The anticipation had grown. There was a sense of tension, despair and anger in the air. The word was – it’d be a fight to the end! As I stood in the death row recreation day room watching the dreaded death watch cell officers began to take some of the inmates in the day room back to their cell. We all knew what was approaching and because the situation was escalating my request to stay in the day room remained unobjected. I stood close to the caged window watching the correctional officers approach the deathwatch cell. I could hear them talking through a broke out window – “Jennings, are you coming out?” Their reaction of walking away answered that. As they left, I peered into the cell trying to focus my sights through the covered cell. The cell had been enclosed by a piece of metal grill. This was installed as a protection for officers preventing a desperate or purposeful act of violence from the prisoner awaiting his trip to Huntsville for execution. As I got my sights I saw the young warrior. He was wrapped from head to toe in cloth-protection for the upcoming war. All jokes aside he looked like an Arabian in the desert or even a ninja. Within a few minutes a team of about 8 officers filed in suited in riot gear. As they lines up next to the death watch cell the ranking officer pulled in front of the cell and asked once again, “Jennings, are you coming out?” With the continued stance of resistance the war began. A long stream of pepper gas was sprayed into the cell. This gas is atrocious and creates extensive burning of the eyes, infringes in on breathing, irritates the skin and induces coughing and gagging and has even caused death.
As I stood watching this my blood began to boil and my heart raced with fury; fury of being helpless and knowing… this could be me! The young warrior began to pop a blanket he had in his hands trying to push the gas back out the cell, but the metal grill only acted as a shield incubating the gas in the cell. As the brother remained resistant to these men attempting to take him to a state sanctioned murder another long stream of this vicious gas was released into the cell. The popping of the blanket continued. As I looked back to the few others that were in the day room with me I could only shake my head and say,” this is messed up!” In the process of looking towards the other persons in the day room something caught my eyes that held my attention in a very awing way. I saw nothing but pure hopelessness in their eyes, it was very disturbing and what was even more disturbing was… they were just sitting there. Internally this enraged me because I thought to myself this is a man on death row, whether we know him personally or not (which I didn’t) we can’t sit here and act like this is nothing. At the exact moment I turned around to face that window and I yelled, “ FIGHT SOULJA! FIGHT THESE PIGS!” The hopelessness I saw in these people’s eyes turned into vigilance in my voice and as I witnessed this man standing alone in his excruciating fight I refused to let him stand alone, I refused to allow him to see a fellow brother on death row, in the same boat as him, sit there as if nothing was happening. By then the gas began to seep through a couple of broken windows and I began to cough from it. I couldn’t help but to say out loud, “damn this stuff is strong.” I could only imagine what the man in the cell was going through. Again, the officers let a spray into the cell and this time Jennings began to gag and choke very loudly. I continued my yelling, “STAND STRONG SOULJA! STAND STRONG!” The ranking officer told his squad, “Get ready!” He then yelled to the picked control officer, “Get ready to roll the door!” Then, at the end of a count down he yelled out, ”Roll it, Roll it,” and like a set of bloodhounds out the gate the riot team stormed the small cell and the fight began. You could hear the tustling and Jennings (quite an in shape young man) was putting up a most powerful fight. My whole body exploded into a combination of cusses and threats to the officers as I was screaming at the top of my lungs, “FIGHT SOULJA! THAT’S YOUR LIFE IN THERE!” I repeated this several times. The ranking officers observing this struggle could no longer ignore me and looked back to take note of who this raging prisoner was.
It was a vicious struggle and it took a few minutes to subdue and cuff Jennings.
My insides were hurt as I watched them bring him out. I can only say that as my pride and anger would not let a tear release, my insides were flooding with them. I couldn’t think of any words worthy to be given to this man I only let out, “ God’s going to bless you soulja. God’s going to bless you.” Out of pure vindictiveness one of the officers looked over to me and gave me the “cut throat” sign running his thumb across his neck. It was a reminder to me of this war, a sign that there is no mercy where we are concerned.
Yes, I did know it was through and that Jennings was at the end, but the war has just begun.
This day I speak of was November 16th 1999. The man was Desmond “Des” Jennings; a young black male that went down the wrong path that lead him to death row. While I didn’t know Des, many brothers I knew did and respected him and gave him much credit for the self- educated plight he endured. The awaking to his roots as an African man had given him the knowledge and strength to stand in his time of peril. It gave him the knowledge to not fear death, to love his life and to take his right to live into his own hands by fighting for it. And while this is not a time for me to politic with those who preach an eye for an eye this society is wrong and a full blown hypocrit for killing its citizens when it propagates do not kill.
