We recently finished our Fall 2007 Newsletter and put it online: CLICK HERE
We hope you enjoy it! Also, we had to shorten my personal reflection on the Daryl Holton execution. Being the literary giant I am (kidding of course), I thought it would be nice to post the non-truncated version on the blog.
On September 12th, 2007 at the Nashville Riverbend Maximum Security Institution I witnessed and publicly protested a state killing for the first time. When I arrived, a thick fog was rolling over the small valley where the prison sat, the air was thick and moist, and I shivered in my wool coat. I held my breath at 1:00 a.m.—the moment that the execution took place–and thought to myself, how did it come to this?
The long day began at the TCASK office on September 11th, where we fielded media inquiries. “What significance does an electrocution have?” “This man wants to be executed, why is TCASK protesting Daryl Holton’s execution?” I had already faced the same exact questions from friends and family. This execution, I explained, represented what TCASK’s movement, the abolitionist movement, stands for. I did my best to find the right words: “I cannot accept that we as a society are participating in the calculated execution of this human being, furthermore, one troubled with mental illness…and a life filled with such sorrow.”
After traditional TCASK office hours, I rendezvoused with my friends Hector Black and James Staub, and we made way to 2nd Presbyterian Church, where Rev. Stacy Rector and Rev. Jim Kitchens led a service for Daryl Holton. It was a beautiful service, throughout which I prayed that Daryl would not feel any pain during the electrocution.
At 9:00 p.m. we arrived at Riverbend and walked through grassy slopes into the designated “protesters” area. I made eye contact with one of the guards and wondered what he thought of us. We started the vigil with a stirring prayer by Rev. Sunny Dixon. The reverend prayed for the lost lives of the four children that Daryl had taken (killed?): Kayla (4 years old), Eric (6), Brent (10), and Steven Holton (12). The reverend also prayed for the Holton family and Daryl’s grief stricken mother, immediately images of my mother’s face flooded my mind. When we remembered Daryl, we remembered the man who served this country as a Gulf War veteran and we remembered the loving father and husband.
The noise from the generators and prison guards shuffling around our fenced area was a reminder of the gravity of what was transpiring. State killings do not happen frequently–especially in this state. Later, Naomi Tutu spoke of the perils of state killing and asked us, “How would you like to be judged by the worst thing you ever did?” Hector Black shared the tragic story of his daughter’s murder and his reconciliation with the murderer, whose dark past and remorse for his actions supplemented Hector’s graceful act. James Staub spoke solemnly about his mother’s murder, and the killer, who was never found. Both are murder victims’ family members and both oppose the death penalty.
While we can never rationalize such acts, we can attempt to understand them. I believe though that Daryl’s mental illness and his actions leading up to his execution should be held for consideration. Daryl suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and was hospitalized for severe depression. He also dismissed his counsel and waived his rights to appeal. Furthermore, because of an unusual law we have in Tennessee, Holton was able to opt for electrocution as opposed to lethal injection. These issues of Daryl’s case came and went to pass; they passed at 1:26 a.m. as Daryl Holton was pronounced dead.
At TCASK, we seek nonviolence over violence, and we want to end the killings that follow a killing, so we look to find the positives amidst the clouds of negativity. The fog that rolled into the small valley where Riverbend stood cleared away as we left the prison grounds homes. As I drove home, I tried to discern what was positive about what I had just experienced, and I realized that I had been surrounded by amazing people—people that stand out (literally) for peace and justice. There is a supernatural bond created between the people who experience and protest tragedy. I also found out that my prayers at the church were satisfied: Daryl’s electrocution was quick, and the autopsy indicated he did not suffer.
At the end the fog cleared, but I still feel engulfed by it. I pray that Holton was able to escape his inner darkness and find peace, and I pray that this state can escape from the murkiness of injustice and realize that the death penalty accomplishes nothing, but only takes us deeper into the shadows.
“I raised my head. The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed somber under an overcast sky–seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness” (Heart of Darkness).
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