.
Q. You must have longed for stability.
A. True. He was like any grandfather. Loving and kind and yet demanding in his own way. I had to do my chores and lessons and respect my elders and be a kid. That was one thing he always was clear about. That I should just focus on being a kid. He would tell my grandmother that any time he felt she was trying to demand that I "be an adult".
Q. You got along well with your grandmother?
A. Yes. She was a hero - or is that heroine? - and I was very glad to have the chance to be around her more than what I had up to that point. She was larger than life to me. She never invented anything. Never wrote a book. Never built anything larger than a doghouse. But she raised eight children, some who I thought were really great people. She never failed to help anyone who asked her (though I never understood how she allowed my mother to treat us like she did for years without putting a stop to it).
Q. Last time you heard from your biological father?
A. Ten years. Spoke with him on the telephone.
Q. Before that time?
A. Uh...I...it had to have been 6 or 7 years before that. He was in Texas visiting his mother who lived not too far from my mother's mother with whom I began living. I had happened to go by there and there he was standing in the front yard. He had been in town for a week and had never tried to get in contact to see how I was doing.
Q. How is your relationship with your mother now?
A. Besides the fact that I have not heard from her in a year I would say o.k. She stopped the drinking and drugs many years ago before I was arrested on this case. She had been clean and sober for about three or five years. And though all of the stuff that she did in the past was done sober as well as when she was on something it was not hard to let go of some of the pain. She was a different woman in some ways and I tried to be a friend to her. A mother son relationship between us came to an end long ago and we both knew. And to her credit she never tried to re-establish one with me. That would have been the end of any friendship I was trying to give her. So, I would say that I don't hate her anymore and understand that she was troubled and needed help those years she put me and my sister and brothers through hell. I care about her and love her as a human being. One of God's creatures.
Q. Say something about your father, Roy Goff, Sr.
A. [Just looks blankly]
Q. But when Mother's Day [holiday honoring mothers] comes do you think of your mother?
Q. Despite everything in the past?
A. Make no mistake. I hated her. Hated her with everything I had. But after I got older—and it wasn't until then—I took a long hard look at her. Clean and sober standing before me with a look that was fearful of how I would react toward her. I no longer saw the madness that had always been in her eyes. I saw a little girl lost. A lot like the little boy lost I saw in the mirror every day. I like to think that I had compassion for her but it was more likely pity. She was like a mad beast that simply ran out of steam. Didn't have the energy or heart for chaos any longer. How could I continue to hate her and grow as a person at the same time? I knew that I couldn't. She couldn't never pay the debt she owed to me and my sister and brothers. So I released her from that debt in my heart and soul and mind.
Q. Were you an unruly child at any time during your stay with your mother, relatives or family friends?
A. No, I don't think so. And I don't think that anyone would say that I was. I was very quiet. It was my belief that the less people had to deal with me on any level the better they treated me. with my mother/to be noticed was to be in trouble, so I perfected becoming invisible. My grandmother told me to be at home 6,1 was home by 4. Didn't want to cause any problems. With my mother it was the fear of being brutalized and with others it was the fear of being sent back to live with my mother to be brutalized.
Q. O.K., but did you ever steal anything as a kid?
A. Yes. I used to steal candy. I was about eight and I would steal candy because my mother didn't allow us to eat candy but once a week and then only a few pieces. I am not blaming her just pointing out my motivation. So I stole candy.
Q. But you got caught.
A. Well technically I didn't get caught I got turned in. My brother Roy and his friend turned me in to the store clerk for a reward. This was after they took the time to eat a good portion of the candy. I stood near the store not believing that my brother would go along with his friend. But he did and I found myself being taken back to the store and knew that they could not do anything to me that would be worse than what my mother would do. She came to the store and talked the police out of taking me to the station to scare me. She said that there was no need for that. She was right. I was scared to death already. At home she acted as though nothing had happened and made dinner and we ate. Then she calmly declared that I should get naked and wait in my room for her. The trusty bed slat came out and she began beating me and beating me and no amount of screaming and blood would make her stop. She beat my older brother Roy for not stopping me. She beat my other brother Robert for not keeping an eye on us. She beat my sister Doris...well, she said she didn't like the way Doris had been walking about like she was Miss High And Mighty. From that day on stealing was not something that I did. The best way to make me leave the scene is to say you are going to steal something. I'm gone!
