For me, when a date of execution is at hand I find myself, mentally and spiritually, in another place. I'm solemn and spacey, yet my senses are acutely aware that on this day someone will die. Premeditated murder is a hard adversary to face. In Texas it's become more like highway scenery, something that we see coming, passes us by quickly, but comes back again and again.
I have no balm, spell nor medicine to deal with this death ritual that induces pain, madness and horror. Truth, rage and fight is all I have. But the day of October 19, 2006 would be a day that would plunge me into a hell that I didn't know existed; a trauma that I didn't know I could feel. It would become a day that I would allow no one to ever forget.
The state-sanctioned murder of Michael Dewayne Johnson was scheduled to be carried out in the sadistic catacombs of the Criminal's Jest/us System. But instead of the glee that is System and its minions get from ushering a man to his murder, they would finally come face to face with a reflection of the horror of this process.
I would receive the news around 8am that in the middle of the night Michael Dewayne Johnson, instead of going to the gurney, chose to leave a lasting impression on all our minds, committing suicide by cutting his own throat with a razor. Like a 100-foot drop my stomach would plummet to depths of nausea that I didn't know existed and I felt that I would regurgitate up my entire being. In a state of shock I read those lines over and over again and each time it hit me harder and harder: "Suicide by cutting his own throat!" Dear God what has become?!?
For hours I would spiral out of sanity. Reports I got said the scene was unreal; thought to be macho and heartless, male officers were in tears and female officers were having nervous breakdowns. Blood would not only flood the floors, but it would also tell a story. Accounts vary, but it was said that in his own blood Michael Johnson wrote words declaring he didn't do the
crime, which right next to he posted a statement from his co-defendant who confessed to the crime. This is where I've made this event my personal business.
I knew Michael Johnson. I first met him in 1997 when I got to death row. Let me state for the record that Michael was NOT mentally ill. Michael was a highly intelligent man; the type of guy who might be a computer technician or an engineer. Michael was a very respectful person. He never caused anyone problems, he was always cordial, he recreated practically daily and he lived a peaceful life. He would help you if he could and something else many don't know is that not long before this tragic incident, Michael (in the face of critics and a bias prison setting built on black, white and brown separatist rules) embraced Islam, choosing the name Hamzaa for himself.
Outside of the reasons that this was a man of Peace and Kindness, whom the death penalty had to brutalize, I am making it my personal business to staunchly fly the flag of his name, but also for the reasons that he and I found ourselves bound to Death Row under the same means – The Law of Parties.
While in Michael's case there was a question raised on who shot the victim (unlike my case where the shooter admitted it) there was evidence (the statement that was said to be on the wall) that showed Michael's co-defendant admitting to the shooting. After stealing a car and joy riding, Michael and his friend went to a gas station to do a gas run (meaning fill up with gas and drive off), but when the gas attendant unexpectedly came out to approach them, acting on independent pulse, Michael's co-defendant shot the man and they drove off.
The combination of standing on his innocence of the crime of Capital Murder and his co-defendant quickly accepting a deal to shift blame, the state led Michael to death row. There are uncanny similarities between his case and mine. And due to the fact that I have passionately spoken out against this contradictive and unconstitutional law of parties for 10 years and having
those cries fall on deaf ears I am here to say that the anti-death penalty movement is failing us. It failed to know Michael Johnson and it is failing to be a force to save us from these horrors.
I'm here to make a powerful declaration – what Michael Dewayne Johnson did was not because he lived a suicidal life nor because he was mentally deranged, he did it to make a statement to YOU ("you" being all of you pro and anti-death penalty who think activism is monthly dues and meetings; yearly marches and speeches; but your work extends no further. Not into the
abyss of death row, not into the personal lives of death row inmates, not anywhere passed your own comfort zone). Genocide is not comfortable. Sensory deprivation housing is not comfortable.
The bloodthirsty cries of pro-death penalty people are not comfortable. When Michael Dewayne Johnson cut his own throat it was not comfortable nor made to make you feel comfortable. It was done to provoke you and make you remember how sick, demeaning and horrific death row is.
