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Tuesday, December 28, 2021

On Justice and Forgiveness

~Troy Davis

By Shannyn Moore

My Pop has always said there’s a big difference between grace and mercy. Grace is when you get something good you don’t deserve. Mercy is when you don’t get something bad you do deserve.

I’ve been blessed to have been afforded both in my life. It’s difficult to pass it out as freely as it’s given, but something to always strive for.

This week, I called and emailed judges, a governor and parole board. I wasn’t sure if it was grace or mercy I was seeking for a man I’d never met. I had no way to know whether he was guilty or innocent.

The State of Georgia executed a man found guilty of murdering an off-duty police officer two decades ago. There was no physical evidence; no DNA; no weapon. Seven of the nine witnesses recanted their testimonies with signed affidavits. They said they were pressured by investigators. One of the original jurors testified before the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles that she had too much doubt and would change her verdict. Despite all of that, they voted 3-2 to allow the execution. One vote took one man’s life.

With these new revelations, there appeared to be more than a reasonable doubt and the only thing hanging today would be the original jury. But he’s dead now. Troy Davis was his name.

I watched the live vigil online. I watched the Davis family finally lose hope. Someone asked me, “What if he really did it?” I don’t know. Considering we haven’t tried anyone responsible for the Wall Street debacle, or Don Blankenship of Massey Energy for killing 29 miners, it would seem we have room in the court for at least a consideration of new revelatory evidence.

One thing I know for certain is the State of Georgia outsourced the execution and hired a private corporation, ironically named Correct Health, to kill for them. They shelled out $18,000 for the same death drug a veterinarian administers to a condemned dog. Correct Health is doctor-owned. Whatever became of the Hippocratic Oath? The part about “I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked …”

Millions of people were holding vigils around the world for Mr. Davis. There was a counter vigil demanding his blood. The mother of the slain police officer seemed ecstatic. I can’t imagine how much she misses her son and don’t know that most of us wouldn’t feel the same.

The same night in Texas another man was executed. Lawrence Brewer was a white supremacist and KKK member who had no remorse for dragging a handicapped African-American, James Byrd Jr. on a 25-foot chain behind his truck, spreading his body over miles of road.

There was little fanfare, save a gathering of Mr. Byrd’s family and friends near the place that he died. They asked for Mr. Brewer’s life to be spared and publicly forgave him. His sister said hating him would only make her become what had ultimately killed her brother.

Their grace and mercy were a testament to the power of forgiveness. In both executions, the families’ feelings didn’t change the outcome for the condemned. Hating someone is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die.

Since post-conviction DNA testing began in 1989, there have been 273 exonerations. Seventeen of them were on death row. I have been honored to host two former death row inmates on my radio and television shows. They had been exonerated by The Innocence Project which was working until the last moment to save Mr. Davis. Both men seemed quiet at first, searching my face for skepticism. My radio listeners can tell you they loosened up when I complained about prison food. If I were running for office I’d call it youthful indiscretion, but I’m not. I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my life and owned them. I was lucky half-my-life ago that a judge saw enough potential and opted not to destroy it with a conviction but empower it with a wake-up call.

My death row guests were not so fortunate. They told me what they had missed; birthdays and funerals, beer, mowing the lawn and a family never realized. And also what they had experienced; their family-by-circumstance. A macabre group of fellow death row inmates with a shared destiny and borne brotherhood. One spoke of his anguished confusion — seeing these men killed one by one over the years. Neither was compensated for the mistakes made by the prosecution and courts. One of their mothers was there to see the innocent man she had always believed walk out of prison. “My mom always knew when I was lying, and she knew I wasn’t.”

As long as human beings are running the show there will be human error. Things aren’t always as they seem. The most famous death penalty case involved an innocent man condemned at the insistence of the church. Jesus Christ wasn’t exonerated by The Innocence Project. He was crucified.

I’m not comparing either one of the men killed this week to Jesus. I’m simply saying we make mistakes. Georgia proved that its death bureaucracy was more important than the life it was supposed to protect. Personally and politically, we’d be our better selves if we embraced mercy and grace over intolerance and revenge.

The time is now to, borrowing from Justice Robert Jackson, for “power to pay tribute to reason,” become civilized and end the death penalty.



37 Responses to “On Justice and Forgiveness”
  1. Man_from_Unk says:

    Crimes against fellow men shows us that something is truly wrong in our country and in our communities. Hatred, often generations old is common and getting worse especially in rural areas where people have no hope for the future. All of this disharmony starts in a home. In small communities those hate filled homes are known by everybody yet people look the other way and tolerate those needy people. Reaching out is easy except more people need to share the burden in order to have a healthy place to live.

  2. Judi says:

    Wonderfully written,

    I am against the death penalty in all cases and for many reasons. The first of course being what if we are wrong. What if the wrong person is executed? Like the man in Texas, where evidence clearly indicates NO crime even took place. It was a terrible accident. Still he was executed.

