Remain Free Part III Section XXII

Around midday, the Amnesty coordinator for the event came by to check on our progress.

“Any issues so far?”

“We’re sweaty, dehydrated, and surrounded by vomit,” I said.

“If vomit is your worst problem, consider yourselves lucky. I worked on a similar event in Texas. While I was at the table, this big, angry man started yelling at me about Amnesty and the death penalty. He got angrier and angrier as we talked. Suddenly he grabbed me and started shaking me, and his hands closed around my throat. I don’t know what happened next, because I blacked out and woke up in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.”

I remembered the only other unpleasant day I’d had at Amnesty. Answering calls was the worst job as an intern. We dreaded the chirp of the phone ringing, secretly hoping the caller had been routed to somebody else. Today it was my turn to stammer through a call.

“Hello, is this Amnesty International?” the caller asked.

“Yes, this is the Amnesty International southern regional office in Atlanta. How can I help you?” I used a practiced cadence taught to us.

“There’s a situation I need your help with. I’m friends with an illegal immigrant. He’s a good guy, very hardworking. He even has a wife and kids. He was driving on the highway and another car crashed into him, which caused him to crash into another car, which ended up killing the driver of that car. Now he’s been arrested for murder and they might deport him and separate him from his family.”

“Amnesty International doesn’t offer legal representation. I can give you the numbers of other organizations that might be able to help.”

This was our standard response.

During my first week as an intern, my primary project was to update a thick binder of organizations we could shunt callers to if they needed anything that couldn’t be solved by mailing them Amnesty’s informational pamphlets, stickers, and buttons. The referral binder, as it was called in Amnesty-speak.

During orientation, I and the other interns were given instructions based on the motives of the caller. Angry? Be polite, reiterate Amnesty’s official stance on any issues they talk about. Need Amnesty materials? When in doubt, ship them out. Want help? Gently but firmly push them to somebody else.

But our protocol didn’t mean callers were always receptive.

“What about that Troy Davis guy?” the caller said. “Don’t you guys have a whole campaign around him? Can’t you do the same for my friend? Start a campaign and get him a lot of media attention!”

I was at a loss. How did Troy even get Amnesty to notice him in the first place? Before Amnesty’s 2007 report, Troy was a nobody. What if this call had been Martina, desperately asking for somebody, anybody to help her brother?

“I’m sorry, sir. I don’t think we can help.”

“Okay, well maybe you can help me personally. I’m being stalked, man. I’m being followed and harassed no matter where I go. It happened in Montreal, so I left for New York. Happened there too, so I kept going south. But they kept finding me. I think the government might be in on it. I’m pretty sure government spies are after me, but I don’t know why.” The staff had warned that we often had mentally ill callers. Was this man one of them?

“It might be better if you go to the police.”

“Maybe I’ll do that. But I went to the police in Miami, and they strapped me to a chair in the detention room and beat me up. Then they let me go the next day without any explanation.”

We were veering off script. I cleared my throat and grabbed the binder, frantically shuffling through the pages. “There’s not much Amnesty International can do for you. I can give you the contact information for the ACLU. They might be able to help.”

“Yes, I’d like that. My civil rights have been violated.”

After I gave him the information, he thanked me and hung up. I vowed to make an even greater effort to avoid answering the phones.

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Remain Free Part III Section XXI

I wasn’t sure how to interact with my co-workers at Amnesty. Most of the interns were older women, and they and the staff assumed I was in my twenties. They would invite me to bars and clubs, and I would diffidently explain the state underage curfew made it illegal to be out after midnight. My youth never sank in, and I was always on the receiving end of surprised gasps and comments.

“You’re only sixteen? That’s how old my little brother is!”

“Wait, you’re still in high school? I could’ve sworn you were a grad student! You don’t talk like a high school student, and you certainly don’t look like one. How many sixteen-year-olds can grow a beard?”

One weekend, a few of us volunteered to run the Amnesty booth at a punk rock festival. By the time we arrived, someone had already vomited at our booth, and the stench quickly mixed with the smell of hundreds of sweaty bodies packed tightly together. The humid Georgia heat was in full force, and we soon ran out of water.

The only consolation was our location by the main stage. Our crew had eclectic tastes in music: One intern loved country music; another was into country and synth-pop; and a few were into heavy metal and punk rock. Many were just thrilled at the opportunity to attend the festival for free.

I’d never listened to punk rock, and my only formulation of the genre came from a few images of the Ramones—thin, young men with tight clothes and long hair. There was something appealing about the style; it was exactly the type of music my father would disapprove of.

It was only after the music began playing that our diverse views coalesced into one concrete opinion: these guys were terrible. Rather than being our saving grace, our proximity to the main stage ensured headaches brought on by the harsh, jarring tunes from a slew of lousy bands.

Our mission for the day was to collect as many signatures as possible for Amnesty’s campaigns. We had an extra tent, and passersby agreed to sign the petitions in exchange for a seat beneath the tent’s precious shade.

“It’s like we’re running a refugee camp,” another intern commented before returning to sweaty silence and fanning herself with her shirt.

