Friday, 22 March 2013

Letters from Death Row

My correspondent on Texas Death Row wants me to  name him; in prison, he is just a number. He writes:

Whenever you do talk about me, please use my name. I don't want to be hidden away. Not when a friend is your champion. I've been put on a shelf before and I was uncomfortable. Like my identity was stolen. That's all this prison does. They try to erase who we are and the best we can be and instead show what we are becoming and  the worst we have to offer.

 So. He is Irving Davis, and he's 30 year old. He's been on Death Row for 12 years, in solitary confinement ALL the time, in a metal cell with just a steel sink, loo and bunk. He is incredibly intelligent amd articulate; he paints and writes, when he can get the materials, and reads such books as he can get hold of. He may or may not be guilty of the crime for which he is convicted (many are probably innocent). It's not my job to judge or condemn him, but to be as much of a friend as I can be to him (I hate the expression "pen-friend" as it sounds so juvenile somehow).

In his last letter he writes of loneliness:

I did not know that aloneness could be so pervasive in one man's life. That my catchphrase would become, "I am alone". Not lonely. Just alone.

His family have all cut him off, although his father has said he can be buried in the family plot (no comment needed). Of his childhood he writes:

Basically my house was like a prison.You did your time and you left.

I cannot make excuses for what he might have done, but this is a man who was given little chance at the beginning, and is now given no opportunity for redemption. I think his execution date will be soon, as (he says) the warders all have it in for him. (Six people are alrady scheduled for April. Texas ha a very high turnover.)

A few weeks ago, he sent me a beautiful card. He has hardly any  money, and that card must have cost at least $2, without the postage. In it he wrote:

Frances
Thank you for this year that we've shared. Your grace and your patience has seen me through some dark days. I can't wait to see what this new year will bring us. Thank you. If all I can do is appreciate you, then I shall do my best. Stay golden, my friend.
With love and respect
Irving Davis

Are these the words of someone who is beyone redempton? I think not.

Irving has done for me at least as much as I have for him, but I don't think he can ever accept that this is so. When his time comes, I shall miss him more than I can say.

29 comments:

  1. What you do, Frances, is very special and wiritng to someone on death row is not something that eveyone, including me, could do. It must be a little like bring a defence lawyer - doing what you need to do, regardless of whether you think the person is guilty or not - except, of course, with very different rewards. It's not something I could do myself, but it is as well that there are people like you out there who can. We must remember that Irving was only an 18 year old boy when her first entered prison.

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    1. A lot of people say they couldn't do it, Wendy, but it's not that difficult, and it really does have its rewards.

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  2. What a terrible condemnation for a young man.

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  3. That is so sad....I can't imagine how he must feel, being alone for so many years. What a cruel imprisonment Surely if he is guilty , why are they keeping him in such terrible conditions for so long.....are they not sure? Do you know what he is supposed to have done? ..though I don't expect you to tell us..that would not be right.

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    1. There's a lengthy and very complicated appeals system, which rumbles on for years and accelerates once a date is given, hence the last-minute stays of execution that regularly happen (one prisoner had three before he was finally executed).

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  4. America is still a nation of dumb folk.

    They seem to revel in taking life and prolonging the agony.

    No matter we lost the war with them and now have to put up with their zeal for Christian values.

    Good on you for writing....I couldn't do it and nor should anyone have to.

    We have an illusion that the UK is safe but still our government ship folk out for torture.

    They don't understand that lowering standards just feeds revolting behaviour by very naughty, immoral people.

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  6. So many difficult questions have come up here, Frances. The question of capital punishment has plagued the lawmakers of many nations, and I can't pretend to have an answer.
    There was a man in Canada, near my hometown, killing 12 & 13-year-old children 30 years ago. I knew the parents of one of the victims. When the killer was caught, he actually told the police the locations of some of the bodies.
    My much-younger brother was 13 when the murders were happening, and he wasn't allowed out alone, like most other youngsters, for obvious reasons.
    Everyone in British Columbia was very emotional about the serial killings of children, and opinions like Jill's were many and loud.
    Even those of us opposed to capital punishment, due to the possibility of an innocent person being executed, would happily have seen that particular killer hanged, drawn, quartered, and thrown to the wolves, but it might have made man-eaters out of innocent wolves.
    However, few killings are resolved so definitively.
    To my mind, leaving your young correspondent in solitary confinement on death row for years, dreading his fate, is cruel and unusual punishment, but that is my opinion only.
    A bleeding heart? Perhaps. I'm a tree-hugger who prefers baby seals to fur coats, and I want global warming to stop before all the polar bears die. If that is a sin, then I'm a sinner.
    K

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    1. I can understand the desire for retribution, Kay, and indeed if someone killed one of my family, I'd probably want to tear their throat out! But that doesn't make it right. And the solitary confinement is indeed brutal.

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  7. I cannot understand how any good can come from treating anyone in this way. It doesn't help him come to terms with he's done and it can't possibly change the past or make things better for the family of the victim.
    Your letters clearly mean more to him than could ever be known. At least he now has someone who cares and no one can take that from him.

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  8. This is so awful, Frances. But you have made a difference to Irving's life (if it can be called a life - it sounds more like prolonged torture to me)so sad x

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    1. Not any inspiration, Sonia (if only!). Just doing something about about an issue about which I feel strongly, as I think we all try to do.

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  10. I just don't see the point of keeping someone in solitary confinement for so long and then killing them. It doesn't seem to work as a deterrent, it can't put right whatever they've done wrong, they can't learn from it. It does stop them killing again, but then so would a quicker death or life imprisonment.

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    1. It's revenge, pure and simple, Patsy.

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  11. The typical wait between conviction and execution in the U.S. is 17-18 years. This is supposed to allow time for multiple reviews and appeals and the court system moves v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y here.

    Based on your post I was inclined to be sympathetic toward Irving until I googled his name and read the details of the crime. Still, he seems to have changed a good deal in the years since. I am of mixed opinion.

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    1. I thought someone might Google him, and you're right. What he did (or is supposed to have done) was dreadful. I am not sentimental about murderers. But what is being done to him now solves nothing, and merely creates further suffering. I firmly believe that these crimes should be punished; that goes without saying. But this punishment is way beyond what is reasonable or just.

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  12. I don't know if Irving deserves to die for what he did but I do know that you have made a difference Frances and that's what we should all strive to do.

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    1. You too can write to a prisoner if you'd likd to, Colette! They are crying out for more people to write to prisoners, and there's a lengthy waiting list...?

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  13. A very, very sad post Frances. Keep up the good work.

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  14. Irving is a good friend of mine so I waskind of shocked to hear you think he might have a date soon. what leads you to believe this? I spoke with the TDS and they said he still has a ways to fo until he exhausts his appeals.

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  15. Irving is a good friend of mine so I waskind of shocked to hear you think he might have a date soon. what leads you to believe this? I spoke with the TDS and they said he still has a ways to fo until he exhausts his appeals.

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  16. Irving is a good friend of mine so I waskind of shocked to hear you think he might have a date soon. what leads you to believe this? I spoke with the TDS and they said he still has a ways to fo until he exhausts his appeals.

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  17. Irving Davis has poetry at www.minutesbeforesix.com which is a site for talented prison writers. Everyone should check it out!

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