    More importantly it is barbaric. surely there are better ways to punish someone than take their life. Sitting in a prison cell for life comes to mind. I also find the number of years between when the so called crime occurred and the time when the penalty is actually carried out, to be in itself cruel and unusual punishment. I am so glad no one makes me pay for something I did twenty years ago. I am not the same person now that I was then, not by a long shot.

    Thanks for a passionate, wonderfully written article that reflected my own thoughts.

  3. GoI3ig says:

    Our entire system of “justice” is just a bit more than goofy. What is a crime in one state, may be legal in another. Some places a single murder conviction results in the death penalty, and other states serial killers are not eligible for that sentence.

    Worst of all, is the fact that many people on death row were put there by “eye witness” testimony that is really the weakest evidence of all. The innocence project has proven over and over again that there are many who are falsely convicted.

    I love it when I hear people thumping their chest extolling the greatness of our freedom in America, yet one out of every 140 of our citizens is in prison. It makes you go hummmmmm.

  4. BlueinCH says:

    I was a “fence-sitter” for years, in principle against the death penalty, while quietly believing that some people’s patently and overtly egregious crimes might warrant their no longer being among us. The problematic questions were always how it should be implemented and by whom, again assuming that the person(s) in question were actually guilty of the crimes.

    After Troy Davis, I am now firmly, absolutely and postively anti-death penalty, It seems to me that we cannot call ourselves a civilized society if we have one. For anyone.

    I am not the only one who has seen the light since. For that, I owe a debt of gratitude to Troy Davis. I hope that his family can receive some solace from the fact that their son’s death has marked a real watershed, IMO. I hope that I am right.

    • yukonbushgrma says:


      Me too. That story totally electrified me. And totally changed my view.

      He is a martyr, in the best sense of the word.

  5. carol wolfe says:

    Thank you for your commentary ms. moore,
    Well said!

  6. jwa says:

    Funny how European countries that our fundamentalist Christians decry as amoral, secular societies have uniformly banned capital punishment as immoral and wrong. While, many in the US claim we are a ‘Christian’ country and we seem to have no chance at all of outlawing the death penalty.

  7. buckydoc says:

    I am totally opposed to the death penalty. However, I did take the time to read through almost 200 pages of court documents on this case. I was convinced beyond reasonable doubt that Davis shot the cop. The “recantations” were sketchy at best. And to be clear, I started reading the documents ready to be outraged at the injustice of it all.

    It doesn’t change my opinion about the death penalty, but I don’t think he was executed for a crime he did not commit.

  8. Zyxomma says:

    I want the death penalty abolished throughout this country. I want this not only because innocent people have been convicted wrongly and executed, but because state-sanctioned murder is not sufficient punishment for the serial killer, the rapist-murderer, etc. Only sitting in a cell, knowing one will never leave it alive, is punishment enough.

    Apart from that, death row inmates, with their serial appeals, are very costly to the state. The guilty should rot in the hell that is life in prison without the possibility of parole. I don’t understand why so many so-called fiscal conservatives support the death penalty.

    • mikefromiowa says:

      If memory serves,fiscal conservatives tried to change the appeals process(and may have succeeded) to one appeal for a murder conviction and an inmate had thirty days from the date of his/her conviction to introduce any new evidence of their innocence. After thirty days they were SOL, even if video evidence showing another person actually commit the crime surfaced. RWNJ are more interested in vengeance and blood than in justice.

  9. Krubozumo Nyankoye says:

    One version – there is another at project Gutenberg that is more modern…

    The Ballad of Reading Gaol
    by Oscar Wilde


    He did not wear his scarlet coat,
    For blood and wine are red,
    And blood and wine were on his hands
    When they found him with the dead,
    The poor dead woman whom he loved,
    And murdered in her bed.

    He walked amongst the Trial Men
    In a suit of shabby grey;
    A cricket cap was on his head,
    And his step seemed light and gay;
    But I never saw a man who looked
    So wistfully at the day.

    I never saw a man who looked
    With such a wistful eye
    Upon that little tent of blue
    Which prisoners call the sky,
    And at every drifting cloud that went
    With sails of silver by.

    I walked, with other souls in pain,
    Within another ring,
    And was wondering if the man had done
    A great or little thing,
    When a voice behind me whispered low,
    “That fellow’s got to swing.”

    Dear Christ! the very prison walls
    Suddenly seemed to reel,
    And the sky above my head became
    Like a casque of scorching steel;
    And, though I was a soul in pain,
    My pain I could not feel.

    I only knew what hunted thought
    Quickened his step, and why
    He looked upon the garish day
    With such a wistful eye;
    The man had killed the thing he loved
    And so he had to die.

    Yet each man kills the thing he loves
    By each let this be heard,
    Some do it with a bitter look,
    Some with a flattering word,
    The coward does it with a kiss,
    The brave man with a sword!

    Some kill their love when they are young,
    And some when they are old;
    Some strangle with the hands of Lust,
    Some with the hands of Gold:
    The kindest use a knife, because
    The dead so soon grow cold.