An hour after we arrived, a girl in her late teens or early twenties appeared at our table. She sported glasses with thick, black frames and blond hair. “Is this the Amnesty International table?” she asked.

“That’s us,” an intern replied with mock enthusiasm.

“My name is Chelsea. I’m member of an Amnesty student group. I signed up as a volunteer for this table.” She sat down in an empty seat next to me. She shifted a few times in the plastic chair, trying to get comfortable before releasing an exasperated sigh and giving up.

“What student group are you part of?” I asked.

“I go to college in North Carolina,” she said. “University of North Carolina Greensboro. I run the Amnesty chapter up there. My parents are from Atlanta, so I’m back here for the summer.”

“Cool,” I said, trying to sound interested. If only I’d inherited my mother’s ability to make small talk and friendships with strangers.

“How many of these types of concerts have you been to?” she asked.

“I’ve never been to a concert.”

“What?” Her surprise was evident in her voice. “You’ve never been to a concert? You have to go! Promise me you’ll go to one before the summer’s over.”

“Aren’t they usually pretty expensive?” I asked. “I barely listen to music at home.”

“Trust me, they’re worth it! I’ll go with you if that’s what it takes to get you to go!” She laughed and stretched her arms back. She was wearing jean shorts that extended to her mid-thigh. As she stretched, the shorts shifted, revealing a confused medley of thin, white scars, each extending a few inches.

I recognized those scars. They were the same ones on Priya’s wrists and arms after she cut herself. What darkness brewed beneath Chelsea’s bubbly exterior?

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Remain Free Part III Section XX

This was Troy’s second call today. I’d talked to him during the first, so I handed Priya the phone.

Troy: “Hi Priya, how you doin’? I was kinda worried about you.”

Priya: “Why?”

Troy: “Your mom was telling me about your wrists . . .”

Priya: “Oh.”

Troy: “Talk to your parents, tell them the things you’re going through. Why do you want to hurt yourself?”

Priya: “It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. I wasn’t thinking. I was in fifth grade when I cut myself for the first time. This time it was more out of fear, and I was angry at myself, and I was crying. So I took a pair of scissors and cut my wrists.”

Troy: “I don’t understand why you’d want to hurt yourself.”

Priya: “I was being stupid. I had a lot of anger and resentment toward myself.”

Troy: “Well, every time you feel that upset with yourself, just sit down and write me a letter. Personally, I think you should pull away from your friends for a while. Most of the people who say they’re your friends don’t realize what friendship is. It took me a while to realize people only socialized with me because they wanted something. My so-called friends would go behind my back and do things without even telling me, which sucks because these are people I would’ve given my life for. With every mistake, God is teaching you a lesson. Just take something away from it and learn from it.”

Priya: “How do I work on getting true friends?”

Troy: “You don’t work on true friendship. It just happens. Every time a true friend sees you doing something wrong, they’ll try to stop you. If they see you depressed, they’ll talk to you about it. Those who just want to have fun are not going to care. Always remember to take a few seconds before you act on something. Take a few seconds and think about how it might affect you. Pull back a bit. Do things that make you happy and spend more time with your family. Don’t worry what others say or think, just do you. You and Gautam should settle down and communicate a little bit more.”

Priya: “Lately, I don’t see Gautam at all. I saw him for maybe ten seconds today.”

Troy: “Always feel free to call Martina. She is a good listener. She cherishes you and would love to listen to you and give you some advice.”

Priya: “I don’t think things through, and then I get in trouble at school or with my parents or my friends.”

Troy: “You know what I want you to do for me? I want you to sit down and write a poem about it. Don’t worry about not being able to go to the mall with your so-called friends, just focus on you. Don’t ever feel like life is so bad that you have to hurt yourself. Don’t try to take the disappointment in others personally. Be positive and do positive things. Do you and Gautam play chess?”

Priya: “No. I don’t have the patience for it.”

Troy: “If you get into it, it will ease some of your frustrations. I thought chess was boring, but someone in prison taught me how to play, and I eventually learned enough to conduct strategies and beat him. It teaches patience.”

Priya: “My mom is losing her patience with me. She wants me to stop skipping breakfast. I also had detention today.”

Troy: “Why did you have detention?”

Priya: “Uh . . . I made a bad decision. I had it today and another one tomorrow.”

Troy: “And you’re gonna try to clean that up?”

Priya: “It was so stupid. The whole concept of me getting in trouble was stupid. But I’m feeling better now because my mom and I are looking for a vocal teacher to help me improve my singing.”

Troy: “Martina heard you sing and said you sound so angelic. Could you sing for me?”

Priya: “Okay, I’ll sing a little bit.”

So long, my long lost lover,

So long, abandoned fantasy,

I’m learning how to live without you

Why won’t you leave me be?

 

Goodbye, my hopeless paramour

There’s no future for us two

Now I lay here, heartbroken

Long lost lover, I think of you

            Troy: “…”

            Priya: “Troy? Troy, are you there?”

Troy: “I just . . . I’m trying not to tear up. You sound so, so beautiful. I can just imagine you on stage, and everyone in the audience holding candles, and they’re just awestruck. You have a lot of potential that I would love to see you reach, Priya. Don’t waste your talent. Learn from my mistakes. Sometimes you only get one chance, and if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, it can change your life forever.”

