Hearing the opening notes of Silent Night takes many of us instantly back to memories of Christmases long ago. If you are a purist, like me, this song is so special so that it is only to be sung on Christmas Eve with family around the tree. That is my tradition, but of course the message is larger.
There are several Christmas carols that speak about Christmas Eve as being a holy night and for Christians that requires no explanation. But what is it about silence that is so special on that night. What is that message?
I often think that the world is desperately in need of silence. We are surrounded by a harsh cacophony of sounds spewing hate, disasters, revenge and for those on death row, there is the constant noise of doors clanging shut, proverbially as well as figuratively. Constant noise! Much of the noise comes from the media and the ugliness it revels in reporting, but then the media is us, isn’t it? We invite it into our home and into our cell. It is indeed a symbiotic relationship.
Why does noise matter, you may ask and what does this have to do with Christmas? Doesn’t noise allow us to escape the harsh realities of our existence? It does, but nevertheless silence is one of the gifts of Christmas. Its silence brings us not only silence from the courts for which we are thankful, but it also gives us the opportunity to listen and to hear those voices too easily drowned out throughout the year. If we are silent and listen attentively we hear them. They are the voices of the abandoned, the afraid, and the lost. Often we may have to intuit what they are actually saying, but in our silent spaces we will hear and understand.
It is there too that we listen to other voices. We hear the voices of those who have left us but who continue to echo in our hearts. They are not forgotten and will always be part of our struggle and our joys.
And finally, but certainly not last, it is the silence of Christmas that allows us to hear your voices ever more clearly. Your voices have encouraged and supported us throughout the year. We never take you for granted, dear friends, but it is this time of reflection that allows us to tell you how grateful we are to you for walking this road with us.
We wish you the peace, joy, and love that are Christmas, and also its silence.
Hello from the Editor’s desk.
I’m not the usual writer for this column, but we decided that as Assistant Editor, it is time for me to contribute in a manner other than advisory. I do hope you’re not disappointed with my attempted coup.
As you all know, this is your end year/Christmas issue. I will be reviewing the year’s prominent events for those of you who don’t remember and as a reminder for those who do. We have had an exciting year and I’m sure we will have plenty to review.
First off, I would like to mention the brothers we lost this year to the state killing machine. They have had a busy year, to our great regret. On May 27th Thomas Wisenhant was executed, then John Parker on June 10th, Michael Land on August 12th, Holly Wood on September 9th, and most recently Phillip Halford on November 4th. Five men fell to the vengeful blood lust of the state this year despite the shortage of a key chemical needed to carry out these executions. All will be missed and none forgotten.
On a lighter note, I would like to speak on our own personal Santa, or in this case Mrs. Santa. A year round job that she does like no other could. She is our light, the backbone of Hope. Everyone loves and respects her for who she is and to our great joy she knows each of us and loves us for who we are. It is an honor and a privilege to know and be known by this woman. Merry Christmas Esther Brown. May all your wishes come true.
I would also like to give a shout out to our supporters. Without you we would be hard pressed to keep this train rolling. You are greatly appreciated and we hope that you will continue to support our efforts. We have recently acquired a new avenue for you to keep up with what’s going on with Hope as well as offer your comments and ideas. We are now on Facebook and welcome you to visit us there. On the same note, we now have a German PHADP website (phadp.de). You can find info on both in the Alabama News Section of the newsletter.
Merry Christmas everyone and a Happy New Year.
Happy Thanksgiving! Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! And any other greeting that I missed I extend to you, our dear readers.
Ask anyone who has known me for any length of time and they will tell you that I’m a summertime guy. I love the sun! It is hands down my favorite season out of the four. But from Halloween into the New Year, it’s my favorite time of year. Even here, being incarcerated, I still get a warm, peaceful, and nostalgic feeling at this time of year. (I think of the food.)
I thought “Peace” to be a fitting subject at this time of year. Peace means to me the elimination of all stress. The Biblical definition for peace in the Hebrew language means completeness, wholeness, peace, health, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest and harmony- the absence of agitation! It seems that my definition and the Hebrew definition go hand in hand.