    Some love too little, some too long,
    Some sell, and others buy;
    Some do the deed with many tears,
    And some without a sigh:
    For each man kills the thing he loves,
    Yet each man does not die.

    He does not die a death of shame
    On a day of dark disgrace,
    Nor have a noose about his neck,
    Nor a cloth upon his face,
    Nor drop feet foremost through the floor
    Into an empty place

    He does not sit with silent men
    Who watch him night and day;
    Who watch him when he tries to weep,
    And when he tries to pray;
    Who watch him lest himself should rob
    The prison of its prey.

    He does not wake at dawn to see
    Dread figures throng his room,
    The shivering Chaplain robed in white,
    The Sheriff stern with gloom,
    And the Governor all in shiny black,
    With the yellow face of Doom.

    He does not rise in piteous haste
    To put on convict-clothes,
    While some coarse-mouthed Doctor gloats, and notes
    Each new and nerve-twitched pose,
    Fingering a watch whose little ticks
    Are like horrible hammer-blows.

    He does not know that sickening thirst
    That sands one’s throat, before
    The hangman with his gardener’s gloves
    Slips through the padded door,
    And binds one with three leathern thongs,
    That the throat may thirst no more.

    He does not bend his head to hear
    The Burial Office read,
    Nor, while the terror of his soul
    Tells him he is not dead,
    Cross his own coffin, as he moves
    Into the hideous shed.

    He does not stare upon the air
    Through a little roof of glass;
    He does not pray with lips of clay
    For his agony to pass;
    Nor feel upon his shuddering cheek
    The kiss of Caiaphas.


    Six weeks our guardsman walked the yard,
    In a suit of shabby grey:
    His cricket cap was on his head,
    And his step seemed light and gay,
    But I never saw a man who looked
    So wistfully at the day.

    I never saw a man who looked
    With such a wistful eye
    Upon that little tent of blue
    Which prisoners call the sky,
    And at every wandering cloud that trailed
    Its raveled fleeces by.

    He did not wring his hands, as do
    Those witless men who dare
    To try to rear the changeling Hope
    In the cave of black Despair:
    He only looked upon the sun,
    And drank the morning air.

    He did not wring his hands nor weep,
    Nor did he peek or pine,
    But he drank the air as though it held
    Some healthful anodyne;
    With open mouth he drank the sun
    As though it had been wine!

    And I and all the souls in pain,
    Who tramped the other ring,
    Forgot if we ourselves had done
    A great or little thing,
    And watched with gaze of dull amaze
    The man who had to swing.

    And strange it was to see him pass
    With a step so light and gay,
    And strange it was to see him look
    So wistfully at the day,
    And strange it was to think that he
    Had such a debt to pay.

    For oak and elm have pleasant leaves
    That in the spring-time shoot:
    But grim to see is the gallows-tree,
    With its adder-bitten root,
    And, green or dry, a man must die
    Before it bears its fruit!

    The loftiest place is that seat of grace
    For which all worldlings try:
    But who would stand in hempen band
    Upon a scaffold high,
    And through a murderer’s collar take
    His last look at the sky?

    It is sweet to dance to violins
    When Love and Life are fair:
    To dance to flutes, to dance to lutes
    Is delicate and rare:
    But it is not sweet with nimble feet
    To dance upon the air!

    So with curious eyes and sick surmise
    We watched him day by day,
    And wondered if each one of us
    Would end the self-same way,
    For none can tell to what red Hell
    His sightless soul may stray.

    At last the dead man walked no more
    Amongst the Trial Men,
    And I knew that he was standing up
    In the black dock’s dreadful pen,
    And that never would I see his face
    In God’s sweet world again.

    Like two doomed ships that pass in storm
    We had crossed each other’s way:
    But we made no sign, we said no word,
    We had no word to say;
    For we did not meet in the holy night,
    But in the shameful day.

    A prison wall was round us both,
    Two outcast men were we:
    The world had thrust us from its heart,
    And God from out His care:
    And the iron gin that waits for Sin
    Had caught us in its snare.

    In Debtors’ Yard the stones are hard,
    And the dripping wall is high,
    So it was there he took the air
    Beneath the leaden sky,
    And by each side a Warder walked,
    For fear the man might die.

    Or else he sat with those who watched
    His anguish night and day;
    Who watched him when he rose to weep,
    And when he crouched to pray;
    Who watched him lest himself should rob
    Their scaffold of its prey.

    The Governor was strong upon
    The Regulations Act:
    The Doctor said that Death was but
    A scientific fact:
    And twice a day the Chaplain called
    And left a little tract.

    And twice a day he smoked his pipe,
    And drank his quart of beer:
    His soul was resolute, and held
    No hiding-place for fear;
    He often said that he was glad
    The hangman’s hands were near.

    But why he said so strange a thing
    No Warder dared to ask:
    For he to whom a watcher’s doom
    Is given as his task,
    Must set a lock upon his lips,
    And make his face a mask.

