Sunday, July 20, 2008

What the Death Penalty Has Done To Me

By Christy Armell

August 30th, 2007 will forever be engraved in my mind. This is the day that the state of Texas was going to execute my friend Kenneth Foster. I remember going to bed the night before, with Kenneth’s letters right beside me thinking I may never get another letter from him. How could this be happening? How could this country that I live in want kill someone that I cared for? I remember waking up that morning in tears. I paced the floors, calling people, emailing, screaming the injustice that was going to take place that very day. I reached out to anyone who would listen to me. I held my 13 year old daughter tight, somehow helping me feel closer to my friend. My daughter looked at me and told me everything will be ok. As she dressed for school, she vowed to fast in protest of the state sanctioned murder of my friend. Seems her silent protest may have helped save Kenny’s life.

I don’t remember anything else Adam Axel said to me when he phoned me mid morning on August 30th, 2007 except that Kenny’s sentence had been commuted. I screamed so loud my neighbors came by to see if I was ok. Answering the door in tears of joy, I responded my friend will live, my friend will live. August 30th, 2007 turned out to be one of the happiest days of my life.

I actually stumbled upon Kenny’s case while researching the death penalty for a class. I am a Criminal Justice student. I decided to write to him in prison. Those letters have continued to this day. I had known, before I met Kenny, that I opposed the death penalty, I just never was able to really vocally say so. Kenny helped me to see that my voice could be and should be heard. I have not stopped using my voice since then.

I really began getting more involved, writing to inmates, and speaking to their families and other activists. I became aware of the pain, the tears, and the cries of help that each case warranted. We were talking about people’s lives. Guilt or innocence never really mattered. This country is killing people in the name of justice. I don’t call that justice, I call that revenge.

I became more involved with the death penalty in Texas. My focus remains there today. Texas is the killing capital of the world, when it comes to executions. With over 400 executions in Texas since the death penalty became legal again in 1976, there seems to be a real joy of applying a death sentence to people; even people who have never killed another. Texas has an arcane law called the Law of Parties. The Law of Parties was never meant to be used in capital cases. However, that has changed and men and women are being sent to their deaths for never killing anyone. The Law of Parties basically states that a person should “anticipate” that a murder will occur. How can anyone anticipate such a thing? Men and women are sitting in prison, convicted under LOP who had no knowledge that a murder would occur, did not conspire to commit a murder, and did not participate it the crime at all. How can Texas justify this? Kenneth Foster was charged under LOP, and his life was spared. Will others?

I have been to Texas. The moment I crossed the border into that state, I could smell the death in the air. Why? Why the death penalty is still considered an appropriate form of punishment? Over 100 men and women have been exonerated from death row in recent years, with valid proof of innocence. This is enough to tell me that the system is flawed. The death penalty is irreversible. I do not want the blood of an innocent person on my hands. And neither should Texas, or the United States.

While I came into this struggle on a victory of Kenny’s life being saved, I knew that it would not last. However, I was never prepared to lose a friend to state sanctioned murder. Karl Chamberlain was killed by Texas in June 2008. Karl had this amazing smile that would melt your heart. His words did the same. Karl was prepared to die, and was also very remorseful for the crime that he committed. He told me once not to feel sorry for him, but to continue the fight. I go over those words in my mind everyday. The day of Karl’s execution will also be forever etched in my mind. June 11th, 2008. The day Texas killed my friend. I frantically was on the phone to people in Texas who were outside the gates of the killing chamber in Huntsville Texas. I was also on the phone with Joey, a pen pal of mine who was just released from Texas Department of Corrections. I had grown to love Joey very much, and I called on him to watch the news there and to tell me anything that was being said about Karl. I was in tears and completely distraught.

When the news came down that Karl had indeed been executed all I could do was cry and wonder when will it stop? When will this country stop creating more victims? I certainly was a victim that day, as well as all of Karl’s family and friends. We lost someone we loved. I closed down the computer, turned off the phone and thought of Karl, and his mother, who was protesting outside of Huntsville while her son was being murdered just feet away from her.

The next day, I received a letter from Karl. It was the usual upbeat letter, telling me to press forward, to fight for those who others have forgotten or just chose not to hear. Karl was looking down on me, as he is today. The sadness will remain from losing Karl, but the fight will continue. I fight for Kenny who lived, and I fight for Karl who died. I fight for the mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and children who love unconditionally. I fight for what the death penalty has done to me, and what it may one day do to you.


Anonymous said...

Obviously you have not had your son, brother, father, or companion murdered. I know what a death penalty for those that shot my precious son could do for me. Oh, what a glorious day that would be!

Marianne said...

You write with much passion, and are very articulate. Which makes the fact that you never mentioned the crimes of the dirtbags you befriended, or their victims, more chilling. Not once in your screed did you refer to the victims (I mean the true victims, those who were murdered by your friends) by name or even indirectly. The closest you came was referring to "the crime". But then that does reflect your true mentality, does it not? Only the killers have faces, names, families, loved ones in your philosophy. Did you ever look at the crime photos? Did you ever look at pictures of the victims while they were still alive? Your lack of empathy or even sympathy render your cries of "justice" quite hollow. I've heard of women like you--titilated by murderers. Go get some help.

Gabriel said...

Texas as the "killing capital of the world, when it comes to executions."? Now let's be realistic. Maybe in the US. But China alone executed more people in a year than Texas has in 20 (China 470 executed in 2007).