I am about to meet a convicted killer. A gunman murderer. One-to-one, face-to-face on death row in Ohio State, USA.
Two officers wait at a tall, untidy desk. They are friendly and jokey. One gives my papers and Passport a cursory glance, “Right, sir.” The other twists around and casually taps his keys against a small, thick-paned window at eye level behind him.
“This way, sir,” and I am shown through what I first took to be the door into the visiting room but is only into a shunting lobby, like you get on cattle pens. The door into the top security area is opened only when the door from the corridor is shut and locked. These doors are heavy, metal-clad and slam. Big old-fashioned keys grate in the locks. There is nothing hi-tech American here.
For a moment, hardly a minute probably, I am alone while one door clangs shut and the other is heaved open. A mere moment. But the claustrophobia is immediate and I find myself gasping for breath. And then just as quickly, there is the officer on visitors’ duty smiling at me and I’m shown through.
I’m in this huge, duff-yellow painted rectangular room. I look up and see that it’s actually an old prison unit with levels and tiers of balconies and cells going up and up. At the far end, at the last of several basic, round tables with attached seats, sits a large, muscular Black man grinning at me. He seems to be wearing pyjamas. The metal doors, the Dickensian keys, the film-set cells, and here, the man I’ve come to spend the day with who is under order of execution; there is a whiff of farce here, my mind struggles with the reality, like being introduced to a millionaire – a what!
Sadly, nothing about here is farce.
Tim. My HumanWrites’ penpal for the last six months who in the cosy comfort of my log-fire sitting room in the green-pastured UK I never imagined I’d ever meet. And there he is. Grinning. Grinning at me. I raise my hand and spontaneously wave.
I was expecting a glass partition between prisoner and visitor, like in the movies, so I say to the officer, “Is it alright to shake hands with Tim?”
“You can hug him, sir, if you want. Give him a kiss, I don’t mind!” and he laughs.
So I do. Hug him. l leave the officer at his desk and walk the length of this high, draughty building getting closer and closer and as Tim stands up to greet me, he extends this great paw of a hand and our handshakes melt into that permitted hug. It’s so good to meet this man; in six months of writing we’ve become real friends and this spontaneous hug is an expression, a symbol, of that kinship.
The pyjamas are, of course, his loose-fitting prison uniform. His legs are manacled together and chained to a hoop on the table.
Tim. My friend. A convicted murderer: murder would have given him a life sentence but Tim was found guilty of murdering a prosecution witness to an earlier charge. In Ohio that’s death row. That’s execution.
And in the first hour of the eight I spent with him that day, Tim insistently, like a train with no brakes, detailed what I had been avoiding in our letters: his case and his maintained innocence.
As I walked back out, back to the outside world, this thought came to me: in my naivety I had assumed that Tim must be guilty. For a 21st century American High Court to have reached this awful verdict, it must be so. Now I wasn’t so sure, no, not at all.
So what has this to do with Spiritual Emergency? For most people who I know of who have gone through Spiritual Emergency, the cause is internalised, created by discrepancies, incongruities, mismatches between what ‘I’ know intuitively to be the truth about life and the lie which our present society presents to this truth. The emergence starts as ‘I’ begin to comprehend this, to mould my reactions to life into thoughtful responses. There is hope.
Tim’s whole existence is in emergency. Internally he is lucid, intelligently thoughtful and steady. The mismatch for his life is external. Too many ‘if’s control his world. There seems little hope.
I don't know whether Tim is innocent or not. He said he will post me his case brief to read, then I can make up my own mind. I so want this very likeable man to be innocent, to be freed, to have an emergence from this nightmarish ordeal, to as Catherine would say, ‘return with the elixir’.
Synchronicity? Back in the UK some three weeks later, I hear of the case of Linda Carty, the British grandmother facing execution on a death row in Texas. The legal organisation Reprieve believes a massive miscarriage of justice has occurred; that she is innocent.
A quote I heard many years ago nags me: All it takes for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing.