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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Heartbreak That Is Sayid

August 15, 2007 - 4:45 p.m.

I'm a little blue today. Several of my neighbors VR'ed their rec today (verbally refused) so I ended up out on the blistering hot yard with a person I have never rec'ed with, mainly because the guards rarely even ask him if he wants to go out. Sayid Ribani (spelled phonetically and no doubt incorrectly) has been on the Row for nearly twenty years. He is from Bangladesh; although he's been here so long I think it was known as East Pakistan when he left home.

They brought Sayid to our section about a month ago, and he was welcomed with a chorus of groaning and cursing. I asked my neighbor, Robert Hudson, what the deal was. "Oh, wait until lights-out, you will see, little brother." Hudson is one of those eternally happy chaps that never has anything negative to say about anyone, so the whole thing had a rather ominous tone to it. He certainly didn't look dangerous, from the glimpse I got when they brought him in. A short, skinny man with dark, eastern Arabic features and some light graying at the temples. His eyes, though...it was like they had a sheen over them, sort of like that film you get on your soup when you leave it out on the counter too long. I noticed that he had little property, which saddened me because this place is hard enough to take even with the meager privileges they offer to Level Ones.

I waited all day for something terrible to come spilling out of 29 cell. Eventually, I simply forgot about him. Then, at 3 a.m., breakfast came. "AAHAYOUHHA!" A powerful voice began booming down on one row, immediately after they began passing out trays. I couldn't believe someone so small (he might weigh 110 pounds soaking wet) could emit such a powerful ruckus. Nor could I understand what he was hollering about. As one might expect, this elicited the usual feedback from the men in our section, which had zero effect. After about four weeks of this nightly ritual I have grown accustomed to it, though when I hear him quietly weeping it breaks my heart.

Anyway, the guards all know he is Section 8 (loony), so they rarely ask him if he wants to rec, which is why it was such a surprise to find myself outside with him in the rec area next to mine. I wasn't even sure he could speak English. What I found out amazed me. He speaks with a slight British accent, and once you can get his attention, he is concise and lucid and very ... well, not crazy sounding. He knew who I was, by name and cell number, and thanked me for the bags of food I had been sending him the past few weeks. He told me he was back in the trial court after 19 years on the Row (the old timers are under different timing rules - for example, I will be lucky to be alive in five years).

Apparently, Harris County (Houston) has declared him un-executable. Allow me to put this comment in perspective for you: of the roughly 1,000 men executed in the United States since the early 80's, more than 400 of them hail from the State of Texas. Of these, 100 of them are from the City of Houston. Yes, ten percent of the men executed in the entire nation come from one city, from one District Attorney's office. These numbers make Houston outrank any state in the nation for number of men killed, save Texas. So, for Harris County to have decided that he is too crazy to be killed off should give you some clue as to how nuts he is.

Here is what makes me so angry, though: He was insane when he was convicted to die, and he has been insane for 19 years on the Row. And yet, the court, in its infinite wisdom, sees no reason to take him off the Row. They have decided that the proper and legal means of dealing with Sayid is to leave him here until he dies of natural causes. Why? Hell if I know. I suspect it has a lot to do with it being cheaper to house someone here in this modern oubliette than in a mental unit like Jester 4, where he might actually get some medical help. (The member of my Jury who preferred the Death Penalty to life imprisonment because it was cheaper for the tax-payers would agree with this assessment.) I weep for a system that sees a human being as nothing more than a thing to be swept under the carpet until it expires. And all of this time, his psychosis has been aggravated by conditions that were labeled by the Vera Institute as "the worst in the world, save those that exist in China."

Doesn't anyone care about this man? Who would let him simply rot like this? The nurses certainly don't care: when they bring him his meds, they are in a large foil and cardboard sheet that is supposed to last him all week. Of course, Sayid doesn't understand this, or can't compute it, so he takes them all within a few days. His shouting and crying increase dramatically once his meds run out. I can understand him when he cries for Tylenol.