Q. Harsh but effective, huh?
A. Yeah, yeah, you could say that.
Q. Briefly explain the facts surrounding your arrest and conviction at the age of fifteen.
A. In 1984 my grandfather was dead and my grandmother was growing somewhat restless. Understandable after years of raising eight children and continuously looking after them in some ways. And then she took on raising a grandson. I understand. But at the time she told me that I was going to live with my mother again I didn't understand and told her so.
That was major. It was like sassing off to her. She had packed my bags while I was at school and had me ready to go. She was only waiting on my mother to come and get me. I remember asking over and over if I had done something wrong. That I was sorry if I had. That I didn't want to go and live with my mother. To let me go and live with one of my uncles or aunts. But she was adamant about who I was to live with. After waiting for two hours she drove me to my mother. The house was more like a shack and she didn't seem happy to see me no more than I was to see her. She was not drunk but just that buzzed look she always had. Everyday.
Within two weeks she had disappeared and I was there alone going to school and returning to a empty house. After the food ran out I went to my aunt who called my grandmother. My grandmother came and asked me if I wanted to stay at the empty house or go back to stay with her until she found my mother. There was emphasis on "until". I felt so lost at that moment. True, my grandmother and I rarely talked during the time I lived with her. And while I would easily say that I was closer to my grandfather before he died than I was to my grandmother, I believed that we had a bond like mother and son. She had been more of a mother to me than the one who had given birth to me. And—sorry that I am not being brief, but the story is difficult to tell without certain things known.
Q. Don't worry about it. Tell it the way you feel comfortable.
A. O.K. Well, and I was just crushed that she didn't want me around anymore. That she wanted me to be with the one person everyone knew I should not have been with. Like any kid I became defensive. If she didn't want me then I didn't want to be with her. No sense in that.
I stayed at the empty house now with some food bought by my grandmother. In the coming days my grandmother's youngest son would show up along with a in-law of his who was 19. Both had criminal records. The uncle having just been released from prison and having problems with his wife and the in-law on probation and having problems with his mother. So my grandmother directed them to take up residence at the house I was at—which my mother had paid the rent for three months prior and three months in advance.
Before I knew it the place was a hang-out for all sort of types. With school out for the summer break I tried to stay gone most ,of the time and eventually the in-law began following me. After a time he and I were the best of friends. Actually I thought that he was the only true friend that I had. Someone who thought I was worth something. That was when I started drinking. We would drink most days. My uncle kept trying to get me to join them in doing the things that they were doing that were illegal. The in-law would go along with him but I did not. I knew how my uncle was and had no desire to be around him really during that time in his life. But it was not him that I should have been concerned about. The in-law, my friend was the one.
After drinking heavily one night I found myself being roused my the in-law and we were not where we had been. We had gotten miles from where I last recalled being. And then he told me that he, we, had just robbed someone. I didn't believe him at first until he showed me some money, more than he had had. Much later there was talk about if he got caught he would go to jail for a long time and I let him know that I wouldn't let that happen (I was 15 and never had been in trouble with the police before).
24 hours or less later I found myself drunk again but this time it was not the in-law rousing me it was a police officer and I was in the front seat of his car handcuffed. I passed out again (or blacked out) and was roused again on our arrival at the police station. I was informed that a female had been shot twice once in the back and once under the chin. She was close to death. I was also told that the in-law had said that I had committed the crime and was given his signed confession to read. It said that. I recall thinking "Someone could die? That's terrible. What can I do to make it right?" The police officer began saying that I could give a statement about the crime. I said that I couldn't remember. That I had been drinking heavily that night. He said something about the alcohol that was found in a bag that was with us apparently. He then started typing and asking me yes or no questions to which I told him whatever it was that he wanted to hear. I kept praying for the woman and believed that by keeping the in-law from a long prison sentence (and a cousin of his who was with us that night from jail) I was making it right. After all my life was worthless any way. The longest I had any peace in my life was three years during the time I lived with my grandparents. But that had ended. I was again a throw-away. A unwanted. Uncared for. Unloved. Maybe I could help someone and they would remember it.