This is what Jesus means to me and I am especially grateful to celebrate Him this time of year. Even with all that is going on around the world- in Christ I have Shalom! Merry Christmas!
Alright, so I’m new to all this. I’ll try my best to put in words a few ideas of thoughts. A little about who I am for those who don’t know me or are on the outside reading this. I’ve been here on death row for four years now. I have been locked away from society for twelve years. I have a daughter, loving family and a strong faith in God. I’m patiently waiting to see how He will use me in this world I’ve become accustomed to.
I’m really laid back but this laying back all the time can be overwhelming. I’m glad I’ve met some really good people that I can turn to for sound advice. I never thought when I first got here that so many people would be willing to share legal work and advice. Always going to be people who would rather see you fail than succeed. I hope as I have, the new guys will have the chance to see everyone, for the most part, willing to build each other up and this will affect them and they will continue on with helping those behind them.
I’ve joined Project Hope so that I can help out in whatever way I can. Not sure what this group will lead me into becoming. I do know I only see positive goings on and at this time in my life I can use all the positivity I can get. I close for now but I’ll eave with one request. Find a way to build someone up today. Be it family, friend, or neighbor. God bless to all the brothers and sisters on the row.
As I sit and think, this past year comes in flashes. Oh how time seems to be passing by these days! I think of all that has been faced over the year as well as the things accomplished. Well honestly it’s felt that the past year has been a relay of hurdles. Now the holiday season is upon us, and I can grad a hold of the holiday spirit.
I recall when it all seemed so simple, when the only worry was if I’d get the expensive race track I wanted or cheap one that the cars only go around in circles (smile). Oh, how I long to return to the days of little worry and no drama. But, I realize I am an adult now, and have adult situations to deal with, especially being on the row.
I think of the guys we lost to execution, and it only brings more worry of whom next close to me will receive a date. I know that this will be on a lot of guys’ minds over the holidays, as it is our reality. For now, I guess one must focus and be thankful for still being alive, and able to fight the good fight. I guess that’s all a part of it, being thankful at Thanksgiving, and reflecting on the joy you do have at Christmas.
I’m normally a cheerful. So I must get geared up early, and be my usual serious but silly self. Get full on Christmas package food and try and try and get everyone around me to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” with me (smile). Maybe I’ll get some takers as I’m also quickly approaching my “mid-life crisis,” as I’ll also be turning 39 years old this Christmas.
On a serious note, I thank all our supporters for your caring and being family to us all. You definitely be in my thoughts this holiday. I wish everyone high spirits and much joy. For those that can, have some cherry cheesecake for me!
Merry Christmas and Seasons Greetings.
In Love and Peace,
Some people believe that change isn’t in some people. They will continue with that belief until somebody close find themselves on death row like myself. I know change is in every human. Some just have to search their soul a little harder than others, but the possibility is there inside. I wasn’t an angel myself on the streets. Still I was far from what I am being labeled now as, a monster. I continue my struggle every day here, with hopes for another outcome for myself and the belief that I’ll be a better man when it happens.
September 30, 1630 was the first execution in early America, the hanging of John Billington. He sailed to America aboard the Mayflower. He was a signer of the Mayflower Compact. Three hundred eighty years later, America still has the death penalty. The State of Washington is still using hanging as a method of execution.
Of the 190 countries, 141 countries have abolished the death penalty. America legally allows the barbaric practice of the death penalty, leaving America in the dubious company of Iran, Saudia Arabia, China and North Korea. Five of the countries that have been called the axis of evil.
We need more people to stand up and fight against the legally and morally abhorrent practice of capital punishment. The death penalty is not a deterrent to crime, and is not reversible is an innocent person is executed. If we are to be a culture of life, we must first respect life. The death penalty diminishes our humanity.
