Thursday, June 5, 2008

A Long Night at Jackson

Last night’s execution of Curtis Osborne was a particularly difficult one. Its strange to me how always on days after executions I feel so foggy and like I never quite wake up- perhaps a reaction to how surreal and awful the prison vigil experience is.

There were so many difficult facts to come to term with – most significantly how the state can move forward with the execution of a man who was represented by a lawyer who carried 600+ cases and a private practice at the time of his trial, not to mention referred to his client as a racial slur. Then the State took its sweet time in responding to the Curtis’ lawyers’ motion in the US Supreme Court; the execution was scheduled for 7pm yet their response rolled in well after that time.

We knew after the US Supreme Court issued their denial that Curtis’ life was limited to the next few moments, but it was over an hour before we heard anything else. That period of waiting is one of the worst that I’ve known in my life; the awful waiting and wondering about the person on the gurney and all the possible scenarios of what could be going wrong.

The best I can discern by combining information from multiple sources include the Georgia Department of Corrections and reporters who witnessed the execution, there were problems finding an appropriate vein for the injection as well as problems with the back-up IV. (Though the GDC is claiming that it was the first IV that killed him anyway. Nope, that doesn’t make sense to me either.)

This afternoon I called one of the reporters who witnessed last night. He had dreadfully misquoted me in a story that’s now been published all over the place and I wanted to follow-up with him about that. I also wanted to check in with him because I’m friendly with him, and I could tell last night that he was really shaken after watching for his first time the state killing a man. I was right; he was deeply bothered by the execution and said he didn’t sleep last night. So instead he wrote, which is something that I often find myself doing when I return from Jackson.

He sent me this piece that he wrote for his family to share what he experienced. The story he tells turns the stomach. He references Curtis’ expression and apparent fear at the time of his death as well as some facial movement after the time that I would think that paralysis should have kicked in. He told me that his mother called him this morning crying after she read his account.

Some of our interns that came along last night to the vigil commented on how weird the situation was- the contrast of the beautiful, peaceful grounds of the prison to the horror that was happening inside. I am often similarly struck.

We were joined last night at the vigil at Jackson by four members of Curtis’ family: his father Dennis, his sister Rhonda, and Rhonda’s husband and sister in law. My heart goes out to them. I can’t imagine how awful it was for them to stand and wait and wait and wait for word from the Court and then for word from the Prison. I’m grateful that they viewed us as safe people to spend that unimaginably difficult death-time with.

While I love and appreciate all the folks that usually come to the Jackson vigil, we are at best a dedicated but small group. I am so grateful for all who were there last night to visually illustrate to Curtis’ family that they were not alone in their mourning, sadness and outrage at his death at the hands of the state. Thank you for your hearts.

Ed Weir noted Curtis’ solidarity with the other guys on the Row by wanting his last meal to be the same as theirs. Mary Palmer Legare reminded us of Jerome Bowden’s last words before his execution: “I hope that by my execution being carried out, it will bring some light to this thing that is wrong."

As long as the State continues this futile and brutalizing exercise in vengeance we will take a public stand against this killing in our name.

1 comment:

Beck said...

Sara, as always you are an inspiration. I hope this nation changes its policy because, well, simply put, the death penalty is wrong, inhuman and unjust. I also hope that I get to read your account of what incredible bliss, awakening and illumination you feel when it happens.
Your life is what helps make such change a reality.