North Sydney sister’s dead man walking experience
For the last ten years, North Sydney Sister of Mercy, Anne Drover has been corresponding with Elkie Taylor, an African-American man on death row in Texas, USA. Several years ago, Elkie told Anne that his name and date of execution had “gone up”. “I lived out the next weeks and months overcome by this knowledge,” says Anne. “A reprieve did come about, but I fear that there will be no more such, and soon he will be another ‘dead man walking’.”
My friend, Elkie Taylor and I have been corresponding for almost ten years. Elkie is an African-American on death row, in Texas, USA, and I began writing in answer to an appeal from Amnesty International. I don’t know the reason for his sentence, but I do know that he is a fine person, coming from a background of extreme poverty, alcoholism and total depravation. Moreover, his intelligence is well below average, so just how culpable is he? In many ways he exhibits the simplicity and wisdom of a child. While in prison he found Christ, and his letters reveal a strong faith and love for God. Fortunately a minister of religion visits and supports him regularly.
Most of the letters I receive begin with a cheerful greeting and sending best wishes to “all the sisters”, though I doubt very much wether he really understands what a nun is. He addresses me as “Mrs Sr”. He also thanks God every day that he is still alive. His sentences are interspersed with little smiley faces.
But time is running out. His appeals have gone through the regular processes and met with rejection at every stage, though I had been given to understand that his low IQ could (would?) very likely lead to a mitigation of sentence. Several years ago he told me that his name and date of execution had “gone up” and I lived out the next weeks and months overcome by this knowledge. However, a reprieve did come about, but I fear that there will be no more such, and soon he will be another “dead man walking”.
Will his death be by a surge of powerful volts of electricity, or will they use the newer, more ‘humane’ method of execution by injecting into his body a cocktail of lethal chemicals? This method has been temporarily halted so that it can be improved upon, the last victim having endured a long and excruciatingly painful death.
American jails presently house approximately one million inmates, many awaiting execution after a member of last-minute “stays”. As the popular protest song of the 60s questions:
“How many deaths must one man have
Before they’re forever banned?”
The majority of the condemned are black, poor, and from violent and abusive backgrounds. Race plays a crucial part in the US judicial system, and it is second only to China in its appalling disregard for human rights. There have also been cases of innocent men wrongfully put to death. In his latest, Elkie writes:
“Please you and the other sisters put Elkie, Sarah and Steve (his sister and brother) on you all prayer list please. Thank you all so, so much and my God keep us all in his beloving arms. My friend I will keep you up on whatever have with me on my case. If something go wrong you will no about it from Mrs Sarah-Ann, are my minister friends. But I pray that I will beat this death sentence of November 6, 2008. I no with blessing and prayers come nothing whole me back will our Gods hands around my body, because i belong to God not no else but our God Amen. Amen! Love you my sister in Christ. Blessing and Peace.”
From: Sister Anne Drover RSM (North Sydney)