When I was 17, out on the block selling drugs with a gun at my waist the streets had no love for people. See, the streets were my home cause my family and friends were gone. I had no one to trust and deep inside I was all alone. Then one day a deal went bad and it was enough to give me pause. I was set on fire from head to toe and before I knew it I was on my knees, flames burning my body, my heart beating fast…blood rushing through my veins. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t think I was going to last. Then I began to flash back on my life and all that had past. Then I heard a still, small voice that said to me: “I’ll give you peace if you believe.” At that time in my life, I didn’t take heed. But now I have accepted Christ, hallelujah, now I’m free. God has saved me. I’m in need of GOD everyday because, sometimes it gets lonely. Coming from where I’m from things aren’t what they seem to be; coming from where I’m from sometimes you’ll get a little angry; coming from where I’m from sometimes it gets the best of me. Being where I am and coming from where I’m from….I am compelled to believe that my creator, JEHOVAH, hasn’t brought me this far to just drop me off right here. Thanks for listening and God bless.
PHADP- On the Inside
It has been pointed out to me that most of our supporters are aware of Hope’s efforts and actions in the free-world but very few know what hope does and means inside the prison walls. While Hope’s main function is working to end the death penalty, operating on death row presents us with the need to be much more than an abolitionist organization.
Understand that a death sentence doesn’t only mean that we have been found guilty of murder. It means that society has judged us to be totally unworthy of life, leaving us with little impetus for positive change. Most of us are under educated and suffer from the effects of years of chronic substance abuse. Add to that, the personal growth discouraging atmosphere of prison life, with its distorted “Convict Code of Survival” fomenting discord between groups and individuals, then you begin to see the setting and conditions in which Hope- on the inside works.
Not everyone here chooses to be a part of Project Hope. The temptation to stagnate and do nothing is great. Each member must daily make the decision to take the more difficult road of trying to grow as a man. Being a member of Hope is rewarding work, but it is work none the less. It comes with certain responsibilities and expectations. All members, for instance, are required to write a number of articles per year for our newsletters. This means that the “Old Heads” (men who have been here the longest) get together with the newer guys in order to help them when ever it’s needed. To encourage them, build their confidence and assure them that the writing gets easier with each completed effort.
The same is true of learning about the law and rules of the Capital appeals process, which we are all going through. The men who have gone through the early and mid stages of their appeals teach the newer men how to best assist in their own appeals.
Keep in mind that prison is not a place where one wants to reveal any kind of perceived weakness or shortcoming. It takes a great deal of courage and a certain amount of faith in who are you dealing with to admit that you may need help. But once this leap of faith has been taken, the giving and receiving of time, attention, assistance and effort tends to create a feeling of brotherhood. We become FAMILY.
We attend board and group meetings together where we share updates on the current events of the abolitionist movement; where we share our thoughts and ideas about the direction Project Hope should move in next. We hold and attend execution vigils together where we recognize each individual who gets an execution date, and we stand together in peaceful protest of State sanctioned murder.
The board of directors asks each new man to attend a meeting, where we welcome them, (imagine that conversation, “welcome to death row”) we tell them about Project Hope and invite them to join in our efforts. We offer them what insights we can give about living here on the row and we encourage them not to give up; Not just to mark time waiting for the executioner.
There are not a lot of opportunities, on death row, to continue or even to begin to lead a productive life. Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty is one such outlet.
After 20 years here, one of my greatest pleasures is seeing one of the Old Heads who received help years ago, passing that on by giving help and encouragement to the new guys.
The men here are very much aware that working for Hope will not end the death penalty in Alabama soon enough to save all our own lives. All of our efforts and shared experiences in Hope bring about a feeling of belonging, in some maybe for the first time. Hope affords us the opportunity to do something positive here on the row, while giving us the added gift of Family. Put that together with the feeling of satisfaction that comes with personal growth, and I say that is very worthy indeed.
Seeing My Blessings
Well, being that this is the holiday issue- I guess this should be an article that keeps within the spirit of the season, huh!
Okay, we’ll get to that in a minute. First, I want to say Congratulations to me, as I became a grandfather this past October. Well, I guess I should congratulate my daughter as well seeing as how she did have a little to do with bringing my precious granddaughter into existence. (smile). Seriously though what a true blessing the little one is, and that’s what the holiday season is all about.
Yes, there’s gift giving, lots of food and glasses filled with…let’s just go with egg nog (smile) but the main focus of this joyous season is, and should be, family and friends. That’s what I’ve always loved most about Christmas, Thanksgiving, and bringing in the New Year. Don’t get me wrong- I loved the food and the gifts but I loved it even more because of the people I was sharing those things with. Family that was always there, and family that were able to make it in from out of town, that you hadn’t seen in awhile. I’ve always been very family oriented person, and being away from them has been very difficult within itself but, missing the holidays with my family is among the most difficult times I’ve had being locked down.
