“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.