How does a man who never killed find himself on death row anyway? When is the anti-death penalty community going to start asking that question? I've begged and pleaded for 10 years for this anti-death penalty movement to do that, but now look. This is blood on your refusing hands. What has our movement become when it won't speak out for men they KNOW have not killed?
They'll speak out for sensationalized cases, cases where men have big backing, but for us no name people we find no favor in your sight. None of you knew Michael Dewayne Johnson, but may his name and plight now be forever burned in your psyche.
Do you think that Michael did this to avoid pain? NO WAY!! Michael is not the first to attempt suicide before his execution. He's not the first to commit suicide on Death Row. I wonder how many of you reading this is aware of that. Some of these men tried to go by pills, fire, cutting their wrists; and ones did go by hanging themselves. But to slice open your own neck is a
statement so potent that it brings tears to my eyes. It brings tears to my eyes because no one gave a damn to fight for this man.
I wonder what you all are doing at the sound of this news. Will it just be another event that you look at and say "That's so sad," or will you let this shocking event act as a fuel to attack this death penalty how it needs to
I tell you that EVERY politician, TV and radio station in Texas needs to know what happened. They all need to see what their death row is, because that's been the reason we fail to bring change – these massacres have been made to seem too polite. Was the botched execution of the man in Ohio polite when needles were popping out of his arm? The people in this system don't
seem to care, because executions continue. Michael is dragged out and we prepare for the 6 other scheduled executions. This is a heartless killing machine that doesn't stop. What are we doing about it?
Then I have the additional unfortunate news to say that I – a man who has killed no one - awaits an execution date as my appeals proving my Innocence and that I'm not death eligible were denied. And I think strongly about Michael's statement. Why do we dignify the gurney? It has been successful in fooling the people in society that it's something humane and easy about this process. It's not! Thinking of all this I feel I'd rather die fighting, or at the end of a firing squad, the guillotine – let it be, in a fashion that exhibits what this country is really about: Systematic Genocide!
Are you going to put Michael Johnson in the back of your closet? Are you going to allow that statement to go unread by the world? Are you going to put myself and many others who have not killed anyone, against the horrors of the gurney and/or the razor?
I feel sad to say that I think you are, because I barely hear you and barely see you unless it's at the yearly galas. I think so because even in our own anti-death penalty movement there are people stealing from death row inmates, lying to their faces, blowing off their struggles because they don't have the fame or the fortune. And so where is Texas? At the bottom of the success and unity, and at the top of the executions. Have you thought to ask why? Why? Why? Why does a man find more solace in cutting his own throat than going to the gurney? I wonder if you'll have the courage to ask someone. Will you explore the depths of this hell? How long will you deny what this place is and what it's doing to men here, their families and society? The concept of politeness went out the door on October 19, 2006!
Now I'm left to the nightmares. I'm left with the burden to continue to find a way to smile, stay positive, sane and non violent. I'm left with people who are supposed to be advocates but they don't answer letters, make calls or visits. What is it going to take? Can we stand for anything more horrific than October 19, 2006? I fear to entertain the thought.
Men aren't walking to their executions in Texas. If you don't believe it go read:
Leave the illusion world of candles ending murder and signs stopping slaughters. If we're not putting forth Aggressive and Concerted Actions to deal with the systematic murders of people, then we will not make anymore progress than what we have seen.
I'm sorry that your fight was unheard. I'm sorry it was futile. I'm sorry that I've failed to get people to fight against the trash law of parties. I'm sorry that we are all being punished here like dogs. I'm sorry people lie to us and steal from us. But I promise you that I'll keep on keeping on. I promise that people won't forget the statement you made as long as I am alive, because we were bound by a common injustice.
Do people want change? I don't know, Michael. I do know DRIVE wants change! And I want your name forever in mind and I hereby mark October 19, 2006 as a day of Martyrdom for you. We will keep on fighting and I'm afraid that I may never see the Peace and Justice until the day that I see you. Until then........... The struggle continues.
"I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of
the giver." - Maya Angelou