Remain Free Part III Section II

 12/17/08

Dear Troy,

This is the first letter I’ve written you since I visited you a few weeks ago. I apologize for writing almost 20 days after I said I would, though I honestly did start this and the previous sentence on November 27th. That visit has given me a lot to think about. I just wish that everyone who thought you were guilty or that anyone who thinks that the death penalty is just could listen to what you told me the day, if they could just feel what you made me feel, I don’t know how anyone could be against you. I’ve tried to tell others, tried to explain what I’m feeling, but they could never understand unless they met you in person. That is why I feel you should write a book or try to collect and store as much of your correspondence as possible. After hearing it, reading your words is the closest to being able to feeling the power of what you said.

The hardest thing for me to hear was not the brutality of the prisoners, or the guards, but the hardship you and your family has had to face, how you still see your family as they were 20 years ago, or how you had to give up the plans you had to marry your fiancé. I was close to crying when I spoke to you then, and I am close to crying now even as I write this. I am glad I was able to see you, because the short visit before wasn’t long enough, especially with all of those people. I think one of the biggest impacts of meeting you has been that it has helped me put my own life in perspective. This week is the week of final exams, and most of my classmates are full of the stress and anxiety that comes with the exams. I think that by putting my life in perspective, you’ve helped me realize that in the long run, 20 years down the road, my life will not be determined by whether I received a 95 on my Precalculus final or not. This is not to say that I am not concerned with my finals or that I don’t study, but it helps me realize that sometimes you have to take a step back from things, and look at them from a fresh perspective. Whatever will happen will happen, so there is no sense worrying about it.

I also wanted to thank you for your poem. It was beautifully written and I’m just happy that Priya and I have had even a fraction of an impact on you as you have had on us. My mom made copies of the pictures we took, and right now it is posted as my facebook profile picture. But even around school, I have become synonymous with you; one of my friends greets me with “Hey Troy”, and another one will, in the middle of a conversation, bring up the name Troy Davis! I guess this is good in a way, because at least it means that people are aware.

            I remember that my mom showed me a letter written either to you or about you by someone in Ohio. This person was a 21 year old junior in college, and this letter was written before the stay of execution on September 23rd, and this person kept referring to things like “Troy Davis will be a martyr” and “he will die, but his message will live on”, and things like that. I wondered how this person could not have any faith that things would be ok, how she could assume that it was all over. I never gave up; I don’t know why. I don’t try to delude myself into being naïve or foolish, but for some reason I couldn’t explain, I knew inside me that you weren’t going to die then, and you weren’t going to die in October, and I don’t think the 11th Circuit Court will allow you to be executed either, despite my mom’s reservations. I wish I could have been there at the Oral Arguments, and I regret not being able to come. Unfortunately, my mom was sick and my dad had to work so I couldn’t get transportation, and they told me you would probably not be there, but I still wanted to go. I am glad that you still manage to call us, so that I can occasionally speak to you. I wish that we could visit you more often then just once every 90 days, because I feel that seeing you for 6 hours in 90 days, or an average of 4 minutes a day, is far too little.

I remember talking to Sahil about two weeks ago about religion. He told me that he did not like the Karma system in Buddhism and Hinduism because it was about crime and punishment. He likened it to the U.S. prison system, because it punishes people but doesn’t rehabilitate them. He talked how Hitler, under Karma, would be punished, but that he is a believer of “nurture over nature”, meaning that perhaps under different circumstances Hitler would not have done the things he had done. And I think I have a similar outlook on life. Deep inside, I don’t believe that people are bad. I think that they can do bad things, but had the circumstances been a little different, they would not do the things they had done. Many people would believe me to be naive, but I think that that there is goodness inside every human being and the fundamental core of human nature is good and not evil. I can’t wait to see you again. Only about 60 days!

 

With best regards and love,

 

Gautam R. Narula      

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Remain Free Part III Section I

III. Savannah

“Savannah is like a beautiful woman with a dirty face.” – Lady Astor

Kavita: “Savannah is such a beautiful place. I’d love to go back and spend some more time there.”

Troy: “I was gonna ask Martina to convince y’all to come to Savannah for St. Patrick’s Day, but she’ll probably be out of town. It’s the second biggest St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the world, and people from all over come to celebrate. Savannah has always been a beautiful place to visit. It’s just . . . living there you get involved in all the politics and see things firsthand, and it makes your stomach churn. From what I hear, they done let outside developers buy up ninety percent of the historic district. They mostly just hire their own people for teachers and counselors and hire people from Savannah as food service personnel, maintenance men, things like that. They’re not really bringing good jobs for the citizens of the city.