I was eventually ordered to stand trial as an adult and was sentenced to prison for 15 years. The in-law received far less time and was out in months. I spent almost five years in an adult prison with no special treatment. Surrounded by murders, rapist, robbers and molesters. I fought to survive like most and was lucky that nothing major took place that put me in the position of my life or someone else's. I was blessed though at some point during that time I lost any faith in a God. To me I was surviving on my wit and toughness (emotional and mental and physical). My mother had prepared me for hardships and despair. But you know I never complained all that time. I had been on the verge of blowing my brains out because I admittedly was not as emotionally or mentally tough as I believed. And prison devoid of pretense. No one cared about me and pain and death was right around ever corner. By being able to focus on my physical well-being I was unconcerned about my emotional wellness. Though I did take steps to do something about my mental wellness by finishing school and going on to college. I may not have actually did the crime (the in-law testified during this case that I did not. That he robbed and shot both individuals in 1984. That my pleading guilty kept him from receiving a life sentence because by law he was an adult and on probation at the time for another crime) but I felt that it didn't matter. What was done was done and that included my being where I was. I could not see how much different where I was was different from where I had been and treated by others. Again I am sorry that it took me so long.
Q. No problem. You have not given any interviews since being on death row, true?
A. Well, I did give one soon after I arrived in 1991 (December 26). But I don't think that it was used because the reporter wanted to have me say things about being a repeat offender and I kept telling him that I could not see myself as that because I had committed no crime to cause my being here. He wasn't pleased. But I have not refused any interview. I am just not a sexy death row prisoner. My case is not sexy. A Black ex-con murders another Black ex-con. Not sexy. But I have written to a number of media outlets about my case and situation so they are aware of my story, in a way. In that the Fort Worth Star-Telegram is aware of my story from my point of view. I have written to them enough times. But have always received the same response; silence.
Q. Ever been married?
Q. Ever do any drugs? Besides drink alcohol?
A. I tried to smoke weed, a few joints. Only two actually by myself. Never had the desire to try drugs. The weed made me aware even more how undesirable it all was. Drugs were not my thing. And even alcohol wasn't. I found that my drinking at 15 was a way to hide from the pain that I had been feeling. The pain of feeling like no one in the world cared about me or wanted me or loved me. But in prison I knew that to be the case there, and focused on dealing with the problems that caused my being affected by what perceived. Meaning that I dealt with not allowing others to dictate how I feel at any given moment. To look beyond the personal aspects of people actions or lack of action. After my release from prison years ago I didn't really drink and eventually wouldn't even socialize with those who did. Just wasn't my thing anymore.
Q. Was there ever a period in your life when you were a "wallflower"?
A. If you mean shy, then I guess the answer is yes. Most kids are. And most kids with friends who are better off and from stable home situations are more shy than other kids. So I was shy in that sense. I never had a girlfriend until I was in the seventh grade (13 or so) and even then I was more focused on sports because that had been my thing to keep me busy when everyone else were talking about girls, girls. But at 13 I began to notice girls and missed a few sports practices from time to time.
Q. Stopped being shy.
A. Yeah, I stopped being shy.
Q. After everything—or despite everything—what do you see when you look in the mirror?
A. The same person I was before but changed slightly.
A. After I got out of prison I had to make a choice. It was the same choice I had to make while in prison. What sort of man was I going to be? A help or hindrance? I tried to be a help where and when I could. I was still young, barely 20 but had the desire to grow and make a difference in someone's life. To do as much good as I could. So who I see in the mirror is the same person. I would like to think that I have helped a few of the men here on death row with good advice and the like. And helped those who have written to me from time to time. I have always felt guilty if I wallow in self-pity. So I don't. And yet, I still see that little boy lost on occasion staring back at me from the mirror.
Q. What era do you regret not having experienced first hand?
A. I used to say the 50's and 60's. But that time wasn't great for Blacks in this country. Especially blacks in the south of the country where no doubt I would still have been born (my luck). Now, I would say that I have no regrets about anything and surely not about having experienced another time. Regrets are simply unresolved guilt feelings. Things that one did not come to terms with. We are presented with choices. We make choices and we go on. We take lessons learned from the result of those choices. But we should come to terms with those feelings. The time I was born into was the time meant for me. I have no regrets. Those who lived during the 50's and 60's and are still alive now likely share one thing in common. They all feel a loss. A part of them past with that time.
