Last Wednesday night Troy Davis was put to death by the state of Georgia. Thousands of people all over the world tried to stop it to no avail. One of my facebook friends wrote, “I wonder what’s going to happen….all I know is, if Pope Benedict, Jimmy Carter and Bob Barr all agree on something, somebody should listen.” I am very much opposed to the death penalty but in this case it’s possible an innocent person was killed.
All this brought back memories for me. In the 90’s, I began visiting a man named Terry Mincey who was on death row in Jackson, Georgia. When GA switched its execution method to lethal injection, Terry was the first man killed. As a result the event garnered quite a bit of attention. There is always a vigil outside the prison but this time there were newspaper cameras everywhere. At one point, I got angry and screamed, “Stop taking my picture!” Immediately a group of people stood in front of me to block the cameras but it was too late. A picture ran of me in the Atlanta papers. I must say, it captured my sadness perfectly.
I preached a sermon about my experience with Terry at the Open Door Community in Atlanta afterwards. I don’t know if I can attach it to this blog but if you’re interested in reading a copy, contact me directly firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll send it to you.
Due to my TBI, visiting Terry was difficult for me. The Open Door Community visits the prison every month and I first went with them. They drive a van the 1 1/2 hour south to the prison from Altlanta. Many of the folks on the trip are family members. Sometimes the trip was noisy (overstimulation) with children laughing and I found the trip difficult. Since at that time I wasn’t driving on the highway, making the trip alone was not possible so every month I made the trip.
Pencil and paper are not allowed in the visiting room. I have learned that if I want to remember something, I must write it down. As I’ve said before, there are three parts to memory. First, one must get it in the brain. Second, it must be stored and third, it has to be retrieved. My way to store it is to write it down and then I can retrieve it by reading it later. I always took notes about my visit when I was riding home but I’m able to remember something for only a short time before I must write it down.
Leaving the prison was quite an experience. I waited for the guard to let me out of the room. I then waited for my companions before our long walk out of the prison. Trying to attend to things and concentrating really wore me out (cognitive overload, resting brain). I put in my ear plugs and slept all the way home. There was often noise in the van which made resting difficult for me. Fortunately later, I found folks who drove up separately so I didn’t have to continue taking the trip with the Open Door Community. Either way, the trip wiped me out.
My experience with Terry made me interested in visiting as clergy. I tried doing this once but realized it was going to be very hard for me to do with all my challenges. Terry knew about my memory challenges and he often wrote me letters about our visits. This helped immensely. I think when I first began visiting, Murphy Davis, who is responsible for setting people up with someone to visit, choose Terry for me because she knew he would understand my challenges and be willing to work with them.
In retrospect, I’m very glad I took the opportunity to visit Terry even though it pushed on all my deficits. In the early years of being a survivor, I didn’t know how to pace myself. Sometimes I did more than I really was able and I then had to sleep for days. Now I know where my limits are and I try to plan for them. However, sometimes things don’t go as planned. Troy’s execution was one of those times. It was postponed for hours and instead of going to bed early like I always do, I stayed up and watched Democracy Now which was broadcasting from the prison. I hoped the Supreme Court would stop the execution but this didn’t happen. So I stayed up and watched till the bitter end.