    Or else he might be moved, and try
    To comfort or console:
    And what should Human Pity do
    Pent up in Murderers’ Hole?
    What word of grace in such a place
    Could help a brother’s soul?

    With slouch and swing around the ring
    We trod the Fool’s Parade!
    We did not care: we knew we were
    The Devil’s Own Brigade:
    And shaven head and feet of lead
    Make a merry masquerade.

    We tore the tarry rope to shreds
    With blunt and bleeding nails;
    We rubbed the doors, and scrubbed the floors,
    And cleaned the shining rails:
    And, rank by rank, we soaped the plank,
    And clattered with the pails.

    We sewed the sacks, we broke the stones,
    We turned the dusty drill:
    We banged the tins, and bawled the hymns,
    And sweated on the mill:
    But in the heart of every man
    Terror was lying still.

    So still it lay that every day
    Crawled like a weed-clogged wave:
    And we forgot the bitter lot
    That waits for fool and knave,
    Till once, as we tramped in from work,
    We passed an open grave.

    With yawning mouth the yellow hole
    Gaped for a living thing;
    The very mud cried out for blood
    To the thirsty asphalte ring:
    And we knew that ere one dawn grew fair
    Some prisoner had to swing.

    Right in we went, with soul intent
    On Death and Dread and Doom:
    The hangman, with his little bag,
    Went shuffling through the gloom
    And each man trembled as he crept
    Into his numbered tomb.

    That night the empty corridors
    Were full of forms of Fear,
    And up and down the iron town
    Stole feet we could not hear,
    And through the bars that hide the stars
    White faces seemed to peer.

    He lay as one who lies and dreams
    In a pleasant meadow-land,
    The watcher watched him as he slept,
    And could not understand
    How one could sleep so sweet a sleep
    With a hangman close at hand?

    But there is no sleep when men must weep
    Who never yet have wept:
    So we—the fool, the fraud, the knave—
    That endless vigil kept,
    And through each brain on hands of pain
    Another’s terror crept.

    Alas! it is a fearful thing
    To feel another’s guilt!
    For, right within, the sword of Sin
    Pierced to its poisoned hilt,
    And as molten lead were the tears we shed
    For the blood we had not spilt.

    The Warders with their shoes of felt
    Crept by each padlocked door,
    And peeped and saw, with eyes of awe,
    Grey figures on the floor,
    And wondered why men knelt to pray
    Who never prayed before.

    All through the night we knelt and prayed,
    Mad mourners of a corpse!
    The troubled plumes of midnight were
    The plumes upon a hearse:
    And bitter wine upon a sponge
    Was the savior of Remorse.

    The cock crew, the red cock crew,
    But never came the day:
    And crooked shape of Terror crouched,
    In the corners where we lay:
    And each evil sprite that walks by night
    Before us seemed to play.

    They glided past, they glided fast,
    Like travelers through a mist:
    They mocked the moon in a rigadoon
    Of delicate turn and twist,
    And with formal pace and loathsome grace
    The phantoms kept their tryst.

    With mop and mow, we saw them go,
    Slim shadows hand in hand:
    About, about, in ghostly rout
    They trod a saraband:
    And the damned grotesques made arabesques,
    Like the wind upon the sand!

    With the pirouettes of marionettes,
    They tripped on pointed tread:
    But with flutes of Fear they filled the ear,
    As their grisly masque they led,
    And loud they sang, and loud they sang,
    For they sang to wake the dead.

    “Oho!” they cried, “The world is wide,
    But fettered limbs go lame!
    And once, or twice, to throw the dice
    Is a gentlemanly game,
    But he does not win who plays with Sin
    In the secret House of Shame.”
    No things of air these antics were
    That frolicked with such glee:
    To men whose lives were held in gyves,
    And whose feet might not go free,
    Ah! wounds of Christ! they were living things,
    Most terrible to see.
    Around, around, they waltzed and wound;
    Some wheeled in smirking pairs:
    With the mincing step of demirep
    Some sidled up the stairs:
    And with subtle sneer, and fawning leer,
    Each helped us at our prayers.

    The morning wind began to moan,
    But still the night went on:
    Through its giant loom the web of gloom
    Crept till each thread was spun:
    And, as we prayed, we grew afraid
    Of the Justice of the Sun.

    The moaning wind went wandering round
    The weeping prison-wall:
    Till like a wheel of turning-steel
    We felt the minutes crawl:
    O moaning wind! what had we done
    To have such a seneschal?

    At last I saw the shadowed bars
    Like a lattice wrought in lead,
    Move right across the whitewashed wall
    That faced my three-plank bed,
    And I knew that somewhere in the world
    God’s dreadful dawn was red.

    At six o’clock we cleaned our cells,
    At seven all was still,
    But the sough and swing of a mighty wing
    The prison seemed to fill,
    For the Lord of Death with icy breath
    Had entered in to kill.

    He did not pass in purple pomp,
    Nor ride a moon-white steed.
    Three yards of cord and a sliding board
    Are all the gallows’ need:
    So with rope of shame the Herald came
    To do the secret deed.

