Her first letter to me was peppered with humor, insight and intelligence – wisdom gained by those that have seen the devil, held his hand, and walked away. It started as research for me, nothing personal nor emotional. I was researching death row, specifically women on death row. I was trying to crack the code, so to speak, on death row standards in regards to prisoner rights and the U.N Declaration of Human Rights.
I didn’t know anything about her crime. I have made it my own personal policy to not ask – a way to know the person, not the criminal. That does not mean that these details are not revealed to me over time, but she was different. She did not offer and I did not ask. She didn’t try to sell me on a story of innocence, nor did she beg me to help save her life. She shared rare glimpses of her life, past and present, with kindness and sincerity.
It was only after I read court documentation that I questioned her fate.
I came to appreciate her sense of humor and her wisdom, often founded in faith. She stopped becoming a research subject and started to become a person, and then, dare I say, a friend.
And then she was gone. Put to death. Unfairly. You will not convince me otherwise.
In 18 minutes, her life was erased.
And I still have nightmares of it.
Because it was not painless.
Nor was it like putting an animal to sleep.
The leg, shaking.
The fear in the eyes.
The crack in her voice.
And at night, when I close my eyes, it is all those things that still haunt me.
Two days later, after she was gone, she whispered to me from the grave, via letter, mailed the day of her execution.
“Thank you for the kindness and compassion you have shown to me. When I get to heaven, I will tell your Mama how proud of you she should be.”
I stay up until my body forces me to sleep.
Even then, the light is on.
And I still see her leg shaking, hear her voice cracking and see the fear in her eyes.