So, in keeping with the spirit of the season…I wish a very Happy Thanksgiving, a very Merry Christmas, and may the New Year bring with it many new, wondrous and joyous blessings. I don’t have much in the way of gifts to give so I’ll leave you with this….enjoy the gifts, food, and egg nog (wink-wink) but, most of all enjoy your family and friends.
• Thomas Wisenhant was executed on May 27th.
• John Parker was executed on June 10th.
• Michael Land was executed on August 12th.
• Holly Wood was executed on September 9th.
• Phillip Halford was executed on November 4th.
• Esther attended the Alabama Arise Conference.
• Esther attended the Al. New South Coalition conference, as well as various meetings.
• Esther attended the AL NAACP State Conference, the Annual conference, and spoke with the press conference in support of the National Criminal Justice Commission Act. She also spoke at the Pike Co. NAACP branch.
• PHADP received a $3000 grant from RESIST this year. For those seeking similar funding opportunities, the Resist address is: 259 Elm Street, Somerville MA 02144 Phone 617-623-5110.
• We thank the South East Alabama Gazette for their frequent coverage of Hope sponsored events and death penalty news items.
• PHADP joined Facebook this year, thanks to Kathy O’Gorman who runs the site.
• Esther met with CURE and the Alabama Women’s Resource Network (AWRN) leaders to plan future coordinated efforts.
• Attorney Robin Konrad is our newest member of the PHADP Advisory Board. We thank her for accepting, and welcome her into the fold.
• Esther, Randall Padgett, Rev. Paul Britner and Dr. Robbie Baldwin attended the People of Faith Against the Death Penalty’s Kairos conference in Atlanta.
• Esther participated in several NCADP conference calls.
• Our student representative, Hannah Jackson is doing research and writing on Structural Violence behind the Criminal Justice System specifically as it is manifested in the death penalty. We just got an update from her and she is involved in so many worthwhile activities that we don’t have room to tell you about them all. Keep up the wonderful work, Hannah!
• Dr Robbie Baldwin presented Hope in Geneva, Switzerland at the World Conference to End the Death Penalty, and also at a conference in London.
• Our European Representative Christoph Silex contacted the German press when Alabama’s Governor went to Germany to meet with German industry heads. Christophe has also created the Hope web site for Germany to ensure that we eat as well as possible during the Holiday season. THANK YOU, Christophe, for thinking of us.
Matters of Life and Death: Alternatives to the Death Penalty
February 18th-19th, 2011
JUSTICE AND MERCY (JAM) and other partners are hosting a conference at Canterbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham. Out of state, as well as in state speakers will speak about their very personal connection to the death penalty and explore alternatives to state killing.
For reservations, call 205-871-4695. Registration fee of $10.00 includes a boxed lunch and a copy of Life and Death Matters by Dr. Robert Baldwin.
A GATHERING FOR PEOPLE WHO WANT TO:
• Learn about the death penalty in Alabama
• Consider faith based responses
• Hear from victim’s families who oppose the death penalty.
• Explore restorative justice as an alternative.
• Share ideas for further thought and action.
Dear Family and Friends,
Greetings and salutations! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Oh what a year it has been! A few of our friends and brothers now departed. One would think that, considering our circumstances, there would not be a whole lot of celebrating or joyfulness taking place on the row. Those people of course would be wrong. Not only do we celebrate the short visits from family and friends that we receive during this time of year but we also take pleasure in phone calls, Christmas cards and letters we receive. Then there are our Christmas packages. With added calories to burn and an attitude of finding joy wherever it may be had, we embark on a season in which grown men, such as myself, some of whom have children, find themselves gazing with childlike wonderment at our TV’s at animated shows such as “The Grinch that Stole Christmas” and “Merry Madagascar.” Also, old standards such as “What a Wonderful Life” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” watched for the umpteenth time. Chuckles and snickers, a few giggles and the occasional sniffle signifying memories of past viewings in very different environs. If you can remember the first time you saw “A Miracle on 42nd Street”? Where were you at the time? Were you surrounded by family? Brothers and sisters perhaps? Maybe sitting on your grandfather’s lap? What did the house smell like? How did you feel thinking back to that time?