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Remain Free Part III Section XIX

I wasn’t sure how I’d ended up at Amnesty. Summers typically followed a set formula: I’d stay up until the wee hours of the morning watching television, and would fall asleep right before sunrise. By the time I woke up, it was already mid-afternoon. After eating, I would browse the internet or occasionally hang out with friends. Evenings were spent studying chess in preparation for weekly tournaments at the Atlanta Chess Center. But as the school year drew to a close, my parents suggested I prepare for college applications by applying for internships.

I started an Amnesty chapter at my school a few months earlier. Sahil had liked his internship at Amnesty, so it seemed logical to apply there. The internship application was geared toward college students, and I’d made no backup plan. I applied anyway.

The application process occurred in three stages: I would first email the application, complete the take-home interview, and then do a phone interview. But a week after emailing my application I received an email saying nothing more than, “You are accepted! We’ll see you May 24th.”

I’d never ridden MARTA, Atlanta’s pitiful public transportation system, or been to downtown Atlanta by myself. But now, three days a week, my mother would drop me off at the MARTA station and I’d ride the train to midtown Atlanta, carrying only a plastic bowl of fruit and a granola bar for lunch.

The Amnesty International Southern Regional Office was located next to a LGBT advocacy group on the tenth floor. I turned the door handle, but it was rigid, stuck in place. A woman in her early thirties saw me through a glass window and opened the door a sliver.

“Can I help you?”

“I’m, uh . . . here for the internship. My name is Gautam Narula.”

“Narula? Let me check on that.” She disappeared for a few minutes while I stood outside the door. I surveyed the hallway, but there wasn’t anything more than gray carpet, a few doors, and an elevator.

I peered through the window and saw a large poster of a Cambodian woman, subtitled ‘Maternal Rights Are Human Rights’. But I couldn’t see anyone else inside.

I was dressed—at my parents’ insistence—in khakis, my nicest shoes, and a button-down shirt. While several steps up from my usual baggy t-shirt and jeans, I wondered if I was still under-dressed.

I had no idea what kind of work I would do or if I would even be able to do it. I was only sixteen, and this was an internship for college students. I had no work experience, no real resumé.

Would they look at me like I was some sort of impostor?

Would they think they’d made a mistake in hiring me?

No, I belonged here. I had my connection with Troy. That was real.

Finally, the woman returned and opened the door, this time opening it wide. “Ah, yes, Narula. How did you say your name was pronounced again?”

“It’s pronounced ‘Gotham’, like the city in Batman.”

“But there’s no ‘h’ in Gautam!”

I wasn’t sure what to say, so I chuckled.

“Anyway, sorry you were locked out. Amnesty International isn’t exactly the most popular organization in this part of the country, and for our own safety we have to keep the door locked. In the past few years, several angry individuals have barged through our doors and threatened us.”

I expected the other interns to be from metro Atlanta, college students from UGA and Georgia Tech and Emory. But only half of them were even from America; the rest were from all over the world, born in Japan, Nepal, Cameroon, and Colombia. The staff was an eclectic mix as well, some born in other countries like Venezuela and Iran, others from America but with equally varied backgrounds. It was a strange and dynamic mix. For the first time, being a minority put me in the majority. Although Amnesty’s staff and official culture were more subdued, the organization, heavily reliant on voluntary member leadership, had a culture of zealous, youth-powered activism.

As the summer wore on, I began to guess at the motivations of my fellow interns. Were they like me, galvanized by one particular cause, or were they motivated by the lofty ideal of all human rights for all people? One intern posted vitriolic, anti-Israeli Facebook statuses, argued the merits of eco-terrorism, and genuinely believed minorities inherently couldn’t be racist—for him, it was ingrained, thinly-veiled anger inflamed by the ethnic prejudice he and his family members had faced. For others, the idea of social justice seemed tied to a sense of religious duty. Some had witnessed poverty and violence in their home countries and saw a link between human rights abuses and social and economic justice. And there were a few I couldn’t decipher—were they aimlessly trying to find meaning in something, or perhaps just a way to pass the time? Or were they like me, only recently having found a cause to fight for and seeing if this was the next step?

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Remain Free Part III Section XVIII

“So, I hear you’re interning with Amnesty now.” My mother, Priya, and I were back on death row, visiting Troy. I could hear his soothing, bass voice drawl over the name. Am-nes-tee.

“I started last Monday.”

“How do you like it?”

“I was nervous at first because I thought I had to dress up and be formal. But the atmosphere is really relaxed. The staff doesn’t treat the interns like they’re beneath them. The people are really interesting and the work is too. And the best thing is the casual dress code. I hate dressing formally.”

Troy studied the untamed scruff on my face. “I can tell.” He paused before asking, “And what about you, Priya? How is school?”

“I went to prom!” my sister eagerly replied.

Troy chuckled. “That’s right, you did. Gautam, what’s this I hear about Priya going to prom when she’s just a freshman and you not going at all?”