“Savannah has a dark underbelly and a dark history. My mom told me about the First African Baptist Church and how they would steal slaves via a tunnel under the Savannah River. Slave owners would come to the church and search for slaves, but they didn’t know about the secret basement. Many slaves bound for Charleston went through Savannah. You can still see remnants of the racist history. There’s a white graveyard and a black graveyard, and when the white one got too full, they’d put white graves in the front of the black graveyard and move the black graves to the back. There were caves where they brought slaves and threw food at them through a hole, but they’ve been paved over and turned into government parking lots. That really upset Martina because this is part of our history and should be preserved.

“I remember walking through one of the town squares when I was a kid. There was a noose on the right side of the square. I asked someone in city hall why it was there, and she said it was probably for historical reasons. But to be honest, most places I can’t remember just from seeing the pictures. For years I’ve blocked Savannah out so that I wouldn’t miss being free so much or remember the racism it carries. ”

Kavita: “What was Savannah like when you were growing up?”

Troy: “It has changed a lot. When we were kids, we would often find an alligator asleep in the middle of the road, so we’d take a chance and jump over it. There was a rumor that if you go inside the memorial tomb in the cemetery, the spirit in there would trap you in the tomb forever. Even at noon, the back of the tomb was completely dark, and it made this eerie sound when the wind picked up.

“There’s Newton Bridge, which was finished right before they moved me down here. I saw it for the first and last time from the back seat of the car that took me to death row. There were many stores on MLK: antique shops, pawn shops, those kinds of places. Those have all been replaced with banks. It used to take forty-five minutes to get from the east side to the south side, but now it takes under fifteen because of the new overpass. At least, that’s what Martina tells me.

“The river is up north, while the east and west are predominantly black areas. When I was growing up, if you were black and went to the south side after 11:00 PM, they’d run you out. Overall though, I lived a very privileged life. We had a real beautiful neighborhood where the kids would play football, basketball, hopscotch, and baseball. I was a good kid. I always cut the grass, fed the dog, cleaned my room, and took out the trash. I did my best to help my neighbors. I had neighbors whose kids were in prison, so I would cut their grass for a reduced price. I’d visit them during the holidays and reminisce about their kids, talk to their kids on the phone, and sometimes visit them in jail. There was a kid named Earl whose father drowned. I used to take him to the park, watch over him and give him advice, and take him and all the other kids to get ice cream. But life started changing in the late eighties. Drugs became more and more prevalent in Savannah, even in the suburbs. Soon everybody knew somebody either using or selling drugs. The whole city started to change.”

Kavita: “Did you often have issues with the police?”

Troy: “There were some black police officers in Savannah. I knew them because I played for the police athletic league when I was coming up, as my dad worked for the police department. I honestly thought that when they said they were looking for me I could go in there, tell them it wasn’t me, answer their questions, and that would be it. But it didn’t turn out like that.”

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Remain Free Part II Section XIX

A few weeks later, my mother spoke to Troy on the phone.

Kavita: “Troy, did you get the good news? The federal court is going to hear oral arguments on your case on December 9th.”

Troy: “Oh, so that’s why people kept telling me to call my attorneys.”

Kavita: “Martina just told me and wanted us to tell you when you called. They just found out five minutes ago.”

Troy: “That’s good, I suppose. Kavita, I hope I’m not a burden with all these collect calls. I know y’all are paying four or five dollars per call, and with us talking so much that can really add up.”

Kavita: “It’s not a problem at all. Don’t worry about it.”

Troy: “I’m calling to tell you that I finally finished that poem I was going to write. I was thinking about my life and the things Priya was saying and all the conversations we’ve had. It got me, this so-called tough guy, all emotional. I didn’t want it to get too teary-eyed, but I wanted it to make people think. It’s about our visit and how ya’ll touched my life. You all have really touched my life in ways you will never understand.

“I had decided this morning to finish. I wrote both Gautam and Priya’s names on the same envelope, and that will be the envelope that has the poem in it, along with letters to both of them. In Priya’s letter I’m challenging her to stop texting so much, and for one month to spend more time with Gautam and not worry about what others think. I want them to study at the same table, for her to reach out to him for help and see how different things will be. I challenged her to figure out what she’s really made of and to see how her friends react when she really pushes herself.