Q. In the Bible "David" is called beloved of God. Do you feel that you are beloved of God?
A. For the longest, no. During my imprisonment as a teen I stopped believing in God. Took the position that if I couldn't see it touch and smell it I could not believe in it. I was getting rid of crutches. I didn't need another one. Even after my release I felt that way. I attracted people with the same beliefs much in the same way that drunks attract other drunks and sports fans attract other sports fans. But they were harsh on anyone who believed in God. I stopped dealing with them because that was silly. What ever helped someone was fine with me, I just didn't buy into it. After my conviction and sentencing to death I was even more firm in my belief. Didn't want God, didn't need God. If there was a God why was Ion death row without cause? Then after two years and a little old guy simply smiling and talking about baseball to me whenever he came by my cell, I awoke one day with a firm realization that God was real and that he cared about me. There had never been fear in me concerning the death sentence. I was too busy being angry. I like to think that it was the power of love that brought the truth as I see it home to me. The love of God and that little old guy who simply smiled and talked about baseball whenever he came by my cell. I now have little doubt that he was praying for me as well. So, yeah I feel I am beloved of God.
Q. O.K. What scares you?
A. Nothing. I get apprehensive like everyone but I can not recall the last time I was scared. Someone said that I was too stupid or too stubborn to know when to be scared. They probably are right.
Q. So do you see yourself as courageous?
A. Hardly. I think that the way I look at things I have no choice in most matters, of those I am presented with. Either I stand up for what's right or I don't. Either I stand firm or I run. Either I do everything I can to fight with every ounce of my energy and being or I fall down quivering like a mass of jelly. To me I have always seen only one choice. I am far from courageous. I simply don't have any choice.
Q. But you were hit by a truck—actually run over—and came away with minor injuries and was concerned about the bike that belonged to your sister. Did that affect your fear factor or did it highlight your stupidity?
A. [Laugh] I don't know. When I got hit by the truck I saw that the guy was trying to run me over and its true that I wasn't really scared. I was mad. I tried to get out of his way completely but he had it in his mind that he was going to run me down if he had go over the curb to get me. He locked his wheels when he hit me that likely kept him from killing me. I was wrapped around the huge large tire. Half my body was under the front of the truck and the other half was kissing the hub of the wheel. When the truck came to a stop my pant's cuff was trapped under the wheel and so was my sister's bike. The one that she told me not to touch while she was gone. So now that I think about it I was afraid of what she would do to me. But in the end she got a new bike and my mother got more money to drink up or drug up so everyone was happy. I had only minor injuries; not a broken bone, so I was happy.
Q. Have you ever been in love?
A. Once I got my heart broken and after repairing it the best I could never got into a position for it to happen again. Love came again but I just smile and talked about Baseball.
Q. What would you say is the most difference to date between men and women?
A. The same difference that was long ago. Women are silly and men are stupid. No offense intended to either sex. But the reality is that if you were to ask a majority of women why they did something or another and you will get a answer that is simple: I don't know. Why can't you be more understanding and supportive? And if you ask a majority of men that question you will get a long drawn-out story that makes sense only to the individual who is speak at that moment.
Q. So I assume that it is easy for you to express how you feel. When was the last time you cried?
A. That would have been about ~ few weeks ago. One of the prison supervisors had been speaking to me and apparently misunderstood my smile at his comment about being so harried with work he could not remember what I had asked him about the day before. The next thing I knew he was ranting and raving at me and shouting for me to shut my face. I did not say another word. It was not because he had told me to be quiet because he thought I was laughing at him, he said (weird, I know) but because I was choked with a host of emotions. After he left and then returned to the cell-block area he tried to talk to me and acknowledge that me was out of line and had made a mistake. But as I opened my mouth to say I had nothing to say to him, best to just leave it alone, I found that I couldn't say a word. And most embarrassing tears started to flow from my eyes. I could not stop them. I tried but they kept coming. The supervisor was really gracious about it. He said, "I know that you are under a lot of pressure Goff and I am sorry that I spoke to you like I did." It made me want to cry even more. Now he was being nice! I was glad to be taken from the exercise area and back to my cell where I just let it all lose. The dam burst and I felt better afterwards. So my advice to adults anywhere is to find a place to have a really good cry. It's like laughing; you will feel better afterwards.
