In the early 1990s, I started correspondence with a man on death row. After a few years of writing, I went to visit him in person.
What I experienced shocked me. Thinking I was going in to see an angry human being, I met an intelligent person who seemed broken. Someone who had lived an abused, unloved life had lived the only way he knew how: in survival mode. His lifestyle was far from mine, but his upbringing was like nothing I could imagine, either. Leaving the prison, I was completely struck with the thought that people do what they know. While in his early twenties, uneducated, drugged up, and jobless, he had struck out and viciously murdered an innocent woman, had spent 20 years on death row, and still had no understanding of what it meant to be "productive" or a part of society. He had killed out of revenge for the murder of his best friend. Kill or be killed. That is what he knew. Several years later after our meeting, he was executed by the state, in each of our names.
As a society, without a doubt, we can agree that murdering a fellow human being is a horrendous act. It stains the perpetrator, or even an entire country, for life, for all time. So, here in Texas, we have the death penalty to terminate the life of the guilty who have taken a life.
But how does killing anyone, whether someone is in a crazed state who murders or a state sanctioned killing occurs, ever solve anything? Murdered, or put to death, left behind are grieving family members, children without parents, loved ones and friends all caught in the never ending questions of, "Why? What was solved? Will this heartache ever end?" And what about those we execute who are innocent? The greatest example, here, is Jesus Christ. Or Bruno Richard Hauptmann. The list goes on.
As a mom and a musician, I wanted to start a dialogue about the death penalty. Because I live in Texas, the state with the greatest number of executions, I wanted to get people to think about what the death penalty means: spiritually, economically, and morally. My hope was to start a dialogue that was open to all in the spirit of healthy debate and information—-a forum where people who were opposed to or for or conflicted by the death penalty could meet and discuss the issue without fear or hostility.
So, last spring, I had a meeting with the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP) here in my home.
We discussed ways to raise awareness, and I suggested a series of monthly concerts around the state of Texas, starting in Austin and ending in
Austin, going to 11 cities along the way. We decided to include musicians and speakers. In October 2007 we had our first event with Linda White, mother of a young woman who was murdered by two teenage boys and reverends John McMullen (First United Methodist Church) and Bobbi Kaye Jones (St. Johns United Methodist). Barbara Kooyman (Timbuk 3) was our first guest musician.
Since then, we have traveled to Huntsville, Corpus Christi, San Antonio, Houston, San Angelo, Beaumont, El Paso, and Denton.
Attendees have heard comments from a variety of speakers including El Paso Mayor John Cook (who has joined our tour, singing and speaking and challenging other Texas mayors to come out to the events), the amazing account of Rev. Carroll Pickett (the death row minister who witnessed 95 executions in Huntsville; he is convinced that at least 15 of those men were innocent), prosecutor Sam Millsap, victim's families talking about why they are opposed to the death penalty and listened to the music as diverse as Shelley King to Austin Lounge Lizards (who will be at our Waco event on Sept. 18) and Kinky Friedman, who will be at our Antone's finale October 1.
My hope is twofold: that you will come out and join in on this conversation, and that in five years we will have a moratorium on the death penalty here in Texas. Please, come express your opinions at one of the events and meet family members of murder victims, meet family members of those executed on death row. Come hear music and get involved at the same time. This isn't easy. In fact, it's intense.
To end with a thought, when Cain murdered Abel in the old testement, God didn't destroy Cain. He banished him, yes, but he set him out in the world marked with protection that no one would harm a hair on his head. Why would God do such a thing? I challenge you to start the dialogue.