A few weeks ago I found myself deeply affected by the impending execution by the State of Georgia of Kelly Gissendander who was convicted of participation in the death of her husband. My denomination, The United Methodist Church, and my personal beliefs are against the death penalty, no matter who the person is or what they have done. I have not been an activist against state executions in a number of years.
But hearing the story of Kelly Gissendander and seeing pictures of her smiling face in her graduation from Chandler School of Theology hit me in a different way. I found myself watching the clock, refreshing my Twitter feed in order to find out what was going on, and praying, praying, praying. Kelly was not put to death that evening and has had a temporary stay put on her execution.
I have been wondering about why I was so captivated by Kelly’s story when there are so many facing the same fate. I confess: I think it was because she looks like me, she’s not that different from me. In the right (or wrong) circumstances, it could have been me facing death on death row.
I was reminded of this quote by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-1956), The Gulag Archipelago
I truly believe that we all have within our own hearts the capacity for both good and evil. So how can I condemn and condone the state killing of someone on my behalf?
Since that evening of Kelly’s reprieve, Manuel Vasquez was killed by the state of Texas and I didn’t hear a thing about it. There are 13 other executions scheduled in the United States this year. Thirteen other children of God facing death on my behalf as a citizen of the U.S. Lord, have mercy. Show us the way.
Let’s continue to fight for life. In the name of the executed and risen Christ. Amen.
– Shane Claiborne
3 thoughts on “#kellyonmymind”
Re: the death penalty. When I was young and I tell this story all the time, the cousin of one of my small town classmates, (same classroom as I), was killed in the neigboring town. Her body was found sexuallymolested, killed and abandoned on the railroad tracks that ran through their town and ours. I knew the highway crossing just yards north of where her young body was abandoned. We were all too young to deal with this. we were maybe 8, maybe 10. A few days later a man was arrested for the crime. At the time my little inner voice said, “he’s not the man”. Don’t ask me why or how I knew that. That would be another long and speculative story. Sure enough, my sophomore year in college or was it my junior year. This man was released from prison. The alleged blood on his underwear that had been held up by the prosecuting attorney as proof that he had done this crime turned out to be red paint. Though requested that item had never been shared with the defense attorney the first of whom probably had never asked for them. I don’t remember how many times over the years he had been pulled back from execution by one appeal after another. But the man who had been the prosecuting attorney, he was the father of another of my classmates. The county sheriff the father of another. These were men that I knew. For me, it was never about fancy ideas about justice or saving money, (The appeal process is very expensive.) it was the knowledge that sometimes good people, people I know, can send a man to death that they have reason to believe is not guilty. Once you know that, you can’t ever go back to innocence and trust. A human life once taken can not be returned.
For some reason the case was one of those that caught the eye of the press and I would follow it over the years even though we moved out of state. It’s funny for years I remembered his name just as most of us remember Lee Harvey Oswald’s name. And for the life of me I no longer remember it and can not find it in google searches. I remember his final exoneration was featured in Life magazine. I just spent some time googling looking for this and the number of times we are mistaken in our judgements/in our rush to judgment is mind boggling. Unlike Kelly he was not attractive in anyway. He was already one of the many who live life on the edges, somewhat mentally ill, somewhat functional, poor and disconnected. Indeed, let us pray.
Oh, my. What a lesson you learned at such a young age. Thank you for sharing it. You have seen it up close. Lord, have mercy.