    We were as men who through a fen
    Of filthy darkness grope:
    We did not dare to breathe a prayer,
    Or give our anguish scope:
    Something was dead in each of us,
    And what was dead was Hope.

    For Man’s grim Justice goes its way,
    And will not swerve aside:
    It slays the weak, it slays the strong,
    It has a deadly stride:
    With iron heel it slays the strong,
    The monstrous parricide!

    We waited for the stroke of eight:
    Each tongue was thick with thirst:
    For the stroke of eight is the stroke of Fate
    That makes a man accursed,
    And Fate will use a running noose
    For the best man and the worst.

    We had no other thing to do,
    Save to wait for the sign to come:
    So, like things of stone in a valley lone,
    Quiet we sat and dumb:
    But each man’s heart beat thick and quick
    Like a madman on a drum!

    With sudden shock the prison-clock
    Smote on the shivering air,
    And from all the gaol rose up a wail
    Of impotent despair,
    Like the sound that frightened marshes hear
    From a leper in his lair.

    And as one sees most fearful things
    In the crystal of a dream,
    We saw the greasy hempen rope
    Hooked to the blackened beam,
    And heard the prayer the hangman’s snare
    Strangled into a scream.

    And all the woe that moved him so
    That he gave that bitter cry,
    And the wild regrets, and the bloody sweats,
    None knew so well as I:
    For he who live more lives than one
    More deaths than one must die.


    There is no chapel on the day
    On which they hang a man:
    The Chaplain’s heart is far too sick,
    Or his face is far to wan,
    Or there is that written in his eyes
    Which none should look upon.

    So they kept us close till nigh on noon,
    And then they rang the bell,
    And the Warders with their jingling keys
    Opened each listening cell,
    And down the iron stair we tramped,
    Each from his separate Hell.

    Out into God’s sweet air we went,
    But not in wonted way,
    For this man’s face was white with fear,
    And that man’s face was grey,
    And I never saw sad men who looked
    So wistfully at the day.

    I never saw sad men who looked
    With such a wistful eye
    Upon that little tent of blue
    We prisoners called the sky,
    And at every careless cloud that passed
    In happy freedom by.

    But there were those amongst us all
    Who walked with downcast head,
    And knew that, had each got his due,
    They should have died instead:
    He had but killed a thing that lived
    Whilst they had killed the dead.

    For he who sins a second time
    Wakes a dead soul to pain,
    And draws it from its spotted shroud,
    And makes it bleed again,
    And makes it bleed great gouts of blood
    And makes it bleed in vain!

    Like ape or clown, in monstrous garb
    With crooked arrows starred,
    Silently we went round and round
    The slippery asphalte yard;
    Silently we went round and round,
    And no man spoke a word.

    Silently we went round and round,
    And through each hollow mind
    The memory of dreadful things
    Rushed like a dreadful wind,
    An Horror stalked before each man,
    And terror crept behind.

    The Warders strutted up and down,
    And kept their herd of brutes,
    Their uniforms were spick and span,
    And they wore their Sunday suits,
    But we knew the work they had been at
    By the quicklime on their boots.

    For where a grave had opened wide,
    There was no grave at all:
    Only a stretch of mud and sand
    By the hideous prison-wall,
    And a little heap of burning lime,
    That the man should have his pall.

    For he has a pall, this wretched man,
    Such as few men can claim:
    Deep down below a prison-yard,
    Naked for greater shame,
    He lies, with fetters on each foot,
    Wrapt in a sheet of flame!

    And all the while the burning lime
    Eats flesh and bone away,
    It eats the brittle bone by night,
    And the soft flesh by the day,
    It eats the flesh and bones by turns,
    But it eats the heart alway.

    For three long years they will not sow
    Or root or seedling there:
    For three long years the unblessed spot
    Will sterile be and bare,
    And look upon the wondering sky
    With unreproachful stare.

    They think a murderer’s heart would taint
    Each simple seed they sow.
    It is not true! God’s kindly earth
    Is kindlier than men know,
    And the red rose would but blow more red,
    The white rose whiter blow.

    Out of his mouth a red, red rose!
    Out of his heart a white!
    For who can say by what strange way,
    Christ brings his will to light,
    Since the barren staff the pilgrim bore
    Bloomed in the great Pope’s sight?

    But neither milk-white rose nor red
    May bloom in prison air;
    The shard, the pebble, and the flint,
    Are what they give us there:
    For flowers have been known to heal
    A common man’s despair.

    So never will wine-red rose or white,
    Petal by petal, fall
    On that stretch of mud and sand that lies
    By the hideous prison-wall,
    To tell the men who tramp the yard
    That God’s Son died for all.

    Yet though the hideous prison-wall
    Still hems him round and round,
    And a spirit may not walk by night
    That is with fetters bound,
    And a spirit may but weep that lies
    In such unholy ground,

    He is at peace—this wretched man—
    At peace, or will be soon:
    There is no thing to make him mad,
    Nor does Terror walk at noon,
    For the lampless Earth in which he lies
    Has neither Sun nor Moon.

