Can facing death teach us to live stronger? From birth there is only one thing we’re promised and guaranteed in life and that’s death. Personally, I don’t recognize this process as dying, rather merely a transition, but this is not the time to express my after-life beliefs though I’ve come to grips with death on a far more personal basis than most human beings. Death row is a purgatory of sorts. Purgatory is defined as “supposed place or state of expiation of sins after death before entering heaven; place or state of temporary suffering or expiation”. Definitely, death row seems to be a twin image of this “middle ground”.
The most grueling experience I’ve encountered on death row was not coming face to face with other prisoners or even aggressive guards, but the process of making friends. Being next to men preparing to die is probably the most profound spiritual experience and struggle known to man, because here, you have no choice but for face this reality and tackle it (thus becoming liberated) or be tackled (and face a life of misery and pain). So, while living your own personal and piercing journey you inevitably experience the journey of others; the most profound ones being those of your friends whom you’ve come to care for and ultimately love like family.
Imagine for a moment, if you will, having to line up your father, brother, uncle, cousin and even your son for a murder that you know is coming and there’s nothing you can do about it. How vicious and tormenting would that pain be? Well, this is the pain we feel daily!
I’ve experienced this pain numerous times at different degrees. My first challenging experience was when a friend of mine (James “Jamil” Means) was scheduled to die in 1998 (at the time I had only been on death row a year and a half). While being on death row for over 20 years Jamil had become a student of the Buddhist lifestyle and had attained a knowledge and inner peace that most people only read about and/or dream about. Through our friendship he planted seeds of enlightenment about the depth of the humans spirit in me. As we looked eye to eye that day I knew a great being was leaving us (physically) and I cried for that loss like a man cries for his own blood brother.
In 2000 the execution date of my friend Coruthers “Big Al” Alexander followed. I looked upon Big Al like an elder and in the parody of his execution taking a deep toll on my life it also provided me with one of the greatest gifts ever and that was the lesson of manifesting things in ones life. In Big Al’s last days he left me with the valuable gift of through Though, Prayer and Action we ultimately Manifest. These have been steps I have followed in my life.
While these were two of my close friends there have been many men here that affected my life. Seeing ones like the the reformed and spiritually grounded Napoleon Beasley created a great sense of admiration in me yet despair in regards to this system as it because obvious they are ruthless and bloodthirsty. The causes of men like Desmond Jennings, Ponchai Wilkerson, Shaka Sankofa and Emerson Rudd fighting fervently until the end instilled in me a deep feeling of love, respect and appreciation for my God given right to life.
One by one, each of the souls that have faced slaughter in this State has touched my life in paramount ways. From each of the persons here I have incarnated different pieces of truth, balance, strength, knowledge and love. So, while I still remain in the middle of this journey steadily watching the pendulum of death sway from excruciating to enlightening I find myself learning how to survive. When the day comes that I must embrace the beyond and unknown I can look back on the pieces of wisdom I’ve gathered from these souls and fully accept that the act of dying is truly one of the natural acts of living. Because of this, and the way these men have faced their destiny, I walk forward with no fear, venturing trough each day wiser that the last, realizing that whatever I manifest tomorrow will only come to be from how strong I live my today.