“I told Gautam to reach out to her and embrace her, to sit and do homework at the kitchen table and be there to help her. It seems like he really misses his little sister.”

Kavita: “Gautam has always gone out of his way to be kind to her, but she has tried his patience a lot. Gautam is like you. He’s very strong, but very gentle and kind. As a kid he would always go down the slide and then open his arms and wait for her. She would run across and shove him out of the way.”

Troy: “You have been a good friend, no, a great friend. What I admire about you is that, unlike many other people who’ve come into my life, you’re not doing this for selfish reasons. I am very honored to have met all of you. You all inspire me. At one point, I had given up on having real friends. Then Ledra and Walker and their family came into my life. And then when I met your family, I realized there really are genuine people out there who care about others, who don’t think about what another person has to offer them. When y’all came into my life, y’all didn’t come in to get to know some death row inmate. You came here to get to know Troy. You and your family have opened up your hearts to me. It’s an amazing feeling to know that right when I was about to give up on true friends, sincere people like you showed up. I really appreciate it.”

Kavita: “We’re with you through the end, Troy.”

Troy: “I think you’re really going to like the poem I wrote. I put both of their names in the poem to let them know this is for them. I have the rough draft here, and I want to read it to you over the phone and see what you think. It’s called ‘Remain Free.’”

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Remain Free Part II Section XVIII

November 14, 2008

Dear Gautam,

            Thank you for your letter. Actually it wasn’t all that hard to read once I was able to identify with your handwriting. I’m gonna answer a few of your questions for you.

            You won’t agree with a lot of things you are taught when dealing with religion because man is teaching you. There’s only one true creator of all things created. When Jesus sent disciples throughout the earth to Preach God’s word they were Blessed to speak in tongues (speak a language they’ve never been taught with instant understanding).

            Because of cultural and language differences, some of God’s words changed throughout time. You are seeking the Grand Creator and as long as you study the Bible, meditate on God’s word and try to apply it to your life, God will open up your mind to understanding. Don’t rush yourself just pick a subject you want to learn relating to God and learn all you can before moving forward.

            Politics, the reason Jesus stated in the Bible to his disciples “you are no longer of this world” is because when you agree to live your life for God you have to put all God’s laws before man. When man ‘s laws contradict with God’s, always follow God’s laws. “Store your treasures in heaven” means simply seek God like treasures of eternal life filled with Blessings.

            Yes, you wouldn’t be able to support me but if I obeyed all of God’s commandments and lived a Spiritually guided life I wouldn’t be here in need of support.

            My point is this, a person of God who indulges in politics and adopts the worldly way of life becomes blinded by money, power, greed, selfishness, etc. They judge wrong and hide behind Man’s laws even when they’re wrong. That’s not Godly at all. How many politicians, judges, District Attorneys, Presidents etc. represented God in their office of elected officials? NONE because they were all liars, thieves and hid behind laws and became murderers because they sought world acceptance and power instead of Spiritual. In most ways they were serving two Gods at once. Satan and his demons run man’s corrupt Government and God allows this so that we as humans can realize we can’t truly govern ourselves and without God in our lives we’ll continue to destroy ourselves and everything around us.

            Our suffering is allowed so we can turn to seeking help and learn that only righteous help comes from God. If he solves every problem for every human then we’ll sin even more because we know it’ll automatically be erased.

            Seeking God teaches us patience, humbleness and we have to earn His Protection through our actions. Everyone seeking God with a pure heart will receive everlasting life as the meek and Righteous inherit the earth.

            Some religious leaders get caught up in thinking they know everything but end up speaking falsely because they’ve put themselves before God and they will be Judged for every Soul they mislead.

            Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t speak out and support me but I’m not serving them, I’m serving God. They just helped me get a better understanding of God in my search for the truth.

            As for Priya, I see exactly what’s going on but you’re her big brother so try to help her as much as you can. Sit at the kitchen table and do your homework together.

            She’s very headstrong so she’s going to push back but allow your love for her to keep you strong Gautam. I’ll talk to her because she’s fighting to identify with who she is and won’t let anyone help her make any decisions.

            Don’t give up on her because I’ll talk to her. I’ve been through what she’s facing so I see it clearly. I hope you like the poem I wrote for the two of you.

Love always!

Your Uncle Troy D.

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Remain Free Part II Section XVII

“I had a complicated relationship with my father. Deep down I knew he loved me. When they sent me to jail, it broke his heart. I know that’s why he died only a few years after I was arrested.