    They hanged him as a beast is hanged:
    They did not even toll
    A requiem that might have brought
    Rest to his startled soul,
    But hurriedly they took him out,
    And hid him in a hole.

    They stripped him of his canvas clothes,
    And gave him to the flies;
    They mocked the swollen purple throat
    And the stark and staring eyes:
    And with laughter loud they heaped the shroud
    In which their convict lies.

    The Chaplain would not kneel to pray
    By his dishonored grave:
    Nor mark it with that blessed Cross
    That Christ for sinners gave,
    Because the man was one of those
    Whom Christ came down to save.

    Yet all is well; he has but passed
    To Life’s appointed bourne:
    And alien tears will fill for him
    Pity’s long-broken urn,
    For his mourner will be outcast men,
    And outcasts always mourn.


    I know not whether Laws be right,
    Or whether Laws be wrong;
    All that we know who lie in gaol
    Is that the wall is strong;
    And that each day is like a year,
    A year whose days are long.

    But this I know, that every Law
    That men have made for Man,
    Since first Man took his brother’s life,
    And the sad world began,
    But straws the wheat and saves the chaff
    With a most evil fan.

    This too I know—and wise it were
    If each could know the same—
    That every prison that men build
    Is built with bricks of shame,
    And bound with bars lest Christ should see
    How men their brothers maim.

    With bars they blur the gracious moon,
    And blind the goodly sun:
    And they do well to hide their Hell,
    For in it things are done
    That Son of God nor son of Man
    Ever should look upon!

    The vilest deeds like poison weeds
    Bloom well in prison-air:
    It is only what is good in Man
    That wastes and withers there:
    Pale Anguish keeps the heavy gate,
    And the Warder is Despair

    For they starve the little frightened child
    Till it weeps both night and day:
    And they scourge the weak, and flog the fool,
    And gibe the old and grey,
    And some grow mad, and all grow bad,
    And none a word may say.

    Each narrow cell in which we dwell
    Is a foul and dark latrine,
    And the fetid breath of living Death
    Chokes up each grated screen,
    And all, but Lust, is turned to dust
    In Humanity’s machine.

    The brackish water that we drink
    Creeps with a loathsome slime,
    And the bitter bread they weigh in scales
    Is full of chalk and lime,
    And Sleep will not lie down, but walks
    Wild-eyed and cries to Time.

    But though lean Hunger and green Thirst
    Like asp with adder fight,
    We have little care of prison fare,
    For what chills and kills outright
    Is that every stone one lifts by day
    Becomes one’s heart by night.

    With midnight always in one’s heart,
    And twilight in one’s cell,
    We turn the crank, or tear the rope,
    Each in his separate Hell,
    And the silence is more awful far
    Than the sound of a brazen bell.

    And never a human voice comes near
    To speak a gentle word:
    And the eye that watches through the door
    Is pitiless and hard:
    And by all forgot, we rot and rot,
    With soul and body marred.

    And thus we rust Life’s iron chain
    Degraded and alone:
    And some men curse, and some men weep,
    And some men make no moan:
    But God’s eternal Laws are kind
    And break the heart of stone.

    And every human heart that breaks,
    In prison-cell or yard,
    Is as that broken box that gave
    Its treasure to the Lord,
    And filled the unclean leper’s house
    With the scent of costliest nard.

    Ah! happy day they whose hearts can break
    And peace of pardon win!
    How else may man make straight his plan
    And cleanse his soul from Sin?
    How else but through a broken heart
    May Lord Christ enter in?

    And he of the swollen purple throat.
    And the stark and staring eyes,
    Waits for the holy hands that took
    The Thief to Paradise;
    And a broken and a contrite heart
    The Lord will not despise.

    The man in red who reads the Law
    Gave him three weeks of life,
    Three little weeks in which to heal
    His soul of his soul’s strife,
    And cleanse from every blot of blood
    The hand that held the knife.

    And with tears of blood he cleansed the hand,
    The hand that held the steel:
    For only blood can wipe out blood,
    And only tears can heal:
    And the crimson stain that was of Cain
    Became Christ’s snow-white seal.


    In Reading gaol by Reading town
    There is a pit of shame,
    And in it lies a wretched man
    Eaten by teeth of flame,
    In burning winding-sheet he lies,
    And his grave has got no name.

    And there, till Christ call forth the dead,
    In silence let him lie:
    No need to waste the foolish tear,
    Or heave the windy sigh:
    The man had killed the thing he loved,
    And so he had to die.

    And all men kill the thing they love,
    By all let this be heard,
    Some do it with a bitter look,
    Some with a flattering word,
    The coward does it with a kiss,
    The brave man with a sword!

    • bubbles says:

      thank you KN. i had never read the ‘Ballad’. it is a breathtaking poem. wow.

      • Krubozumo Nyankoye says:

        You’re welcome Bubbles. Apparently you are the only one here that read it as well. Sad in a way and probably part of the reason we still have this scourage, this blot upon the collective character of our so called civilization.

