Southern Conviction

But what then is capital punishment but the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal’s deed, however calculated it may be, can be compared? For there to be equivalence, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date at which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not encountered in private life. -Albert Camus, writer, philosopher, Nobel laureate (1913-1960)

Recently I heard about a bunch of WWII German POWs who had been incarcerated in a camp in the Arizona desert in 1943. A lot of them had been U-Boat sailors and wanted to get back to the war and continue sinking Allied ships. They feigned a great interest in volleyball and convinced their American guards to give them shovels so they could improve their playing surface. What they were really doing, though, was digging an elaborate escape tunnel. They even had a map showing a creek nearby that eventually emptied into the Colorado River. The plan was to drag their home-made collapsible rafts through the tunnel, get to the Colorado and then escape to Mexico to link up with Nazi agents. On the day of the great escape, they popped out at the daylight of the other end of the tunnel to find a dry drainage ditch instead of a creek. They didn’t take into account that the “creek” that was on the map was seasonal. As they pondered their mistake, one can only imagine that they revisited their plan in their heads and wondered why they didn’t have more doubts about its success.

Another recent radio program told about an Iranian medic in the war against Iraq back in the 80s. One horrific day he had to pull mangled Iraqi corpses out of a bunker. As he got deeper into the bunker he heard a low moan. Since Iraqis had been known to booby- trap corpses so that they exploded when moved, he understandably had great doubts about proceeding when he heard the moan again. But he went ahead and pulled a dead Iraqi off the pile and found a bloodied but still living soldier on the bottom. He managed to drag him outside and bandage him up. They both survived that carnage and became friends and were reunited outside Iraq years later. He overcame his doubts.

Last night after dinner, I realized what time it was and that Troy Davis was soon to be executed in Georgia. I read today that his last words from the gurney with the needle already in his arm were addressed to the victim’s family and his prison guards:

“I’d like to address the MacPhail family. Let you know, despite the situation you are in, I’m not the one who personally killed your son, your father, your brother. I am innocent. The incident that happened that night is not my fault. I did not have a gun. All I can ask … is that you look deeper into this case so that you really can finally see the truth. I ask my family and friends to continue to fight this fight. For those about to take my life, God have mercy on your souls. And may God bless your souls.”

The idea of doubt suddenly took on a much more serious meaning which should make us all pause. One can doubt when such things happen if there really is some sense of God.

“There ain’t no Devil, only God when he’s drunk.”–Tom Waite

In such cases, we often hear of “justice being served,” whatever that means. I respect and honor the feelings of the victim’s family. And my heart is heavy for their loss. But I also doubt whether this man was guilty as charged. He’s gone now, so right or wrong, it no longer matters for him.

My cousin Mark, the father of four young daughters, was killed on the streets of Dayton, Ohio, in 1966 during the race riots that were exploding at the time across the country. He was just at the wrong place at the wrong time and was White. It took my aunt many years to resolve her anger and get beyond her wishes for vengeance. Although the killer was never prosecuted and she never had to follow the anguish of the appeals process, the killing of her only son was with her the rest of her life. But my aunt eventually lost any desire for vindication, put her racism behind her, and turned her sorrow toward helping others–Black and White–in her small community.

She left her certitude behind and gained doubt as a replacement. She never looked back.

David Evans

David Evans

I'm retired from another life and live in the mountains of eastern West Virginia with my muse Jody along with one little and two big dogs and a diminishing pride of two cats and other critters who come along the path from time to time. I retired one morning years ago when I woke up and said, "This is the day." It was simply time to do something new with my life. I had done whatever I did long enough, and now it was time to do something else. Being independent and no longer in the reins of someone else's driver, I believe I have found something to cherish that I never had before. Retirement may be dull and boring, but that's true only if you are dull and boring. But if you’re like I was, and am, I saw a lot of things as I went along the trail that I would have liked to linger over a lot longer if I had had the time to spare. Above all, I wanted to think about what they meant and have the chance to go back over them and figure them out. I'm not abashed to say that today I lead a life of real luxury. I also recognize that I'm a lucky boy. In the words of Katherine Anne Porter: "My life has been incredible, I don't believe a word of it." I am the author of the recently published collection of essays entitled Meeting Memory In The Dark. Earlier I self-published Words To Woo Her By And Other Distractions Along The Way; Tunes of Glory: The Slow Ticking of the Heart; Cradle My Soul: Glimpses Into Other Lives; and Unscheduled Stops: Essays on Love, Loss and Other Roadside Attractions. All are available on either Amazon or Create Space, a subsidiary of Amazon. Proceeds go to the Almost Heaven Golden Retriever Rescue and Sanctuary in Capon Bridge, West Virginia.