April 25, 2013

The Lost Art of Writing Letters

It's been awhile since I've posted anything here, but novels pull people away from writing other things. Tonight is an exception though.

My heart is heavy this evening.

 If you had told me 6 years ago that I’d be sitting here tonight with tears in my eyes over news of an execution in Texas tonight, I probably would have gone into a fairly long one-sided debate about the need for capital punishment. See, on May 2, 2002, someone I had been close to since 8th grade was murdered. It wasn’t a crime of passion or a cold, calculated assassination. He simply went home at the wrong time startling the man in his apartment in the midst of a burglary. This man shot him twice in the chest and left him crumpled in his doorway to die before making his way to the car where a second man, the driver, was waiting.

 It didn’t take long for the two of them to be caught. One testified against the other, of course, and both were sentenced to prison time. But, truthfully, both received more time for the drugs and weapons offenses that initially led to their arrest than for the death of my friend—a not-yet-20-year-old who had yet to walk in a bar and buy a drink, get married, have children, or graduate college. I was angry. Rightfully so. But, that’s not my point. At that time, I became very pro-capital punishment. I wanted harsher sentences for everyone, and I definitely felt my friend’s murderers should be sitting on death row.

In the meantime, I went back to school to finish my criminal justice degree. In several classes, the death penalty was a topic I chose to research. Time and time again, though, the research I conducted showed how at odds my opinion was with the statistics. I experienced an increasing amount of cognitive dissonance when I would come across extensively researched articles proving that the death penalty did not lead to a decrease in the murder rate for the states that utilized it most. It was difficult for me to read the numbers of the exonerations. And the cost of the death penalty alone was enough to leave me with resounding questions about its usefulness in this country at all. But, I could not simply let go of the emotions, the anger and frustration and hurt, I felt at the thought of someone I had loved in life and still loved in death having been murdered was too much to just let go because of research. To do so would have felt like a betrayal, I guess.

I was so deeply torn and couldn’t figure out a way to reconcile my emotions with the facts. It was this deep internal rift that eventually led me to write an inmate on death row.

 Looking back on it now, I realize that I was hoping I would get a return letter from a monster. That somehow, in writing this person, I would be absolved of my mental anguish and find an easy answer to the debate taking place inside my head. In essence, the person would be such a horror that my problem would be resolved for me with very little effort and work on my part.

 But, that didn’t happen.

 In the least.

 In truth, I met my closest confidant to date. In one of his early responses, and possibly to impress just a bit with his wide range of knowledge, he touched on the topic of quantum physics and the collapse of the wave function as if this was casual conversation for him. In the 5 years we have written one another, I have learned more than dreamed possible when I first put pen to paper, stamp to envelope. I learned about myself—to accept myself the way I am. I learned that flaws are fine to have as long as I always try to learn and try to be better. I will always be a work in progress. If not, then what’s the point of living? I learned about me…who I am, who I want to be, and who I will never be again. I learned about him and his own life, his experiences, prison subculture. We helped each other past mental roadblocks. It became a true friendship with the give and take we experienced.

 I learned to accept death—his, my own, my loved ones’. Death is a part of life. It’s unavoidable and beautiful in its own way. And, it’s nothing to fear. I have also, and possibly most importantly, learned that love can begin in the oddest of circumstances when preconceived notions are thrown away.

 By writing someone who was supposed to be the scourge of the Earth, I renewed my faith in humanity. 

Next month, he is scheduled to be executed for a crime I don’t believe he committed. The Innocence Project of Texas is involved, and we have high hopes, but there are never guarantees in these matters. I know this because I have been through half a dozen executions of his closest friends. Some of them I have written and visited myself. Some were admittedly guilty of the crimes they were charged with…But, none of them deserved to die.Tonight, the last of those friends is gone. Robert is the only one left. And, in a month, I may lose the person who knows me better than anyone else in the world. I am hoping for the best while preparing for the worst.

At the end of it all, though, if Robert is executed, the state of Texas can never take away the memories and love he has given me nor will his death reverse the changes that have taken place. Writing that first letter set me on a course to be a better human being. I am forever changed because I learned that I was wrong.

 I could spend the time arguing against the death penalty, but I encourage you to look it up for yourself. Experience your own cognitive dissonance. It may lead you to the very thing you needed in your life all along.


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about me. not really.

dear you,

i don't talk about my child or being a mom. i don't talk about my garden. i won't mention my craftiness (often) or how much i save each week with coupons. if you're looking for that sort of thing, you're in the wrong place.

instead, let's abandon the tethers of domestication for a moment and remember what it's like to laugh at vulgarity and the world at large.



talk amongst ourselves

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