I shrugged.

“How are your dance moves?”

“He’s a pretty bad dancer,” Priya chimed in.

“Is that so?” He laughed, his eyes shining. “Maybe I can help you. My friend and I, we invented this move. What was it called? I can’t remember. But one night, we went to a club and we started doing this.” He raised his arms in the air and rhythmically bobbed his head between them. “And what you’ve got to do, you’ve got to time it with the music, and then do this . . .” He bobbed his head to one side. “Then this . . .” And he bobbed his head to the other side. “After that, you’ve got to loosen up your shoulders and move like this!” He continued to bob his head while holding up his palms and waving his arms.

Priya giggled as I tried to imitate him.

I sighed. “I can’t do it.”

Troy laughed. “When my friend I went to this dance party, we were the only ones doing this move. But we came back to the club a week later and everybody was doing it!” He smiled and performed the dance once more.

I was about to try again when movement beyond the metal grille behind Troy interrupted us.

“See that guy over there?” Troy looked over at a man behind the grille. The man sported tinted glasses and a large afro.

“He looks sort of like Elvis,” my mother commented.

He noticed us watching him and walked over until he stood directly behind Troy and smiled. “What’s up Troy?”

“Just hanging out with my friends, Carlton. This is Kavita, Pranavi, and Gautam.”

“You’re Gautam? The one who wrote a book on chess? And the poems?”

“Yeah,” I replied weakly.

“Troy keeps talking about you guys all the time!” I smiled weakly, and he continued, “Well you folks have a nice day.”

As he walked off, Troy leaned closer and said, “You’ve seen him here before. Back in the day he was known as the Columbus Strangler. In the seventies, they say he raped and killed a bunch of old white women in Columbus. Probably some of the most brutal murders committed by anyone in here.  He was abandoned when he was young, by his father. Bounced around for a while as a teenager before all of this started happening. If you look around, a lot of these guys have similar stories. Lotta guys who were abandoned or abused as kids. They’re poor and they get into drugs and then robbing people, and they head down that path until they end up here.”

We tried to process the haphazard shattering of a life encapsulated in a few sentences with words flowing so unquestioningly after each other that the path from victimized child to brutal killer seemed inevitable, even natural.

“Our society assumes they’re beyond repair. And trust me, many of them are. But eighty or ninety percent of the people here could be rehabilitated. Our society believes we can solve our problems by locking people away or killing them. But they don’t realize how much human potential is wasted and destroyed by our system, how much these people can actually contribute to society if they were given the chance. And instead of real leaders who are willing to take a stand and say things are wrong, we just get corrupt politicians who want to stay in power.” Troy looked at me. “That’s why we need young people to change things—because there is so much that is wrong.” He looked away, staring thoughtfully into the distance. “When you’re behind bars, you get a clear view of society crumbling.”

The guards gave us a meaningful look through the other side of the bars. Time was up. Troy hugged each of us, and we walked toward the door. A female guard in her early forties unlocked the door and let us out. We walked out, and two guards quickly entered the visitation cell and surrounded Troy. As they began handcuffing him, Troy called out, “Gautam . . . remember, the only person who can stop you from doing something is you.”

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Remain Free Part III Section XVII

March 21, 2010

Dear Troy,

            I’m sorry for the long delay since my last letter. I had actually begun to write one shortly before Christmas, but one thing led to another and I ended up not finishing it. School has also become extremely time consuming, and that combined with the SAT and after school activities has taken up more time than I would’ve liked. But don’t think that I forgot about you; you’ve still been very much in my mind since I last saw you in September. A little over a month ago, I created an Amnesty International chapter at my school. We’re currently working on a petition for you, and our goal is to get 1000 signatures from around the school and the local community. At first, I was a bit discouraged that the group was so small, but now I’ve realized that it doesn’t matter how big the group is but how committed its members are. It’s heartening to see the enthusiasm that some of the people in the group have for creating the petition and promoting your cause, even though none of them have met you and most of them didn’t know about your case until the group began a few months ago.

            Some of my friends who know about the case ask me, “Gautam, what’s new with Troy Davis?” or, “How’s the Troy Davis case going?” and I always have to respond with, “Nothing new has happened to my knowledge” or, “I don’t know”. It seems like the whole legal process has been some sort of waiting game. I remember in August, after the Supreme Court ordered a federal court to review the case, people had speculated that they would come to a decision by November or December at the latest. Now, eight months later, it is March, and no word has come from any court. I’m not sure when we’ll next from any of the courts, but just know that I and thousands of others will be behind you all the way.

            In the past one or two years, I’ve changed a lot. I’m now at the age where people begin to explore and discover themselves and try to figure out what path they will follow for the rest of their lives. It’s no understatement to say that meeting you and talking with you and interacting with you has gotten me a great deal closer to figuring out what kind of person I am and what kind of person I want to be. It has also helped me find my spiritual path as a person. Although it seems like I’m a bit young to say this, I feel like I know spiritually where I want to go in life, and that knowledge is in no small part thanks to you and the influence you’ve had on me over these past eighteen months. Before I met you, I was a weak supporter of the death penalty; now I am strongly against it. Before I met you, I was not too involved in human rights activism; now I am an Amnesty International member and will intern at their office during the summer. Before I met you, I wasn’t completely sure what kind of person I wanted to be, and now I am. I am truly grateful to have met you.

