Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Ron Keine's report on Journey of Hope 2007
As my first JOH venture I didn't know what to expect. As I got off the plane, I was hoping that I wouldn't be speaking for 10 hours a day as I had for some other groups. I had expected Bill to just point me in the right direction and let me "have at them". I was there to work.
I had always a certain anxiety about going into the belly of the beast that is Texas. I was ready for both verbal and physical confrontations from the pro Death Penalty yokels. It was all for naught, None of that happened. One guy gave me Half of a peace sign but that was all.
I was happily surprised to find that we actually had time to bond with the other volunteers. I was equally happy to see our own people turning out in support of the designated speaker or speakers. I met a lot of really nice people who really cared for each other and were devoted to the task at hand. I made some new friends and I can say that I am proud of the whole group.
You may have noticed that when an exonoree speaks, he sometimes gets emotional. Some even start to sob as they relate their experience. You really have to have something terrible happen to you for you to do that. There was study done at a major University a few years ago. It was to apply electronic stimuli to areas of the brain to see if it could wake up latent memories. The expected result was positive but another reaction also realized. They found out that when you wake up a memory, you also wake up the way you were feeling at the time, what mood you were in. Was it a sunny day or a miserable one. Even smells and sounds were remembered.
This is what happens when an exonoree speaks. It puts him right back on" The Row" He relives his terrible ordeal again and again. The humility, degradation, embarrassment of it all. The indignity of preparing oneself to die for something they are innocent of. The thought of sitting in that cell for years waiting to die.
There are 125 Death Row exonorees as of this writing. Our home organization. Witness To Innocence, has been able to reach only about 30 or 40 of them. Some just won’t be involved. There are high instances of Alcohol, Drugs and Suicides. some we can’t even find as if they have dropped off the earth. Some are back in jail for some other charge. We have gleaned about 10 speakers from this group. Some do nothing more then tell people what happened to them. Some will rant and rave all day and night if allowed to do so. ( I get often accused of this). [NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: the accusations are, indeed, true]. But all of them, everyone of them, muster up the courage to get up there and take the corrupt justice system to task and let people know how it has failed them. No wonder we need a few beers after that.
All in all the JOH in Texas was a real experience. I will never forget speaking to a crowd at the Walls unit with a guard, displaying his M-16 machine gun behind me in a tower. This is the same guard who yelled at one of our guys for pausing to take a picture while crossing the street. I was fairly sure that guard did not own the street so it gave me great personal pleasure to stand right in the middle of that same street and give a speech. I thought he might yell at me, which I would have ignored, but was reasonably sure he wouldn't shoot me. At least not with all those people looking.
Shujaa and Greg give their best and will see many of you at the NCADP conference... in Jan Jose next month.
Posted by Rachel Lawler at 7:09 AM