Holiday gatherings bring family, friends, and co-workers together during the Yule time. Such is true even on death row. Each tier has a library day and the weeks before and after Christmas and New Years are full of potluck get togethers in the library. The Project Hope Board is holding three such get togethers this year. One for Thanksgiving, thanks to Mr. Christophe Silex’s generous donation for that exact purpose, a Christmas party and a New Year’s party. I can assure you that a group of guys such as the Board and sub-Board fueled on the good wishes of our supporters, gleaned from cards and letters, the before mentioned added calories from the shared goodies, prison casseroles, sandwiches and snacks from the prison canteen and Christmas packages not to mention Santa’s helper, Mrs. Esther Brown. I have often wondered if she actually knows the secret to Santa’s real workshop? (As opposed to the fake one graphically overexploited in children’s books, cartoons, and movies.) Just a thought I have sometimes this time of year. And I am sure if Santa trusts anyone it is Esther.
Then there is the neighborly gift-giving. During this season, even guys who do not get along with even the friendliest, most well-mannered and generous neighbors for the most of the year will somehow find it in their hearts to give a little something to our less well supported brothers on the row. Who would have thought, right? Well, it happens. Grinches, Scrooges, and the coldest Jack Frosts giving of their own meager goodies so that the less fortunate on the row have something to feel fortunate, one might even say, merry about this time of year. And I am not talking fruitcake. I’m talking good stuff like real Nutter Butters and Kiebler Fudge Stripe cookies. (And you got to admit those elves really know how to make a fine cookie.)
During this time of year, filled with holiday gatherings, gift giving and jolly memory making take time to remember the true reason for the season. And say a prayer for me and my brothers. Who knows, maybe your prayer will be the one that turns the tide to keep Hope alive! Meanwhile, we’ll do what we can do from in here. And here’s hoping we get peace on Earth and goodwill towards men. Even those on death row.
Ronald B. Smith Jr
The holiday season is my favorite time of year. For me it is the atmosphere of the season. The decorations, gift-giving, holiday music, and certainly the food. The holidays are the perfect excuse to go all out cooking. As well as to indulge in the culinary delights of the season. Cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, Red Velvet cake, green bean casserole and giblet gravy are all necessary components to a great holiday meal. But, the atmosphere of the holiday meal is set by the turkey and dressing.
Turkey and dressing to me, is the essential foundation for a holiday meal. In my experience, the best dressing has chicken in it, some egg, onion, celery and plenty of sage cooked in chicken broth. Dressing must be served with turkey. I love a traditional roasted turkey, but there are some great alternatives.
Deep fried turkey is great. It is more tender than a roasted turkey and retains moisture. My favorite is smoked turkey. When I first got my smoker I smoked some turkeys using various rubs and marinades. These were good, but I tried a tip, a friend who owns a barbecue place, gave me. In the smoker, I placed the turkey on the low rack. Above it, on the top rack, I placed a whole fryer. The turkey was tender, moist and the skin was crisp and had a deep smokey flavor. The fryer of course went into the dressing.
I hope you enjoy your holiday feast. Season’s greetings!
I sometimes ask myself, what is life? Or what is living? Life is described in the dictionary as a Noun. The definition says: A lively, emphatic, eager quality or manner. I often wonder, what if a chicken falls into a pond and before we can rescue it, it dies. What change has taken place in the life of this animal at this very moment between its present condition and one moment before, when it had been alive? What difference is there now that it no longer moves, plays or eats? It is clear that there is something which exists in the live chicken which does not exist in the dead—life itself.
I conclude that life is not an object of the senses. We only perceive the effects of it, like movement, eating, etc. and from these effects we discover its existence. When other people watch a person die with poison pumped into their veins, which happens on death row, exactly what are they receiving through their senses? Life is what they ask for, but I wonder, what is it they actually get?