Q. What would change about yourself if you could?
A. My sense of idealism. I have little of it now. I see mankind as a whole in a far darker light than I once did. You know how people are always asking what is the problem with the world? Well, to me the problem is mankind. Without mankind on this ball there would be far less problems. Far less. So, I wish I could more of a idealist. More of a dreamer. Because I only see more terrible things for the world as long as mankind is a part of it.
Q. Are there any decisions that you regret having made?
A. If anyone could go back in time and do something different, retaining the knowledge that they have, they would do so. Myself included. But the reality is that we cannot. We only get one chance at any given moment and once it is gone it is gone. We have to live and learn from the choices that we make, as wrong as they may be. Since I was 15 I have made it a point in my life of attempting to take the lessons I receive and learn from them and use them to make me a better person. More rounded. I have no regrets. I have /come to terms with any lingering guilt that I had. At some point everyone need to get off of their knees and start living.
Q. What was the last thing that you did that you were proud of?
A. That's tough...It's not that I don't think that I have done anything good lately, it is just that the need to encourage some those here come so often and helping them with something to make their life a bit more at ease is not something I see as being proud of doing. So from just a personal stand point I have to say that I am proud of the fact that I have been able to maintain my composure in the face of what is before. I would have thought I would be nothing but a pile of quivering jelly.
Q. What did you want to be when you grew-up?
A. I hardly knew who I was much less what I wanted to be. Often said that I had on my mind three things and a plan and that is partly true. O.K., it is totally true. I saw myself becoming a pro football (National Football League) player, if not then a Marine and then if I didn't stay in for a career then a police officer and then a detective and then a private detective eventually. But all of those dreams went up in flames when I was 15.
Q. What is your idea of a good time?
A. Watching a bunch of friends have fun and being a part of their gay spirits celebrating life. I am what some call a pleaser or giver. A good time for me is making someone happy.
Q. While growing up who were some of the people who influenced, inspired and impressed you?
A. My grandmother Jimmie Burrell, My uncle Donald, the character Captain Kirk on Star-Trek the television show, Martin Luther King, Al Green the singer, my cousin Jason and my mother—not in good way. She gave me the best lesson of all. How not to be. To me most important, I was touched by most everyday people like my grandfather Tome Johnson who was cranky but loving and understanding. People who did the best they could with what they had and refused to complain if complaining would not change the facts that they that they faced. Oh, and I have to say that the U.S. Secret Service impressed me during my entire childhood and still does. These men and women put their lives literally on the line every minute they are on the job. It is their job. No shield,; they are the shield. And often no time to pull a weapon to protect their charges. They use their bodies in a way that many would refuse. If America has any true heroes or heroines then it is these men and women who are aware that each day one of them could be called upon to do what no other profession ask so often. There is not any ducking for cover for them because they are the cover of safety; of life. I just had to say that.
Q. Understand. You have expressed thoughts of being tired and feeling as though your death would be a welcomed "relief" from the "strain of the weight" you have borne now and most of your life.
A. The years of frustration. Of not being able to get anyone to listen to me has been draining. The years of battling with attorneys who were appointed by the courts to represent me has been draining..
Q. Wait. You have battled with your attorneys?
A. Yes. Every attorney that I have had on my case has took the position that they would handle the case the way that they wanted to and that was that. And these attorneys have all been closely associated with one another so they were not trying to do anything that would hurt any previous attorney that had worked on my case and thus hurt me in the end. One so bad that in reality my appeal of my case ended a few years ago because of his actions without any of my facts having been heard by the courts. Like my innocence. So all of this stuff takes its toll after a while. I have been fighting not to be run over by a truck again most of my life. I feel as though I don't have anything left to give. No fight left in me. And yet...
Q. And yet you keep on.
A. yeah, I am either too stupid or too stubborn.
Q. What sort of work did you do?
A. Well, I am a carpenter and have done some work in construction. But after my release from prison in 1989 I worked mostly in Stewarding departments of hotels. Assisting the person in charge of special events like conventions and meetings to set up and to account for every dish, fork and glass. Not glamorous or noteworthy but I enjoyed the work and the feeling of making a huge difference even if from behind the scenes where no one will ever know you. The Hyatt Regency by far was the best hotel one could be employed at. They believe in people both as customers and employees.