            I hope you are still working on writing a book. Once this whole affair is over and you walk out a free man, you can use the material you have written and publish it. I think the world needs to know what went on in your case, what goes on in prison, and what observations you have on society, to tell the world all the things you have told me. I think it is something the world needs to hear. The benefit of working on it now is you can have all your ideas and thoughts written as soon as they come to you, rather than afterwards when they may become hazy.

            I was also saddened to hear that your injury still persists, and everyone here wishes you a quick recovery.

With best regards,

Gautam Narula

 

April 9, 2010

Dear Gautam,

 

            Thank you for your letter. How have you been holding up lately? Give my best to everyone in the family for me. Make sure you give Priya hug from Uncle Troy for me.

            Congrats on your SAT test. I’m so proud of you but I know you’ll show them your perfect score next time. =P I want you to start making more time to spend with your little sister to help her with the situations she goes through in life.

            I’ve enclosed a letter to the Amnesty group as you requested. It’s rather long so please edit it should you feel the need to. It’s been a long time since we have talked or seen each other. Hopefully that will change soon,.

            I have so much to share with all of you once I see you again. I’m going to keep this short  but I’ve also enclosed visitation forms for all of you to fill out.

            Priya is still under 16 if I remember correctly so she doesn’t need to fill out one. You will since you are already 16 years old. I don’t know what I was thinking because she’s about 2 years younger than you. =P Take care and I hope to see you all soon.

Sincerely,

Uncle Troy A. Davis

 

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Remain Free Part III Section XVI

In August, the Supreme Court responded to the Davis team’s appeal. In a 6-2 vote, with newly seated Justice Sotomayor abstaining and Justices Scalia and Thomas dissenting on a “sure loser” innocence claim, the Court granted an evidentiary hearing to determine if Troy Davis could “clearly establish” his innocence. The hearing would take place in Troy’s hometown and Georgia’s oldest city, Savannah.

Savannah, located on the coast of southeast Georgia, was founded in 1733 by James Oglethorpe. Oglethorpe had just established the colony of Georgia with hopes of making it an outlet for impoverished debtors languishing in British prisons. He set about creating a planned, egalitarian city replete with self-sustaining yeoman farmers, optimally placed town squares, and a prohibition on slavery. But few debtors ended up in Georgia, and once Oglethorpe returned to England, the colony quickly began importing slaves. During the Civil War, General William Tecumseh Sherman’s destructive March to the Sea ended with the capture of Savannah, inspiring hatred in Southerners even to this day. An acquaintance, born in a town razed by Sherman’s troops and steeped in the culture of the Deep South, despised Louisiana State University solely because Sherman had been its founding president. I had only been to Savannah once when I was seven years old and retained little from the trip other than hazy memories of the beach.

Troy’s voice crackled through the phone. We’d just spoken about the Supreme Court decision, but I wanted to know about Savannah.

 

Troy: “When I left the street, drugs were beginning to get big, but Savannah didn’t have no gangs. Now it probably has a dozen. They gave me the death penalty with the idea that it would deter crime. If that’s the case, how come you got more drugs in Savannah than ever before? How come you have more gangs in Savannah than ever before? How come you got more robberies, more burglaries, more rapes? Since I’ve been on death row, Savannah has gotten so bad that people are moving out to the suburbs, to the edge of the county. Drugs and violence have captured and suffocated the whole city. This whole state is filled with drugs, murder, gangs, and chaos. The death penalty isn’t deterring anything.

“I grew up in a neighborhood called Cloverdale. It was a young middle-class neighborhood, full of good people. We had teachers, police officers, nurses . . . it was a fairly privileged place. Everyone in our community knew each other. It was the kind of place where parents would watch each other’s kids. We used to be real close with many of the neighborhood kids, but as we grew up and drugs started seeping in, they started getting involved in the wrong things. As Savannah became more violent and drug-infested, the violence came to us as well.”

Gautam: “How did drugs change day-to-day life?”

Troy: “When drugs hit Savannah, it was like everyone I knew started selling or using. Every time I went out with friends, somebody was trying to jump them. One time I was riding in the car with some friends and all of sudden somebody started shooting at us. I got out of the car and ran as fast as I could. When I got home, I told my mama, ‘One of these days I’m going to get killed. I gotta leave Savannah.’ For four months I said I was going to leave Savannah. I was constantly working and saving my money so I could move. Now it seems like I stayed in Savannah one day too long.”

 

I struggled to understand Troy’s words, as the new “upgrade” to the GDCP phone system had caused the already-poor audio quality to further disintegrate. Troy believed it was an intentional attempt of the prison to restrict communication with the outside world.

Gautam: “What’s the neighborhood like now?”