        My favorite lines –

        But it is not sweet with nimble feet
        to dance upon the air

        For further reference if you are interested in Wilde, try De Profundis.

        His plays are also quite profound but scathing.

        Sadly, the organization of this blog is such that I doubt you will ever see
        this response.


        • benlomond2 says:

          be not discouraged KN… I view the “recent Comments” section constantly… and ALWAYS read your comments ….. I’m sure many do…

  10. Alaska Pi says:

    no more killing.
    not in my name. ever.
    i am sitting here with tears running down my face in gratitude shannyn.
    yes, mercy and grace.
    my beloved nephew was murdered 2 years ago. i can still hardly stand it. i can’t stand the loss. no more killing. especially not FOR me.

  11. LibertyLover says:

    I have trouble with this issue and wrestle with it often.

    While I don’t particularly like to think of the government putting someone to death in my name, and I think that most people on death row should not be subjected to the death penalty, I don’t have any sympathy for a person who intentionally, willfully, methodically plans to take another person’s life and then does so. I also think that proven serial killers deserve no sympathy.

    But the 10 year old boy who took his Nazi’s father’s life who doesn’t understand the ramifications of his actions deserves some measure of understanding. People who are serial rapists and murderers do not.

    I would generally be ok with incarceration without possibility of parole if we could be certain that these people really wouldn’t get out of prison. I would also be ok with the elimination of the death penalty except for the most heinous of crimes by proven serial killers like the Gary Ridgeways, the Green River Killer, and the Ted Bundys of the world. Mostly because those types of people have shown a persistent and repeated disregard for the value of life and would never have been rehabilitated. But when you start drawing the lines, where do you stop? Do you give the death penalty to a person who intentionally kills a person for insurance count? What about a jilted spouse? What about the person who kills their spouse to avoid a messy or costly divorce? What about OJ Simpson?

    But because we can make mistakes in our justice system, a system that is too prone to politics and hidden agendas and have been shown to have been wrong in too many cases, I really dislike the thought of putting even one innocent person to death.

    For this reason, if we had to endure the permanent incarceration of a Charles Manson or a John Wayne Gacy, if it could save a wrongfully convicted or an innocent person’s life, then so be it, I think that that would be a fair trade. And I think we could all live with that.

  12. Deni says:

    What galls me is these ‘pro life’ people are usually ‘pro death penalty.’ That has never made sense to me. And they’re mostly Bible thumpers as well. The commandment is, “Thou shalt not kill.” There are no exceptions.

    • Susan says:

      And I am pro-choice and anti-death penalty. Makes about as much sense as pro-life/anti-death penalty, if not less. Perhaps we should accept that they are two completely different topics and stop comparing them.

      • yukonbushgrma says:

        No, Susan ….. you make good sense.

        Let humans use their God-given gifts to make life decisions. To me, there is no no conflict.

        Problem is, many folks we’re dealing with are pro-choice and pro-death. Makes no sense.

        Bad news.

    • CanadianGuy25 says:

      Really, it says “Thou shalt not murder”, in context. In Judeo-Christian interpretation, wars are justified, capital punishment is justified, and self-defence is justified.

      If it were simply “Thou shalt not kill”, we’d all be vegetarians.

      As for the pro-death penalty/anti-abortion stance, I’ve always just assumed that those Christians are hunters and fishermen. Throw ’em back when they’re little, get them when they’re older.

  13. Anne in Texas says:

    In 2000 I was a legal assistant at a criminal defense firm here in Houston. We had never handled death penalty cases before but my boss, who had in the past had handled the defense in prominent criminal cases, was contacted by an appellate attorney for a last-ditch effort to save someone from execution. Gary Lee Graham: The appellate attorney and his wife/partner both believed strongly that their client (and ours) was innocent. After looking at all the documents I came to believe he was innocent too. So did the rest of the firm. Since this was a high-profile case, we had all these reporters there at our office on the final day. Everyone was too busy to deal with them so we just sat them all in the lobby while we made our last minute appeal to the Supreme Court while TDCJ was holding the execution. The Court rejected the appeal, so that was it. There was nothing else we could do except wait for him to die. We let all the reporters in and we all sat around the conference room table, not talking, staring at the TV and waiting for the announcement. Then we all cried. Not the reporters, just us. It sucked beyond belief. I mean you are just sitting there waiting to hear this person is dead, and that none of your efforts saved him. I don’t think I will ever get over it. Watching the news the day Mr. Davis’ life hung in the balance was excruciating. I fell asleep with the TV on before the Court had weighed in and when I woke up, I saw he was no more. It of course brought every minute of that last day back in 2000 to me. I will never, ever forget a detail of that day. I was pro death penalty until that specific case. As it stands now I am torn over it. I do not think I personally have the right to sentence someone to death. If I was called for jury duty I know I would say sorry, if it comes down to it, no way can I sentence someone to death. Yet there are two Texas cases that stick with me and make me so angry I want to kill. James Byrd, referenced in this article, is one of them. The other was the gang rape/torture/murder of two young girls in Houston. And I have to admit, when Texas executed the last one of that gang, I wanted to drive to Huntsville myself and be out there with those just waiting for him to die. This is their story:

    • Elsie says:

      Anne, I’m also in Texas. I support the death penalty for serial killers like Kenneth McDuff, when we have volumes of evidence that prove repeatedly, again and again, what animals they are. I had a certain naivete up until the time that I learned some of the details of the grisly horrors McDuff inflicted on his multiple victims.