“When a boy is growing up, he looks up to his father. The father defines what they think being a man is all about. And that was the way it was with me and my father. But he had a drinking problem. He told me to respect women even when he didn’t. He had many girlfriends, and some of them convinced him my mother was stealing money from him. When I was fourteen, my father got drunk, pulled out a gun, and threatened my mother. I still remember the scene . . . my mother running away in her nightgown while my father was shooting at her. I ran in and started fighting with him over the gun. There were holes in the roof from the gunshots. I remember how ashamed he felt the day after. After that incident, my parents separated. Fortunately, I was old enough to know it wasn’t my fault they separated.

“I see a troubling relationship between De’Jaun and his father. Sometimes when he gets tired of Martina telling him to do his homework or his chores, he’ll go to his father’s house and spend a weekend there. I’ve told him so many times, ‘Don’t you see how much your mother cares about you? She wants you to work hard and do your chores because she loves you and wants you to have some discipline. She wants you to make the most of your life. Your dad may spend a few days with you here and there, but he doesn’t truly care for you the way your mother does.’”

I thought about my relationship with my own father. Growing up, I wanted to be exactly like him. He wanted me to go to MIT and become an engineer, so I wanted to go to MIT and become an engineer. He wanted me to play chess, so I played chess. He thought it more important to study than to play sports, so I studied and stayed indoors.

He was for the death penalty, so I was for the death penalty. But when my parents divorced, he sank into a deep depression, which I knew even though he would never admit it.

He would come home from work each day, thoroughly defeated. He clung desperately to my two sisters and me; he had few friends. He was moody, hypersensitive to any criticism, and too afraid to put himself out there in work or in love.

As I grew up, my rose-colored lenses faded and I saw a man who was irritable, clingy, cynical, and terrified. He was also intensely loyal, wickedly brilliant, and never hesitated to sacrifice for his children. But fairly or unfairly, I viewed him as narrow-minded, a conformist, pessimistic, and above all, afraid. I blamed him for inculcating those traits in me. Fairly or unfairly, I resented him for it.

Troy’s voice softened as he spoke of one more person.

“Her name was Nikki, and she was my fiancée. She was special. Unlike our previous relationships, we decided to save ourselves until marriage because our bond was so strong that we knew it would be worth waiting. That’s why I went to Atlanta to get a construction job. I wanted to earn some money and get us a home so we could start building our lives together. When I got locked up, she would visit me. She always believed I was innocent and said she would wait until I was free. Then we could create the life we planned, the life we dreamed about. But I couldn’t do that to her. I couldn’t make her wait for me. I had to give her the opportunity to live her own life the way she wanted it. I knew our life together would never be. She eventually got married and had kids but would still visit me from time to time. One day she told me she still loved me, and all I had to do was say the word and she would leave her husband. I could never ask her to do that. I would never want to play any part in breaking up a family. But she wouldn’t take no for an answer. She said she would keep waiting until I was free. When she said that, I knew what I had to do. I removed her from my list of visitors so she could never see me again. It still hurts today, but I know I did the right thing. It wasn’t just about me, it was about her. I couldn’t let her throw away everything she had just for something that would never be.” Troy paused, and I looked away. I didn’t want him to see the tear rolling down my cheek.

When guards rattled on the door to warn us time was up, Troy approached and whispered to one of them. He waited there until another inmate walked in holding an ancient Polaroid camera. Troy handed him three slips of paper, and the inmate motioned for us to stand together. My mother opted not to be in the photo, so it was Troy in the middle, Priya on his left, and me on the right. My eyes were glazed over, the result of waking before sunrise and sitting hunched in a small room for nearly six hours. Priya awkwardly smiled, while Troy’s warm smile broke through. The camera clicked, and the photo slid out of the slot in front. The inmate grasped it and fanned it back and forth in the air before handing it to Troy. He looked at the photo, smiled, and handed it to my mother before we hugged and said our goodbyes.

We were later told the camera “broke,” and were never able to take a photo with Troy again.

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Remain Free Section II Part XVI

“For years people have said, ‘Troy, ask your sister to do this for me. Troy, ask your sister to call that person for me. Ask her this, ask her that.’ I said, ‘Why don’t you ask your mom, your brother, your sister, your girlfriend, your wife to do that?’ And the reason is they don’t have anybody on the outside to be their voice.”

“How did you deal with being away from your family?”