Q. Films, actors, singers and writer, who-are your favorite?
A. A lot of good ones. A lot. My favorite films are "Boys Town" with Spencer Tracy, " -Roots" Alex Haley, "The Outsiders" with among others Tom Cruise, Patrick Swazey, C. Thomas Howell and Diane Ladd, AND "Lonesome Dove" with Tommy Lee Jones, and the bunch. These movies are everything that good movie making is about. Every element needed. I can only think of one actor who I am impressed with and that is Denzel Washington. Since I have not seen many foreign films that is my choice. Currently no other American actor comes close to his level of art. Of those who do he learned from them and perfected the act. As for singers I enjoy all sorts of music but the old Motown sound is what really moves me. All of them and Al Green, Sam Cooke, Frankie Lemon, Gladys Knight, The Temptations, The Four Tops and I like B.B. King a blues man. As far writers, first I like all things Star-Trek (they just don't let anyone write the books). John Irvin (a must read is "A Prayer For Owen Meany"), James Baldwin (most of his poetry), John Steinbeck, Walter Mosley, and the Apostle Paul (one of the best teachers I have had).
Q. Turning back to your current situation, many look forward to your execution...
A. Yes, and it is sad for so many reasons but more so because I am the wrong guy.
Q. Have you ever met the parents of the man that was killed?
A. No. I saw some of the family in the court room but there were no words passed between us. Just a few stares filled mostly with pain than anger. At least that was my perception. There was lot I wanted to say but what do you say when they are convinced I am the one because the prosecutor said that I am the one?
Q. What is your feelings about the death penalty?
A. Look, in this country very few people are still attempting to convince anyone that they support the death penalty because it is a deterrent or "justice" or "God's" law. No. The majority of its supporters acknowledge that it is needed to soothe the pain of the victim's family and loved ones. The only way that they can put their anger away and move on is the see the killer die. The death penalty is wrong and any decent person knows this but because we are all animal of instinct—revenge being one very human instinct—we are prone to giving in to our instincts. And when we do we create good strong arguments as to why we are not really bad people for doing so. Cheat on your husband or wife? But love was what it was all about. You needed to be fulfilled. Lie on your tax forms? But the government cheats tax payers every day. It's not like I'm robbing anyone. Good people making excuses because they give in to animalistic instinct. But I have questions ," for—and I mean all—if one innocent person is executed by any nation, government, then of his family and loved ones do you not then make enemies of the state? And are they not justified in seeking revenge for that unjust death? Giving in to that same animalistic instinct. Does it make them bad people? Why?
Q. Did you see Tim Robbin's "Dead Man Walking" focusing on the death penalty and if so what did you think?
A. Me personally I did not like it at all. And I know that quite a number of other men on death row did not like the movie either. I have no doubt that Mr. Robbins and Susan Sarrandon had good intentions but terrible advisors. First, the book that it was based on is not a very good look at the system of death in America. It is a well intended book but not very accurate. The perceptions in the book and movie are those of a person who is caring and giving but who has little experience of true criminals. She put together a "composite" and said this is what a death row prisoner is like. But that was far from the truth. She does not understand that there are some robbers who will not kill and some killers who will not rob. There are lines drawn always in any dark hole of a neighborhood filled-with the criminal element. And in prison there are the same. And though there are some pretty messed up individuals in prison and on death row there are a lot who are on the other side of that and some in between. The average death row prisoner does not exist. Dead Man Walking gave a terrible view of death row. A view that many hold because it is what they want to believe. Over the years I have been surprised every time a new guard comes to work death row. The first thing that they always say is that they are surprised that it is so quiet. That the prisoners are not yelling crazy stuff and are not just wild. They say that they would rather work death row than with the general prison population. "You could get killed out there" they say meaning every word. And they seem muted whenever they execute someone they have witnessed do nothing more than draw, read and laugh with other prisoners for years. You can see the question longing to be asked, "Did have to be done? At least in this case?" A better movie that should have gotten the attention that it deserved for a more realistic view of death row was a movie made for cable called "Last Light" with Kiefer Sutherland and Forrest Whiteker. '(Show Time). I do not know anyone who did not pause in silence at the end of the movie and afterwards proclaim that someone got it right.