The Smiling Tiger
He smiles form ear to ear. His eyes light up a dark room. To converse with him you feel he really cares and he even offers advice, a shoulder to lean on, and an ear to listen. His eyes even shed tears, for he seems empathetic to your circumstance.
Well, he is smiling because you are his next meal. His eyes light up because he knows dinner is fast approaching. He converses with you to see where you are most vulnerable. He sheds tears to wash away the dirt from the road where he plans to lead you to the slaughter; you are greeted by many he says are his friends. They too have smiles on their faces. You feel you are amongst friends yourself. That is when the smiles turn into snarls, the eyes turn to slits, and you are pinned to the wall wondering why and how you did not see this coming! The why is that you are only a pawn in a political chess match, you are expendable. The how is a lack of information, resources, and education! Wanna know who is the he I speak of? He is the system and his friends are the courts, precincts and prisons…I’ll call him the smiling tiger!
How I See Tomorrow
How will I see tomorrow, without me getting abstracted from the past? I wish this was a joke, but I’m in no mood to laugh. When I done seen the death, seen the pain, seen the sorrow and the mothers tremble from the grief that grabs them tight like a cold winter night. You can’t cover that stuff with no coat. It seeps within, runs thick through their veins as they watch their child lie deceased from the needle or some other wicked way, and I keep thinking about my last days. Keep thinking about watching as the State buries another brother. I wonder if I can lend him a blanket to keep him warm on his journey? I wish I could embrace his family, but what can I say when my tears block my view as well. I keep wondering if I bleed just as keep from the psychological lashings. I think about the love and I consider the hate.
I write this because I hate when the agony overcomes me, trying to separate me from a thing called sanity. There have been plenty of nights when I buckled down on my knees, eyes watery with both fear and care because I admit, I am scared, and try to imagine being free from the adversity that swells through me. I gotta reach for the heavens and grab back that sanity. I remember I used to call out for Christ all day, every day to make things better for me.
So much to say about that word “Tomorrow.” Where will I be tomorrow? I look forward to tomorrow, because thinking of yesterday keeps me humble, and looking forward to a bright, better, and more productive future keeps me going. Remember, whatever your thoughts, good or bad, they will manifest in your life.
Peace with two fingers…
What a Day!
My Lord is my God…My strength is my Hope. My faith is the way I choose to go. My pain I gain. Through sorrow and shame. I sit and wait with no one to blame. Reality is real, when all appeals are exhausted, the State can’t wait to kill. I was wrong and so are they. True Judgement belongs to the Lord! Oh, what a beautiful day!
The Best and Worst of Times
It happens every year…from November 1st to January 3rd. Those are the best and worst of times for me. I hate being away from home and family, and friends. My worst of times usually begins with Tuskegee University Homecoming. A lot of family and old friends that had left home usually return to make plans for Thanksgiving weekend. And the Turkey Day Classic as well as the parade…Love is in the air….Everyone is cooking, everyone is helping others do whatever it is they need to do to make their holidays better. You see old classmates and friends that you hadn’t seen in years. But in here, all we have is the thoughts of the Christmas box that some of us are blessed to receive in a few weeks.
I’m not a big talker of food, like some we know…but I too love to eat and just the thought of my Aunt’s food, cakes, pies, potato salad, greens and so much more, makes me want to put my face in my pillow and scream. But it’s not just about the food for me. I miss the communion with cousins, nieces, nephews, uncles, aunts, and friends. There’s nothing like it.
It’s hard to call home and think that maybe your call has ruined their day or that maybe you know they’re not as joyful as they would be if you were home, but to hear their laughter and love, is the best energizer you could receive for the upcoming year. But the ultimate for us here is to receive a Christmas package and eat them up in a week. But, for those few days….we are content!
We are eating good food, sharing with each other and just enjoying the best of that time.
Then the next year begins and we don’t know what to expect, but we do know that we will face it together. 2010 was a record settling year for reversals in Alabama, but we lost some friends and fellow brothers. It was a real roller-coaster…one week you’re applauding a new trial..the next you’re preparing for an execution. 2011 awaits us..but those are the best and worst of times.
I remain: Anthony Tyson
Note: We would like to thank you all for your love, support, encouragement and faithfulness in 2010.