“It was really hard, especially in the early days. They weren’t even allowed to be there at my trial. And since I see them so rarely now, it’s always a shock when they come to visit. In my mind, they all look like they did twenty years ago. In my dreams, I see my family the way they looked in 1989. But when they visit me, it’s a shock. I never got to see them grow older, so it’s like they instantly age before my eyes. I notice all the changes. Muscle deterioration, bags under eyes, wrinkles, gray hair. It’s hard to deal with that.

“I have four siblings. Ebony, Kim, Lester, and Martina. Ebony was just a little girl when I got locked up. She wasn’t even ten years old. I wish I had a chance to watch her grow up, to see her become the person she is today. Baby Kiersten looks just like her.

“When I was in high school, Kim was suddenly paralyzed and had problems walking. I dropped out so I could take her to physical therapy and take care of her. The doctors said she would never walk again. But every day I kept pushing her, telling her not to give up. One day she asked me to bring her wheelchair, and I said, ‘Kim, if you want the wheelchair, you’re gonna have to walk over here and get it yourself.’ She protested, but I told her I wasn’t going to give it to her. ‘You can do it, Kim. Walk over here and get the wheelchair.’ And guess what? She did. She walked, even after the doctors said she wouldn’t. And she’s still walking today.”

I thought about my relationship with Priya. Even in elementary school I could see she was going down the wrong path. She hung out with the wrong crowd. Her grades slipped. She got in trouble at school. Every night she would scream at my father until he cried, until she cried. She started cutting herself, doing drugs, destroying the house. And I’d tell myself, Do something, Gautam. You’re her older brother. I would sit her down after school to teach her math, but she didn’t want to learn. I would warn her about her friends, but she wouldn’t listen. I’d tell her I was worried about her, and she would scream at me to mind my own business. One day I decided I was done getting hurt, done trying to save someone who refused to save herself. So I stopped caring. Would I have done for Pranavi what Troy did for Kim?

“Lester and I looked alike when we were young. People used to think we were twins. I’d take him for rides in my car, and I know he looked up to me. He didn’t say much when I got locked up, but it deeply affected him. He’s gotten into a bit of trouble since then, and I think it’s because he never really got over the loss of his big brother.

“And last, but certainly not least, Martina. I was quiet and meek while she was tough and outspoken, but we were best friends. I always knew Martina had my back. When I got locked up and nobody knew who Troy Davis was, Martina was the one fighting tirelessly to find somebody, anybody, who would hear me out. She’s the toughest person I know. She’s a warrior. People often ask me if I was afraid when I was ninety minutes away from execution. I’m not afraid to die. I’m just afraid of what will happen to Martina if they kill me. I hope she’ll still have the strength to fight her illness when I’m gone.

“Then there’s my mother. I loved playing football with my friends when I was a kid. They used to call me Touchdown, since my initials were TD. But when my mother yelled out my middle name, Anthony, that’s when I knew it was really time to come in. She has suffered silently for the last twenty years while I’ve been behind bars. She still hears the gates close, even when she’s at home by herself. The hardest thing for her was hearing those prison gates slam and thinking about me.

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Remain Free Part II Section XV

“Can you escape all of this in isolation?”

“You don’t want isolation. Just feces and rats in there.” He looked at our surprised faces. “The biggest surprise is that the women’s prison is much worse. We have guards who transferred from the women’s prison because they couldn’t handle just how violent and rough it was in there.”

“Does anyone plead insanity to try to get out of harsher punishments?”

“Oh yeah. Plenty of guys do that. But trust me, it’s not something you want to do. If someone acts insane, they’ll happily believe him. They’ll take him out back to the medical center and pump him full of meds so they can beat him. The guy will be so spaced out from the meds he won’t be

able to report it, and even if he did they can just say he’s hallucinating.”

“At least the prisoners get medical care.”

“It’s nice you think that, Gautam. But that’s not reality. They make you pay five dollars to go to the medical center. That may not seem like much, but it adds up, and some of the guys here don’t have families or anybody who can give them money. And the people there don’t really care. I needed to get medication to treat my high blood pressure, but they wouldn’t let me see the doctor. I kept asking, over and over again, and they wouldn’t let me. Only when I told them it was an emergency and insisted that I absolutely had to go did they finally let me go.

