Monday, October 18, 2010

The Last Road - 2010 Texas Journey of Hope

This blog is being written during the Texas 2010 Journey of Hope. The words are inciteful, beautiful, and challenging. They are being written by a person whose first language in not English, yet he captures the essence of Texas' history, use of the death penalty, and violence. Please read and subscribe to the blog.


October 16 – Texas Journey in Houston!

The Texas Journey of Hope drove from Livingston to Huntsville and back. For the majority of death row prisoners, once they take that road, there is no turning back.

When the caravan left Houston on this Saturday morning, I knew the day was going to be long and filled with contrasting emotions. We headed North towards Livingston and Polunsky Unit, the location of death row for male prisoners since 1999. It made me think of “The Road to Livingston” a documentary currently being shot by Erik Mauck:
After ten years, Delia Perez-Meyer still makes the four-hour drive to Livingston, Texas to visit her innocent brother on death row every week.  At first saddened and frustrated by this journey, Delia discovers others unwillingly involved in the prison system who bring her to a place of redemption and hope.  Though under the shadow of death, bonds are forged and families made on The Road to Livingston.
I was travelling with my friend Sandrine, a speaker on the Texas Journey. She was telling me how many times she drove to Livingston to meet with her husband on death row. How many memories she had: that little restaurant, the inn where you could sleep in-between special visits, the bank where you purchase quarters for the vending machines in the visitation room, the post office… How many have gone down that road to see loved ones on death row?
Suddenly, here it is! Polunsky Unit! It seems so small, so pathetic. Blocks of concrete lost in the middle of a field. You can clearly see the cages and the narrow window in the upper section. Barbed wire everywhere. A camp where over 300 prisoners are locked up in high security and are no threat to society. 11 innocent people have been released from Texas death row. How many wrongfully-convicted prisoners currently sit between this walls?
Not far from death row, a house, neatly kept. Very similar to other small houses, in Eastern Europe decades ago, where there was food, music and laughter. It looks like life but it is not. We briefly stopped in front of Polunsky Unit. I thought about Hank, and Louis, and Jeff, and Tony, and others. We had air conditioning in the car…
And then we did the road to Huntsville. I had often heard about this road from Polunsky Unit in Livingston – the location of death row for male prisoners – to Walls Unit in Huntsville – where the executions take place. I had seen documentaries and pictures but this was the first time I traveled from one unit to the other.

This is the last road. For most death row prisoners, this is the last chance to see the outside life. When they get to Huntsville, they are strapped to a gurney and killed. Unless they have a stay and they are driven back to Livingston.
My friend Tony Medina has written about this road, about the tall green trees and how he tried to soak in as much of this free world as he could, catching glimpses of the view through the back window of the prison van…
It will take me some more time to process what I experienced on that road yesterday. The scenery sometimes is breathtaking, so peaceful, so simple. There is a lake, the sun was shining on it, diamonds on water… Cabins on the shore, the kind of place you want to retire to. To me everything seemed unreal. Empty shapes. Empty houses. Empty shops and restaurants along the road. Empty people. Empty hearts. Hide the ugliness, paint a fresh coat, smile and tell everyone what a beautiful life we have. Or perhaps such beauty is there to comfort those who know what really happens on that road. To comfort those who are brought to the slaughterhouse. I was trying to see the beauty and not the ugliness. I could only see emptiness.
Gilles Denizot
Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing board member & Secretary

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