I have told them that they need to bring him his meds once a day, to which one nurse responded, "I can't be comin' down here all the time." Really? I'm confused. Isn't that your job? I shouldn't get angry as this type of thinking is pervasive here, but sometimes I can't help it. And there isn't anything I can do about it, really, save buying him some coffee and food from the commissary every week. I think he deals with the food the same way he deals with the meds, by eating it all at once, like a little kid, and then having nothing for the rest of the week. The fact is, though, I am on a very strict budget myself, and I cannot afford to do anything more. I hope and pray that the trial court does right by him and the other men like him here on the Row.

After talking to me for about ten minutes, I evidently began to bore Sayid, as he started walking around in circles, slowly muttering to himself. He stopped only to sip his cold coffee and to evaluate a Hershey's wrapper someone had left on the yard. He smelled it, and then turned to me and smiled, his grin stretching from ear to ear. He reminded me of a two year old. I resolved to buy him ten Hershey's this week. I doubt I could ever explain to anyone why that smile haunts me so.

I have heard it said that there is no such thing as a self-less action. I think, sadly, that this might be true, at least in the world of men. I know that some would accuse me of sending Sayid my meager care packages as an attempt to bargain with God for my life. It really has nothing to do with that. God's already saved my soul. I strive to do things like that for no other reason than to prove to myself that They were wrong about me. The foreman of my Jury was quoted as saying, "Bart can't change." I found this comment very interesting. I can and have changed since that night. During a trial you learn about the defendant only through the focus of one act. How do you judge an entire life on one act, even one as horrible as what I did? What made me sadder was the next comment: "I hope he finds God."

I am a little vexed by this. Actually, OK, I am just going to come out and say it: You cannot be a Christian and believe in the Death Penalty. Read John 8. Maybe a secular society can, but not a truly Christian one. It is too much like revenge. The District Attorney, who claimed to be a Catholic during Voir Dire, quoted only once from the Bible, the ubiquitous prosecutor's Bible quotation: Exodus 21. You know it as the "eye for an eye" deal. Go read the context. It refers to the punishment proscribed when a pregnant woman is injured by someone. But regardless, the Old Testament commandments (and there are a whole lot more than ten) were NOT a Holy covenant between God and Man. They were rules laid down to establish social order as the Jewish people fled Egypt. The Holy Covenant between Man and God was made through Jesus Christ. So for an apparent Christian to say something like, "I hope he finds God before they kill him at my orders" reeks of hypocrisy. Thomas Adams wrote: "He who demands mercy and shows none burns the bridges over which he himself must later pass."

Just so you will know, reader, I was convicted under Texas' Law of Parties (a uniquely Texan oddity) which states that anyone involved in a murder, no matter how peripherally, can be executed just like the trigger-man. I didn't kill anyone. The D.A. didn't even pursue the death penalty for the shooter. The Jury convicted me to die because it was my plan, which I readily admitted at trial and accepted full responsibility for. So what do you think you did, Mr. Foreman? You ordered the State of Texas to kill me, when I had been trying to confess for 18 months (but was stopped by my attorneys because the D.A. wouldn't back off the Death Penalty), and you had it in your power to allow me to live out the rest of my life in jail, as my Father and all of our families had pleaded. Hi, Pot, I'd like to introduce you to Mr. Kettle. Ah, you say, but the Law makes it OK! Really? Slavery was a law, too, but that didn't make it any less morally reprehensible. Or Dachau. Europe hasn't had the Death Penalty since World War II, and they look down on us for it. Even some states in this country (13, actually) believe it to be immoral. Hell, Rwanda, a bloody massacre par excellence less than ten years ago, abolished the Death Penalty last year.

Click to read "All Crimes Are Not Equal"

I pray for the foreman every night, just as I pray for the D.A. There isn't anything else I can do. I hope they are shown more mercy in their own lives than they showed in mine. The thing about an eye for an eye is this: it makes the whole world blind.

"You can't hold a man down without staying down with him."
- Booker T. Washington

© Copyright 2007 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker.
All rights reserved.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with you. I do not believe in the "law of parties" and I do not believe anyone should be subject to the ultimate penalty unless he/she committed the murder themselves. Sorry for the comment on such an old story, but it really resonated with me and I've only recently figured out how to read all your stories from the beginning. A rather difficult task I might add (would be nice if the site could index each story/article for each person). Keep your head up Thomas. - Ken