“You pay five bucks every time you go up there, even if you don’t see the doctor. Any time I have to see the doctor to get a medication refill, any time I got a cold or the flu or anything like that, they’re going to charge me five dollars. You got inmates that go up there with a bunch of nonsense, so they had to change the policy to get some of their money back. The fees here are pretty high. $4.50 for seven stamps and some envelopes.

“Do you know why I have high blood pressure? And why I’m not as thin as I was when I first got here? Because the food is terrible. They got rid of the cooks. I missed lunch so I could come talk to you, but otherwise I would’ve had a clump of cheese, two slices of bread, and a sliced orange. Some days they might add some ramen noodles. The food is so bad that you’re pretty much forced to buy junk food from the vending machines.”

Another inmate walked behind the metal grille. He sported an afro and tinted glasses.

“Who is that man?” my mother asked. “The one who looks like Elvis.”

“That’s Carlton Gary, AKA the Columbus Strangler. He’s a pretty well-known guy here. He’s a talented artist. While he was in prison, a woman fell in love with him and married him, and he adopted her daughter.”

“Does he have an execution date set?”

“No, there are still appeals going on. He’s trying to fight his charges. He says he’s innocent, says DNA will prove it, but the county he is from destroyed all the evidence. He blamed an accomplice. Said he only burglarized a place. And you see that guy?” Troy pointed to a skinny, boyish man walking behind the grille. “That’s James Lee. When he was a kid, his mother abandoned him at a drug dealer’s house. He started thinking he was a dog and would sleep in a dog kennel.”

We sat in silence. No telling how many more James Lees were out there. And why did I have to come to death row to find out such people even existed?

“Do the other inmates have family support?”

“Family support? No, no, no, no, no. There’s maybe one more person whose family visits, but nobody else’s family visits like mine does. Over ninety percent of them come from a broken home and a life full of crime. There are two, maybe three people here who’d never been in trouble before they got locked up. Most of these guys have been in and out of juvie facilities, in and out of prison. I’ve seen two people who had both parents visit, and a few who had just a mother, girlfriend, or ex-wife visit. Most people here never had that love, never had nobody to inspire them and give them something to believe in or hope for, and a lot of them give up. And when a person gives up on himself, what life does he have to look forward to?

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Remain Free Part II Section XIV

“You know quite a bit about your case.”

“Anything I forget could be harmful. I’ve helped my lawyers more than they’ve helped me in finding different legal strategies. I’m active in my case, unlike so many others back here. The average lawyer, even the average criminal lawyer, can’t handle a death penalty case. They need to know the details of twenty-five additional laws—they need to study the cases and know what motions to file and what to do. I have to be active on my case or I’m dead.”

“The legal options seem so limited. It’s just appeal after appeal and hoping one of them sticks.”

            “As long as the MacPhails want me dead, there’s not much my lawyers can do. They’ve been so brainwashed. Even Mark Jr., who was just an infant when this happened, is filled with rage and hatred. They’ve been brainwashed for so long . . . I don’t understand why they wouldn’t want to make sure there was no doubt that the right man was brought to justice for killing their family member.”

“But what could the MacPhails do? Wouldn’t it be up to the DA or the courts?”

“If the family of the victim wants you spared, the legal system looks upon you much more favorably. There was a guy here named Billy Moore. He was guilty, completely guilty, and even admitted it. He apologized to the victim’s family. They forgave him and helped him get his sentence reduced. He’s now a free man. He became a minister and now goes all round the world talking about his work to help Georgia’s death row inmates. But the truth is—pardon my language—he didn’t do shit. Guys here wrote to him, asking for help with lawyers, pen pals, anything, and he didn’t write a single letter back. Martina can tell you all about that. She’s been trying to contact him for years, and other inmates in here have been trying for decades to contact him. People think he’s an exoneree, but he just got a reduced sentence. Now he works with a woman named Murphy Davis, who doesn’t do nothing for death row inmates except write about them in some newsletter.”

“How many more like you are out there?”

“Who knows? Even victims misidentify their attackers. There are rape victims who were raped for forty minutes and looked at their rapist the whole time and still misidentified them. How can the courts or the Parole Board feel comfortable executing me when it’s clear they can never be one-hundred percent sure I did it? It’s sad you’ve got judges who’d rather hide behind the law rather than admit it’s wrong. And at my last hearing, Spencer Lawton, the Savannah DA, lied and talked about stuff they ain’t even had, and the Board bought it hook, line, and sinker, just like the jury in 1991.”

“The Supreme Court won’t even hear you out.”