Troy: “I asked Lester a few weeks ago if kids play outside in the neighborhood like we used to. He said parents don’t let their kids outside. He knows there are kids around because he sees them in the morning waiting for the bus. When I was coming up, every kid on our street played hopscotch, basketball, football, basketball, even tennis. We used to play at the baseball diamond at the park. Martina said she doesn’t go to that park now, because it’s too violent, too dangerous. She don’t know the kids there, and they’re always starting trouble. The neighborhood is going downhill and there’s so much crime, so much lack of trust, that it’s hard for parents to feel comfortable.”

I thought about my own neighborhood in Alpharetta. We had a pool, tennis courts, and basketball hoops. My house was nestled in a cul-de-sac that insulated my friends and me from traffic, allowing us to play baseball and Frisbee on the street.

Our early youth, from age five to ten, was the sunrise of our lives. We were pioneers, exploring the grounds of our neighborhood, trying out a new video game during a sleepover, reading a new book, making up a new game with tennis balls and chalk, or chasing wild animals into the creeks running through our back yards.

Each day we awoke wiser from previous day’s adventures. We never worried about our safety and neither did our parents. There were no drugs, no gangs, no robberies, no guns or murders in Alpharetta.

Gautam: “Do you still talk to any of the people from your neighborhood?”

Troy: “Martina has been trying for years to reach out to Savannah communities, communities of color, and the African American community. They would always reject her and threaten her for leaving pamphlets. Now that I’m famous, they’re reaching out to her and saying they want to help.”

            Gautam: “Did you ever think in the years before you were arrested that your life could lead to this?”

Troy: “When I tried to rejoin the church to get my spiritual body set right, I looked at it as though Satan said, ‘Wait a minute, you were doing everything I wanted you to do and ignored God all these years, and now you’re going to turn away from me and turn to God?’ And that’s when roadblocks were put up in front of me. And here I am, on death row. I should’ve known something like this could happen. God gives you signs, and if you never slow down and pay attention to those signs, bad things are gonna happen.”

Gautam: “How did you meet Redd Coles and people like him?”

Troy: “Redd stayed in the neighborhood where my aunt lived. I didn’t really know him that well personally, but I knew his younger sister because we went to the same high school. He came from an underprivileged family and lived in the projects. There were rumors that he was involved in another shooting in the late seventies. But rumors are all it ever amounted to.”

Kavita: “How did you start moving around with these kinds of people? Priya hangs around with a bad crowd . . . most of them grew up with single parents, and many were pregnant by fourteen. She says they’re not bad people, just that they’ve grown up in tough circumstances.”

Troy: “I was a straight-A student. But I wanted to hang with the cool crowd because they got all the attention. That was one of my biggest mistakes. I started slacking off in class. But growing up I was very shy and very quiet. I seldom had something to say when people were cracking up. Priya needs to realize that as kids we can’t make all the right decisions, and that you, her father, Gautam, and your other daughter are her true friends. Soon she’ll realize . . .”

Gautam: “She makes friends easily, but they’re all shallow relationships. I prefer a few close friends to a bunch of distant ones.”

Troy: “Gautam, you remind me of myself when I was younger. I was a quiet kid like you. I was shy. The difference is that you have a way to express yourself through your writing. I, well, I made some poor choices because I wanted to be accepted. I didn’t make good choices of who to run around with. And now all of my friends are either dead or in jail. You should surround yourself with better and more intelligent people. That’s why, when I get out, I want to mentor young people. I don’t want them to make the same mistakes I did. Most of my so-called friends weren’t true friends. Gautam, the question you should ask yourself is whether your friends will talk behind your back when you hang out with someone else. When I had a car, plenty of friends wanted to hang with me. But after I was arrested, they all left. And my so-called friend Redd Coles was the one who got me into this mess in the first place.”

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Remain Free Part III Section XV

May 26, 2009

Hi Gautam,

            Thanks for writing! How’s life treating you today? I hope things are getting a little smoother for you. Have you given any thought to what you may want to do in your future? You and Priya have so many options because of how smart you are.

            I hope the two of you will embrace your gifts. You seem to have a compassionate side when it comes to how you see others in need.

            Use that to build on because you’ll definitely have people flocking to you for help in the future. You have a determination to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves.

I realized that by the dedication you’ve shown to me. To you it might seem small but to me, you are chipping away at a mountain that has begun to crumble fast.

            Your passion is clear but do you know where it will take you? As far as you let it! People already follow you so embrace this gift to give back. The work you are doing now has motivated so many. Just don’t let the pitfalls in life deter you in any way.

            Take the time to explore new things, new goals because only then can you see exactly what you really want to do in the future. Keep learning, keep leading and keep believing in a better life. I’m proud of you already!                                                                                                                                   

Your only,

Uncle Troy!

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Remain Free Part III Section XIV

May 15, 2009

From: Gautam Narula

To: Members of “Alpharetta High School For Troy Davis”

Subject: Recantations of Witnesses

As you all know, the whole premise of our support for Troy Davis is based on the fact that 7/9 witnesses who testified against him in his trial recanted their testimonies. I have managed to acquire these recantations; there appear to be more than seven, but I believe they were from other witnesses who testified against him in 1989 when he was arrested but were not present at his trial, though I am not completely sure about that. Today, Friday May 15th, is the expiration of his stay of execution,

AFFIDAVITS RECANTING TESTIMONY OR STATEMENTS GIVEN IN THE TROY DAVIS CASE:

Kevin McQueen
The truth is that Troy never confessed to me or talked to me about the shooting of the police officer. I made up the confession from information I had heard on T.V. and from other inmates about the crimes. Troy did not tell me any of this… I have now realized what I did to Troy so I have decided to tell the truth… I need to set the record straight.