Desmond Jennings not only made history that day in the struggle from death row as being one of the very few in death rows existence to physically fight to the end, but he made a statement to society and to those of us that claim to be strugglers and conscious men. As we sit here in the midst of death row striving for betterment in life and seek outside help for our cases, how, when and if the time approaches, can we not stand up and fight for our lives? This statement has nothing to do with race, colour or creed, but with the common bond that ties all of you here into the same boat. We’re all condemned to be murdered by the state of Texas. This in itself makes none of us (white/black, innocent/guilty) better than the next. As African men though we look to our ancestors history as freedom fighters and tribal warriors and the call for us to remain as such is embed in our souls, period!
It has become my belief that any man physically capable should fight to the end. I say this for several reasons. For those of us that stress the death penalty is wrong, we must uphold that belief through every ounce of our being; mentally, spiritually and physically. We do so mentally through our writings, spiritually through our self-education and growth and must do so physically. I’ve known many young men that professed to be fervent strugglers walk to their execution. What type of statement does this make? It says hey, this is ok. This is fine to be happening. Some of these persons have accepted last meals! What type of statement does this make? It says – I now eat from my enemies hand. The same system that kept me confined and mentally tortured awaiting murder now wants to give me a feast. How sadistic is that?
We have allowed a sense of acceptance of this inhumane process to go on. We have allowed a visual of acceptance that our lives are not worth anything. Were to blame for this. As I have discussed my stance not only with fellow comrades, but my family as well, I have declared that I will fight to the end. I have also declared that others should do the same. We have to realize that a statement MUST be made to society that this is NOT ok and we do not accept it. If I reach out for help from compassionate and human members of society I feel it’s the ultimate sacrifice for me to show I meant my life was worth something. I will not dignify my captors, oppressors and murderers by eating food from them; a meal that at no other time would they offer me. Their bon voyage banquet will NOT be accepted here. We must get this societies attention.
The day after Desmonds fight a Sgt. that was present spotted me in the day room and called me to him. He told me if I ever did that again I’d find myself in solitary (it would be written as “creating a disturbance”). He said he was not “threating” me, but was just telling me. I told him “I knew that yesterday;” and walked off. His point was – don’t ever speak up for yourself or another inmate; in fact your actions may ignite others. MY point is – at that point 11/16/99, I decided to fight with my comrades the best way I could and would do the same for myself and the cause. I will follow in the path (if my time comes) of vigilant brothers like Shaka Sankofa, Ponchai “Kamau” Wilkerson and Emmerson “Young Lion” Rudd.
I will not accept the victim’s role. For me to submit myself to a victim’s role is to submit and subdue my rage and my rage is the fuel I use in the fight for justice and equality. I will not submit my rage for a consent of murder on me.
Following this writing piece you will find 2 unique poems that capture my intense feelings towards this matter. One is written in an eccentric fashion full of historical and conscious symbolism and the other is a bit simpler. Two tips of the same flame. In the simpler one (which this writing is named after) I state:
We’ve got to rewrite history
Showing the world we went to peace unpeacefully.
Would be a contradiction
If life wasn’t so precious
While people say it’s no use to fight, their going to strap you in and kill you regardless, I say the are wrong that it’s “no use.” This fight has nothing to do with fearing death or not being at peace, infact the 4 men I’ve named we’re spiritually and mentally intune, but it’s the point it makes. We must challenge the thinking process of the public; which the majority of them think the death penalty is right.
These are actions that show them a role is being played by them just as much as the officers who beat and cuff us, to the one who presses the lethal injection button. As they approve it they approve what comes from it; no different than approving a war where bombs get dropped and masses of innocent civilians are killed. We have to rewrite this twisted history. We cannot be contradictions of ourselves by not showing life is precious. Years ago in places like Europe executions were carried out publicly like social gatherings. Whose to say that the building up of that sick and vile regimen is not what has led them to now be the leading advocates to abolish the death penalty? Perhaps this is now why this sick method is carried out behind closed doors. If this process is so just and the government is so proud of it, why hide it? I say because the horrors of it will enrage people and connect to that beautiful compassion WE ALL have in us towards one another; that which they don’t want you to surge forth for it would extinguish their dictatorship over our every action, thought and well being. Point being, we here must surface these horrors once again so the people will know that monster still lives in our society, but now has a painted face.
While we may gain no physical reward, remember this, the only way to be free is to struggle and dedicate to a cause and fight without fear and through our ability to justify our cause we have broken every chain of oppression placed upon us. The message will be heard, the message MUST be heard, so how could we deny – The Time is NOW!