“The US Supreme Court goes through the formality of accepting one or two cases a year just to deny them. They’re not going to openly state they don’t like overturning state or federal judges’ rulings. Instead they’ll deny the appeal. And it sends your lawyers scrambling and makes them feel like they’ve failed you. I think everything needs to be redone. The unethical prosecutors who send innocent people to jail need to step up and be held accountable.”

“How did all this affect you personally?”

“Emotionally it shook me up, but I never broke down. I wasn’t at peace, but I knew I could handle this if I adapted to the situation. When I first came to death row, the lieutenant saw me and said, ‘We haven’t had no fights or stabbings here in five years, so respect that. You better not get in trouble.’ I was like, ‘Why do you expect something from me? If nobody bothers me, I’m not going to bother them.’ Sometimes guards will tell me, ‘Davis, sometimes I forget about you and don’t even know who the hell you are. You’re so quiet. I don’t hear nothing about you, no complaints about you. You’re a model prisoner. You stay to yourself, do what you’re supposed to do, and mind your own business.’ I don’t go looking for trouble, because you never know what will happen.”

Previous: Part II, Section XIII

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Remain Free Part II Section XIII

“People on the outside don’t realize prison life isn’t just three meals and a bed to sleep in. Prison life is a life of survival. The longer you’re in prison, the more hell you go through. A maximum security prison, where everybody is in there because they killed or raped someone, is a lot like a gang-infested area, where gangs are on every street corner and just wearing the wrong color can get you jumped. You have guards who keep things going, and guards who take it out on the inmates.

“Prison life isn’t easy at all. Sometimes you can carry yourself in a respectful way and you won’t have no trouble at all, but as soon as you let your guard down, there’s trouble right around the corner. The more time you spend in prison, the greater the punishment it is. It’s much worse than the death penalty. People on life without parole . . . it tears them down, it destroys them. Living in prison is hard. Dying is the easy part.”

“When the judge finally sentenced you to death, how did you feel?”

“He said, ‘Mr Davis, you will be executed by 20,000 volts of electricity until you are dead, dead, dead!’ I looked up, and it finally hit me: I’m going to death row. I’d already been convicted in the media before the trial. They all showed photos of me with the words ‘cop killer’ underneath. But when they sat in on the trial, even they started changing their statements. One newswoman even started crying with my mother when they sentenced me to death. How could they do this? How could they convict him? People in the courtroom were as baffled as I was. If they’re so sure of their verdict, why are they so afraid to do another investigation?”

“Because they know in today’s courtroom you’d never be convicted.”

“Ninety percent of the people who got reduced sentences from death row were completely guilty. So many guilty people get their sentences overturned on technicalities, but an innocent person is sent to death so they can protect the system. The Supreme Court doesn’t like granting new trials for death row inmates like me. They do it maybe one out of a hundred times.”

“And they gave Sylvester Coles immunity. They never even suspected him.”

“Sylvester Coles was in a court hearing for something else and a reporter found him. She told him that many people claim he actually committed murder and asked if he had anything to say or if he wanted to clear his name. You know what he said? ‘No comment.’”

“It amazes me that he’s been arrested so many times but never convicted.”

“They’re trying to protect their star witness. Convictions and prison time make him look bad. Years ago his mother apologized to my mother and gave her a hug. It was obvious he done told his family what he did! Even his relative, Ben Gordon came forward and admitted that Coles confessed to shooting the police officer. ”

“The media coverage seems much more balanced now. Martina said that wasn’t always the case.”

“When I was arrested and being taken to the police station, I smiled at one point to help keep calm and remind myself it was God who would liberate me, not man. The media pounced on that moment and plastered that photo of me all over, saying I smirked and was defiant. They built up this image of an evil black man who cheerfully murdered a white police officer and had no remorse whatsoever. The tone of the articles only started changing after Amnesty published its report on me and I started becoming famous. Many of the people supporting me now turned us down in the past when Martina and I kept writing them emails and letters asking for help. I’m grateful for their support, but I’m cautious because they rejected us years ago.”

“In the eyes of the justice system, you’re guilty till proven innocent now that you’ve been convicted.”