      However, when there are big doubts, no weapon, no prints, no DNA evidence, multiple prosecution witnesses recant, and even several former prison wardens ask for mercy, then the condemned, like Troy Davis, deserves life.

      And an additional sad thing in the Troy Davis execution is that if he WAS innocent, the police officer’s killer remains free to kill again.

  14. mikefromiowa says:

    I take one exeption to your statement that as long as human beings run the show,there will be human error. I respectfully suggest that you would need argue long and hard to convince Moi that certain fundamentalist christians of a certain political party should be included in the term human beings. From what I have read about Troy Davis,he and the other party involved with him had each had a hand gun that night the off duty police officer was shot and killed. Neither weapon was found. According to reports,an earlier drive by type shooting occurred where Davis supposedly shot another person in the face. The police report claimed that one of the 30 some rounds fired in the driveby might be consistent with the shell casing where the P.O. was killed. Witnesseas claimed Davis was wearing a white Batman shirt and blue shorts. Police said he was wearing a white t-shirt and dark pants. There are too many conflicting facts from too many different people to even have probable cause for an arrest, let alone a conviction. Brewer was the guy that committed a hate-crime so heinous that dumbass dubya was sure was not a hate crime and would not sign a hate crimes bill into law. The death penalty as practiced by rwnj is certainly cruel,but by no means is it unusual. Stop the insanity. Get rid of rethugss.

  15. WakeUpAmerica says:

    Beautifully written, Shannyn. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  16. Judy5cents says:

    When I say that I’m against the death penalty, people always say “Well, what if someone raped and killed your daughter, how would you feel then?”

    My answer is, that yes, I’m very sure I’d want to kill that person myself. I’d want to make them suffer as much as I was suffering. Which just shows that execution is not punishment, or a deterrent to crime, or justice. It’s state sponsored revenge and I don’t want any part of it.

    I always felt that Timothy McVeigh should not have been executed, as he went to his death believing he was a martyr to his cause. He should have lived out the rest of his days locked in a cell. There would still be that possibility that some time, he’d wake up one morning and realize he’d killed children and he couldn’t live with that. But he’d have to.

  17. jwa says:

    Just last night I was watching the movie “The Interpreter” with Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn. In it, Kidman’s character tells of a ficticious African tribe with the following system of justice. On the one year anniversary of a murder, the killer is bound and dropped into the river to drown. The family of the victim has the choice of letting the killer drown or of saving him.

    Their belief is that letting him die will give them justice, but they will mourn forever. Showing the mercy of saving the killer will allow them to live a life not trapped in grief and mourning.

    What would You do?

    For those who often claim to know the mind of God – what do you think HE would have us do?

    • mikefromiowa says:

      If I was my fifth district Iowa congressperson Steve King,I would be looking for tax cuts for the wealthy and a way to make this Obama’s fault and file impeachment charges. I had not heard of this movie,you have now picqed my curiosity.

    • LibertyLover says:

      Yes. I like that movie… there is an especially poignant line when she is describing this justice:

      “Revenge is just a lazy form of grief.”

      Exactly. And It won’t bring back your lost loved one.

    • Pinwheel says:

      Such a wonderful belief “to live a life not trapped in grief and mourning”

      I believe the death penalty as practiced in America is a huge drain of money from counties, States, and the US Govt.. As statistics demonstrate this is not a deterrent to any level of crime perpetrated in our country. It is a concept based in the old testament, in which most of the stories really are mythic.

      The argument that it is less expensive to kill people holds no water. Our governments waste sufficient sums of money in their attempt to change/control behavior thru incarceration.

      Shannyn, thanx for who you are and what you do.. nem

  18. Dee says:

    I completely agree with you. I might feel differently if killing the person responsible brought back to life the person who had been murdered,but it doesn’t. There are those who commit crimes so heinous,it defies belief,such as Mr. Brewer. But killing him did not bring back Mr. Byrd. We are now the only nation that still uses the death penalty…hence the reason we can no longer get the drug used for human executions….it’s no longer available…but since we have plenty of poor helpless dogs to kill…there’s plenty of that drug available. I have great sympathy for the family of the slain officer,but I really question whether the death of another man will give them peace.

    • What would you recommend for the two killers of the Drs’ entire family….he had to listen to their screams, while he was tied-up and unable to do anything to stop them. I think this is appropriate for the death penalty, and have no problem seeing it used in THIS instance.

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