Monty Holmes
I told them I didn’t know anything about who shot the officer, but they kept questioning me. I was real young at that time and here they were questioning me about the murder of a police officer like I was in trouble or something. I was scared… [I]t seemed like they wouldn’t stop questioning me until I told them what they wanted to hear. So I did. I signed a statement saying that Troy told me that he shot the cop.

Jeffrey Sapp
I got tired of them harassing me, and they made it clear that the only way they would leave me alone is if I told them what they wanted to hear. I told them that Troy told me he did it, but it wasn’t true. Troy never said that or anything like it. When it came time for Troy’s trial, the police made it clear to me that I needed to stick to my original statement; that is, what they wanted me to say. I didn’t want to have any more problems with the cops, so I testified against Troy.

Dorothy Ferrell
From the way the officer was talking, he gave me the impression that I should say that Troy Davis was the one who shot the officer like the other witness [sic] had …I felt like I was just following the rest of the witnesses. I also felt like I had to cooperate with the officer because of my being on parole … I told the detective that Troy Davis was the shooter, even though the truth was that I didn’t see who shot the officer.

Darrell “D.D.” Collins
After a couple of hours of the detectives yelling at me and threatening me, I finally broke down and told them what they wanted to hear. They would tell me things that they said had happened and I would repeat whatever they said. …It is time that I told the truth about what happened that night, and what is written here is the truth. I am not proud for lying at Troy’s trial, but the police had me so messed up that I felt that’s all I could do or else I would go to jail.

Larry Young
I couldn’t honestly remember what anyone looked like or what different people were wearing. Plus, I had been drinking that day, so I just couldn’t tell who did what. The cops didn’t want to hear that and kept pressing me to give them answers. They made it clear that we weren’t leaving until I told them what they wanted to hear. They suggested answers and I would give them what they wanted. They put typed papers in my face and told me to sign them. I did sign them without reading them.

Antoine Williams
They asked me to describe the shooter and what he looked like and what he was wearing. I kept telling them that I didn’t know. It was dark, my windows were tinted, and I was scared. It all happened so fast. Even today, I know that I could not honestly identify with any certainty who shot the officer that night. I couldn’t then either. After the officers talked to me, they gave me a statement and told me to sign it. I signed it. I did not read it because I cannot read.

Robert Grizzard
I have reviewed the transcript of my testimony from the trial of Troy Davis… During my testimony I said that the person who shot the officer was wearing a light colored shirt. The truth is that I don’t recall now and I didn’t recall then what the shooter was wearing, as I said in my initial statement…

Michael Cooper
I have had a chance to review a statement which I supposedly gave to police officers on June 25, 1991. I remember that they asked a lot of questions and typed up a statement which they told me to sign. I did not read the statement before I signed. In fact, I have not seen it before today. …What is written in that statement is a lie.

Benjamin Gordon
I just kept telling them that I didn’t do anything, but they weren’t hearing that. After four or five hours, they told me to sign some papers. I just wanted to get the hell out of there. I didn’t read what they told me to sign and they didn’t ask me to.

 

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Remain Free Part III Section VIII

Troy: “We got good news from Martina’s oncologist. He said she’s clean and cancer free.”

Kavita: “Good, she better live to a hundred because she’s got many more butts to kick.”

Troy: “Everything’s going to be alright, eventually. I only got a chance to talk to Martina yesterday, when she finally got home from the hospital.”

Kavita: “What was she doing in the hospital?”

Troy: “Nobody told you? She had a surgery where they put a tube in her thigh to shoot medicine inside her kidney and liver. Two days after, she kept throwing up. She went back to the hospital and her blood pressure had skyrocketed. They were pumping her with morphine and one of the pellets got inside of her stomach. She got back yesterday and she’s doing okay, but I’m still trying to convince her that she needs to rest. Kiersten kept crying and beating on Martina’s door, yelling, ‘Tina, Tina, let me in!’ while Martina was recovering from chemo.”

Kavita: “I think she’s stressed out after the oral arguments. ‘How many times are they going to try to kill Troy?’ she asked me. She tried to talk to the MacPhails in the courthouse and they wouldn’t even look at her.”

Troy: “All of us have to die someday. You have to pray. There’s a God, and He listens. When people die, there is a reason. And when people live, God takes care of them. But I worry about Martina. De’Jaun was complaining that she don’t get no rest. If somebody calls, she immediately gets ready to go. She often goes to bed late, wakes up at three or four in the morning, and jumps right back on the internet. That attitude is why she has received twelve different awards for her breast cancer awareness, her outstanding commitment to the judicial system, as a mom, and for fighting against the death penalty. She should be on Oprah because she’s a woman who’s changing the world.