“The law has a loophole for inmates with physical evidence: DNA, blood, semen. They could be locked up for twenty-five years and find eleven-year-old DNA, and courts automatically be granting the new trials. But what about people who don’t have nothing to test? Here’s a case where witnesses claimed they could make out a black man in a dark jumpsuit with a fadeaway haircut at night from hundreds of feet away, and there’s nothing I can do? No fingerprints, no physical evidence. They made a mistake but don’t want to admit it, and I’m to be made an example of so they can save face. Twenty years on death row isn’t a joke. Nobody could have seen me from the motel from that distance with palm trees blocking the view. It could be sunny at noon and you still wouldn’t be able to tell. Yet the police can build a case based on that, take juvenile delinquents and illiterates and make them sign papers without their parents present just so they don’t get their asses kicked. Where’s the justice for me?

Previous: Part II, Section XII

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Remain Free Part II Section XII

“Inmates in here have set people on fire, launched bleach bombs, all of that. There’s a new guy who has only been here for a few weeks, who doesn’t know who is dangerous. The new guy accidentally brushed up against a Klansmen in the dormitory, and the Klansmen grabbed his right arm, pulled out a box cutter, and started slicing him up. The new guy tried to pick up a trashcan lid to defend himself, but it was too weak, and the guards were just standing at the gate watching. New guy eventually staggered to the gate and escaped. He had over thirty stitches inside his stomach, over twenty on the outside of his stomach, and he almost bled to death.

“One inmate, Stephen Mobley, was known as the Domino’s Pizza Murderer. He was executed a few years back. He liked boys and thought that because he had money he could pay people to do whatever he wanted. He kept coming on to guys who weren’t gay. They got tired of it, so they plotted to go in his cell, trick him into going inside another guy’s cell, and then slice him up with razor and rape him to ‘show him how it feels.’ And one of the guys was a booty bandit—excuse me, an ex-booty bandit, if you want to call it that. But evidently he wasn’t too ex if he was thinking about raping Mobley. They cornered Mobley in the cell, but he ended up getting out and calling for the guards. They’re all kinds of strange, crazy stuff going on in here that nobody ever hears about.”

“That’s horrid. You’re lucky you’re buff.”

“That has nothing to do with it. That can actually get you killed because people take somebody my size as a threat. If you show any weakness, if you show that people can walk all over you, they will. I once had a faceoff with another inmate on the basketball court. This guy had been bothering me and pushing my buttons for weeks, and I finally confronted him about it on the courts. I had to show that I wasn’t going to tolerate this kind of behavior from him or anyone else. Eventually he backed off, and for the most part people have been good about giving me my space. But you always have to be on guard.

“Some inmates aren’t as violent, but they’re manipulative. One guy would ask for hugs and starts rubbing up on people when they hugged him. Another guy kept borrowing stuff from me. He’d say, ‘Troy, I really need some stamps. I promise I’ll pay you back.’ So I gave him the stamps. A few days later he came up and said, ‘Troy, I need some envelopes. Just put it on my tab. I’ll pay you back.’ He kept reassuring me he’d pay me back, but he never did. Then one day he comes up and says, ‘Troy, I owe some guys money. I need some stuff to pay them with. Let me borrow some stuff, man. I’ll pay you back.’ By this time I was pretty fed up with this guy, so I told him, ‘You know what? You’ve never paid me back for anything. You just keep borrowing and borrowing and borrowing with no intention of ever giving it back. I’ll do you one last favor: you can have everything I have. You can sell it, do whatever you want. But the next time you need help because you owe money to somebody, don’t come to me.’ He happily took my stuff and paid off his debts. And sure enough he mismanaged it and once again owed money. He came to me saying, ‘Troy, you gotta help me out.’ And I told him, ‘What did I say to you last time? All you did was take advantage of me, and I told you we were done. You’re on your own.’ There’s a lesson in all of this. Never give a man more than you can afford to lose.”

“Would life be any better if your sentence was commuted to life without parole?”

“I guess that’s better than being executed, but honestly that doesn’t really cut it. Death row is bad, but conditions for the general population are much, much worse. There was a guy who begged a judge to give him the death penalty so he could avoid the general population prison. Death row is like a spa compared to that place. Death row inmates who got their sentences commuted to life stay in isolation for years because they’re too afraid of the general population.”

“Why would people from death row be afraid?”

“Those who are supposedly hardcore killers become either prey or a predator in population. Even the predators become prey because nobody in population is scared of you because of your crime. The guys who hurt women, kids, and elderly people, they have it hard in prison because the ‘regular’ prisoners don’t respect them. So they get picked on. And if they’re already paranoid, they become schizophrenic, especially the rapists. They become victims as well.

Previous: Part II, Section XI

Next: Part II, Section XIII


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