After the new execution date was announced, we received word the Pope had taken a special interest in the case. Maybe, just maybe, he could be pushed to directly intervene on Troy’s behalf. We had the contact information of an underling who claimed to have direct access to the Pope.
“People are moved by the words of children,” my mother told me. “Young people have a different kind of influence over the powerful. Collect letters from your friends so we can send them to the Pope.” I canvassed Alpharetta High School, telling people about the case and asking them to write letters on Troy’s behalf. I amassed two dozen letters, and De’Jaun added his to the mix.
As I wrote my letter, I thought about my mother’s advice. “Gautam, you need to think about whom you’re writing to. The Pope sees it as his mission to convert people to Catholicism. If you tell him you’re an atheist, he or his people may ignore your letter. After all, atheists are going to burn in hell, right? I know you won’t like this, but you need to give them hope that you might convert, that perhaps the Pope’s actions might convince you to be ‘saved.’ Sometimes you have to suck up to people in power. When you care about someone enough, you do things you wouldn’t otherwise do.”
October 21, 2008
To The Most Revered His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI,
My name is Gautam Narula. I am a 15 year old student and I live in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, USA. For the last several weeks, I have been campaigning for Troy Anthony Davis, who was convicted of the murder of Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail. As Your Holiness may be aware, there is no evidence connecting him to the crime except eye witness testimony and 7 out of 9 witnesses now say they lied because the police and prosecutors forced them. All his appeals have been turned down and he is scheduled to be executed on the 27th October.
When I met Troy Davis, I was amazed to see how he had survived through 19 years of prison life and was still able to laugh and to smile despite being in a place which has sub human conditions.
He has been deprived of the outdoors for so long that he started feeling the grass the one time they let him out to meet Reverend Al Sharpton. He did not feel any fear 90 minutes before his execution, when he saw the gurney they would take his body out on. How did he not feel any fear? He gave me his answer: “I was not afraid or scared, because God had lifted the burden of fear off my shoulders. I knew God would take care of me, and he took all my worries away.” I was amazed at the power that his faith, and his religion Christianity had on him.
For me this was a very deeply moving experience. Till then, I had seen religion as something that created conflict between people. I believed that if God existed he would not allow all the suffering in the world. But after meeting Troy Davis, I can no longer say that I know with certainty God does not exist. He sent me some books on Christianity which I have been reading with renewed vigor; if this is the religion that can sustain a man through some of the most trying times of his life, perhaps there is more to it than meets the eye. I am certain that one of the most lasting impacts Troy will have made on my life is that he has helped guide me through my spiritual transition.
Another great impact Troy has had on my life is the way I view the world. Before the Troy Davis case, I wasn’t sure of my position on the death penalty. I supported it in some cases and was against it in others. But now, I am firmly against the death penalty. Troy has opened my eyes to the truth; he has shown me that the death penalty is cruel and immoral. But even more so, he has changed my attitude towards life. I was not a bad person before I knew Troy Davis, but I was unaware of the suffering that still existed in our world. Yes, I knew that there was injustice and poverty in this world, but I hadn’t experienced it first hand. I have always lived a fairly privileged life; I have never been in want of food, shelter, clothing, education, or love. But Troy has made me realize how much more fulfilling life is when we help others. Life is more than materialism; it is about the joy we get in helping others, the satisfaction we feel in knowing that we’ve made a positive difference, the beauty in kindness. I may be only 15, but I have learned a lesson that few adults have learned, and Troy Davis taught it to me. Troy Davis has taught me that life is beautiful. Today I have more respect for a prisoner in jail than the officers from the justice system who have not had the conscience to accept that this execution would be a great injustice if it is carried out. This case is full of doubt.
In school we have always been taught that the United States justice system is one of the best in the world, because of its “Innocent until Proven Guilty” attitude towards trials. Yet it has failed Troy Davis at a time when he needs it most; it failed him at the trial, it failed him during the appeals, it failed him in March 2008, and it has failed him now. We need a different kind of justice, one that Your Holiness and the Catholic Church can provide.
Over time, my respect for the Papacy and the Catholic Church has grown as I learned more about it. It has been a catalyst for peace, justice, and morality in recent times and Your Holiness has helped to continue this tradition. But I am not the only one; a movement is igniting around my school and the community for Troy Davis, and young teenagers like me began getting excited once they knew a figure as well known, and as compassionate as Your Holiness was getting involved.
I was very happy to learn that Your Holiness and the Catholic Church had been deeply concerned about the case, and that Your Holiness had pressed for Davis not to be executed. That is why I implore that Your Holiness once again tells President Bush to commute the death sentence. I understand that Your Holiness is otherwise engaged, as he is the spiritual leader of over one billion people. But should Your Holiness once again intervene, not only could an innocent life be saved, but it would be a sign all around the world that justice can prevail, that the death penalty is wrong, and that by fighting against injustice, we can make the world a better place.
Thanks and with the most sincere regards,
Gautam R. Narula,
I sent the letters out the next day. We never heard back.