“It’s an up and down rollercoaster for my family. I can deal with it, but I can see it in my mother’s eyes, in Martina’s eyes, that it’s really wearing them down emotionally. They’re getting scared. Even De’Jaun is getting scared. He can’t concentrate in school. Death row is eating away at my family’s peace of mind.”

Kavita: “Martina is very determined. The love you all have for each other will keep you strong no matter what happens.”

Troy: “We’ve both been having a rough time. I’m waiting on medical call. I have a herniated disc, so they call me out every so often to see if the medication is working. I tore my Achilles tendon playing basketball the other day. The pain is so excruciating that I can’t walk and am now wheelchair-bound. I needed surgery, so they took me to a medical center in Augusta. That was the worst car trip of my life. They shackled my arm, hands, and legs so I couldn’t move. I had to remain perfectly still, hunched over in the car, while my foot throbbed in pain. The doctor said if my foot didn’t heal soon I may have to come back for a follow-up surgery, which means another car ride.”

Gautam: “They forced you to hunch over for hours when you had a herniated disc and back pain?”

Troy: “The whole system just frustrates me. Spencer Lawton is the perfect representative of the justice system. He’s known as a hard-nosed, no-nonsense kind of guy. He doesn’t care what you can prove. Once he gets you he wants to keep you locked up. He don’t like none of his cases to get overturned. If you can prove your innocence, he’s not gonna exonerate you. He’s gonna try to find some way to keep you locked up. It seems like everyone is scared to do the right thing. Politicians vow to be tough on crime, and they’re afraid of what might happen to their political careers if they free an innocent man. The prison system is connected to the corrupted political and legal system.”

Gautam: “How would you make it better?”

Troy: “This is how I think prison should be run: Rehabilitation should be brought back, and all prisoners serving more than two years must learn two new trades before being allowed to leave. While they’re in there, the prison works as a temp agency where they network with companies and give them tax breaks to hire inmates. Create a setup where the company pays $14 an hour per worker. Half goes to the inmate and the other half goes to the prison to pay for its expenses. Forcing inmates to learn trades will help them get and create jobs when they’re released instead of going back and forth between prison and the outside. It will give them a work ethic and a sense of responsibility.”

Gautam: “How has the prison handled the whole Brian Nichols case?”

Troy: “It’s kind of funny, isn’t it? He was on trial for rape, openly murdered a judge and a police officer, and went on a rampage. He ended up with life in prison. I had never committed a crime and my case is riddled with doubt, but I get the death penalty. There are plenty of guys in this same prison who have two or three life sentences, and the prosecutor never even sought the death penalty. The real difference is that his crime was committed in Atlanta in 2005 and mine was committed in Savannah in 1989.”

Kavita: “What did they do when the sentence was announced?”

Troy: “They brought him here within an hour of the announcement. He’s in the G2 unit. That’s upstairs, behind a door, with four cells. He’s in there by himself. If we speak to him or try to pass him something, we’ll get written up. If the guards speak to him, they get fired. The unit manager on up to the warden are responsible for feeding him and bathing him.”

Kavita: “Is that normal? Do they isolate new inmates until they get adjusted?”

Troy: “There are three dormitories: G2, G3, and G4. The top four cells are blocked off by an extra door. Two of them are segregation where they put people who just can’t live with other death row inmates because they’re afraid, or they’ll put you there for three weeks when you first arrive here. They cleared one space in G2 just for Brian Nichols to be by himself. Most of us haven’t actually seen him because every time they bring him out they lock down all of death row. Even when he’s eating, they put the place on lockdown. They’re burning cornbread on this guy, as they call it, just trying to throw bad luck on this guy. I’m glad he didn’t get the death penalty.

“It’s been months and he’s still back there on G2. Since the federal government isn’t going to try him, we thought he’d be in general population by now. The DA wanted the federal Attorney General to take action so they could apply the federal death penalty, but the AG didn’t want any part of it. They keep Nichols in solitary confinement. They don’t let him come out of his cell to go to the yard, go to the shower, or talk to his attorney. No inmate is allowed to talk to him. Only the lieutenant on up to the warden can talk to him, and they only come to take him to the shower or bring him food. I’ve managed to see him a few times over the months. He gained a lot of weight and he’s always looking at the ground. They might have put him on medication. They’re not giving him any leeway, because while he was awaiting trial he got women to do all sorts of stuff for him and help him escape. In his own twisted way, the man’s a genius.”

Gautam: “Many people were upset when he didn’t get the death penalty.”

Troy: “When he didn’t get the death penalty, the prosecutor wanted to rewrite the law that requires a unanimous jury decision for the death penalty. They want it both ways. You’re supposed to respect the decision of the jurors you pick. But since you’re not always getting death sentences, you want to change the law? What about the integrity of the system? You agreed and the judge agreed that they were qualified to make the decision and now you want to disqualify their opinion. The DA needs to accept the fact that he blew three million in taxpayer money because the man got the same sentence he tried to plead out to last year. It’s cheaper to lock a man away for the rest of his life than it is to give him the death penalty.”

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