Q. Very opinionated. In the past ten years what have you been doing to stay busy? What was going through your mind?
A. I have read, worked on my spirit some and wrote a poem or two here and there. Trying to stay up on my case consumed a lot of my attention so the years seem a blur at times. Often I forget what took place in 1996, 1997, 1998 or whatever. I get the years mixed up all of the time. My thoughts have been a lot like a leaky balloon. With each apparent defeat in court and each attorney who refused to answer my letters or inform me of anything about my case before or after it happened thoughts of hope leaked away little by little. The place where I find myself I realized a few years ago that unless I found a attorney who was not connected to my trial attorney in any way and who would try to save my life and regain my freedom, then I was likely to be executed (soon).
Q. What is a normal day on death row?
A. Now that death row in Texas is at a new prison unit in Livingston (was in Huntsville about 30 miles away) it is bleak. Prisoners are allowed only one hour a day to walk about a caged-in area roughly 16 feet by 22 feet. This is inside the building. Twice a week that hour can be taken on what is called a outside recreation yard. But in truth it is only a room without a roof (bars covering the top allowing air, rain and sunshine in). Meals are served by way of a slot that opens set within the steel door. The food is fine by some standards but that depends on whose standards you are using. You will not starve but no one eats the food every day. It becomes difficult to do. We are handcuffed behind the back before being moved anywhere as well as stripped naked and searched every time. And there are the attitudes of guards. They range from indifferent to hostile. If you just stay quiet in your cell and keep the light off most of the time (it is really dark in the cell without the light on) they will leave you alone mostly. But there is always one or two who need to make their day go by faster by having a little fun with the prisoners. Sometimes it is prison supervisors as well joining in the fun. They get bored I guess.
Q. Why don't you get visits from your family and friends you knew before your arrest and conviction?
A. Well, after my conviction in 1984 my family stopped having any contact with me then. Even though I was only 15 in a adult prison and had never been incarcerated anywhere or in any trouble before, they were gone. I guess I "let them down" –in their way of thinking and they simply wrote me off. After my release I was not running to reunite with them. I was polite but distant. They were distant and demanding. They wanted me to forget that they had other things to do than to hold my hand while I was in prison. "You put yourself there" my heroine said to me, breaking my heart allover again. My grandmother was the one who lead and everyone else followed. (But in all fairness she and my older brother Roy would tell people who asked about me that I was fine and that they had seen me recently and such. When the truth was that I never received visits or letters from them or anyone. They had no idea how I was doing; if a 300- pound hairy smelly guy was doing unspeakable things to me or what. I would not be surprised if the same thing is not going on now with most of the family). When I was arrested on this case and said I had nothing to do with it, no family came running to my defense. I was left on my own. The closest it came to my receiving help from my family was my mother was there to give her support. I have to say that she was at my trial every day and took in everything that was said. But beyond that she was lost as to what she could do for me. All the alcohol and drugs had not left her in great shape. No, I was on my own. Some of my family even said that they thought I was "capable" of having committed the crime. This they based on the fact that I was angry-looking most of the times they saw me. Prison had no doubt changed me for the worse. The same reasoning of the police but the prosecution was not going to say that. It might give me some kind of defense to beat the death penalty. My family does not visit me because they...are busy, I guess. I don't know. And the friends that I had--I guess they found another friend to replace me. I have stopped racking my brains to figure it out. It is about that emotional toughness. Those feelings of being unwanted, uncared for and unloved try to creep back into my soul but I am stronger now. No one can dictate to me how I feel. Not by their words or actions or lack of actions. Not any more.
Q. If you had more time, you would...?
A. Make a difference where and however I could. A positive difference. Now you do believe in the existence of God.
Q. Are you Catholic or Protestant?
A. I am a Christian. I do not adhere to any organized doctrine. I embrace all fellow Christians and show the same love and understand to all that Christ showed as he walked this earth. Though my beliefs may lean more towards Protestant I have plenty room to fellowship with those of the Catholic doctrine as well. As much as they and any Christians allow.
Q. Anything you want to share that you have not yet?
A. Not really. I have been pretty chatty.
Q. Well, what is your abiding philosophy in life?
A. Life is a full circle, so remember that to serve God is to serve mankind; To serve mankind is to serve God. Make a positive difference where you can whenever and however you can. There is no other "purpose" to living.