Snuffing Out of Hope


  DEATH ROW USA---TEXAS: Home to more than 450 condemned men and women. by “Muenda”

High strung men and women with a collective anxiety that is as heavy as all of Mount Rushmore. Living here is never easy. But some days are worse than others. And other days are worse than those. And that is where this writer is now: experiencing the worst of the worst days.

As in every society or community, people in prison form bonds too. Just as in the free world. It’s human nature really. As human beings are social beings. But in our world where man awaits death—or rather Death awaits man – bonding is a very risky thing to do. But how can we not, living as we are beneath the same horrible conditions and faced with the same very real possibility of being anesthetized like unwanted animals in a kennel?

Each man, in varying degrees, rely on the next for spiritual and emotional support (we must). Though we know somewhere on the back of our minds that each of us stands very much alone in this terrible situation. Every man is housed in an isolation cell by his lonesome, and the prison guards respond to us in groups, should for some reason we refuse to go out quietly and gently into the arms of Death when the executioner beckons.

But we try not to think about those days. They come soon and frequently enough under the Republicans’ policy of “gentle conservatism” The time is now, unfortunately, for a very close and dear friend: Emerson Rudd.

And so nerve wrecking is this for me that, as I write this, I’m drinking down black coffee like cheap whiskey.

 To describe Emerson as a close and dear friend tells only of one of many human relationships that he share: He is the grandson of Mrs. Earlene Chappell. The son of Dolores Rudd Williams. The siblings od Olivia Rudd and James Earl Rudd jr. The cousin of Tammekka Muhammad. And the nephew of Shirley Jones.

Emerson Rudd is a young black man who was all about a juvenile at the time of his arrest (only three weeks away from his 18th birthday). And he was, to be fuly honest, quite the defiant one when he came to death row. A product of one of Dallas’ roughest neighborhoods: South Oak Cliff. But what are we beyond mind and spirit and the material reflection of both? What is any of us really?

 A commonly used phrase that is made in reference to the countless of young and troubled delinquents who make up the many South Oak Cliffs of America is “lost to the streets”. But what is really meant by this? To even have a lost, or a win for that matter, there must first be two or more contending parties. So, who then, are in contention?

Theoretically it’s the good forces (parents, teachers, preachers) against the bad forces (gang bangers, dope pushers, gambling rings). And the collective mind of the youth of the communities (who are all in the beginning innocent) is the battle ground of centention. The youth who turn out delinquent are considered the lost battles, the casualties of the war. Thus the phrase “lost to the streets”.

But the line between the contending forces, the proverbial good and evil, are not always clear. It wasn’t clear for Glen McGinnis, who was 17 at the time of his crime, and who’s father was a drug-addict and mother a prositute. And whose steph-father beat and raped him, forcing him to run away from home at the tender age of 11 years old. His troubles ended on January 25, 2000 in Texas execution chamber.

 The line wasn’t clear for Joe Cannon either, who was also 17 years old at the time of his crime. And like McGinnis he, too, was sexually abused in the home. And so acute were his troubles that he was kicked out of school at the incredibly young age of six.

Struck by a truck at the age of 4, resulting in an irreversible brain damage, Joe Cannon was troubled all of his life. And at 17 he commited a crime for wich he was put to death on April 22, 1998 by the State of Texas.

Nor was the line clear for Emerson Rudd, another youth who turned delinquent early.

Reared in a dysfunctional home that was headed by a abusive drug addicted father, the young Emerson looked elsewhere (outside of the home) for love and family. His searh for love and family ended with his joining  a neighborhood street gang at the age of 11. But his troubles did not end. He was in and out of juvenile institutions until finally, just weeks after his 18th birthday, he partook in the crime for wich he is presently on death row.

He arrived on death row on April 13, 1989. It was only seven months after the commission of the offense, wich is unusually fast for such a grave and serious charge. And he is now slated to die on November 15, 2001 by lethal injection.

 It is so sad when one view it from a certain angle; when one remembers first that he was so young (only 11 years old) when he was first lost to the streets. And, now, he stands to be lost again for a second time. Only this round to the executioner.

His mind was never contended for and he won over by the good forces. Or was it? Perhaps it has been since his confinement, nut is kept hidden from the public by the forces that conspire against him; against us all. Forces that promote the false conception that the death penalty is reserved for the very worst of the worst. For unremorseful and and unrepentant men and women  who will forever be a danger to society and therefor must by all means put to sleep for the good of the people. As indicated by the Republican governor, Frank Keating, of Oklahoma in a June 10, 2001 television debate after having been asked “What is gained by the death penalthy?” to wich he answered “Well, justice is gained by the death penalty. Some acts are so horrific, some acts are so morally obscene that the taking of that individual’s life is the one way to compensate for those acts”.

But if one could visit death row and the much larger general prison population to do a comparative study of the different kinds of murder offenses (in terms of their horridness and the degree of sickeness of the compelling motives), one would ask questions repeatedly with great alarm: “Hey! How did he or she get here? Why isn’t this one overthere and that one overthere? Where is the consistency in the classifications? Who are the classifiers?

In just a short time one would learn that there is no formula, no true consistency (outside of class, race and gender-based considerations and of course, opportunistic politicking). The impostion of the death penalty is a complete capricious and whimsical process. It has much to do with the luck or rather the bad luck, of the draw. Kind of like hitting the big lottery. Only it’s a lottery that you don’t want to win.

As of June 10, 2001 there were 487.000 murders in the United States. Out of that number 685 have been executed. A number that doesn’t even approach 1%.

Just as it is nothing but false political propaganda that the death penalty is restricted to the most horrific kinds of murder (the Timothy McVeigh case being their favorite point of reference), it is also propaganda that sustains the notion that all of death row is bad and evil beyond reform.

The truth of the matter is that prisons generally, including death row, are microscopic representations of the outside world. And just as on the outside, you have the proverbial “good” and “bad” forces in contention. There are men and women who have acknowlegded and confessed the error of their ways; errant youth who have litterally matured behind bars, and whoe only aspiration is to get out and have another chance to do it right (to live right).

This does not describe all, no. There are prison gangs and career outlaws still. People who recruit and people who join. But, as I have stared, there have, as the ol’ cliche goes, “been there, done that” and they know better than any other to wich end such live lead. And amongst this group is Emerson: an ex-gang member who came to prison and to death row, too young to buy cigarettes. He grew up  and matured behind bars and under the influence of the positive forces at work.

He eventually help to found an organisation called Panthers United for Revolutionary Education (PURE) with emphasis on education and community development. PURE mainly targets  and works with the young new-comers in the hope and the belief that all will not be killed. That some will survive the holocaust either by blessing or stroke of luck. Get out of this hell one day and show the world their redemption and worth.

But this man, a friend and a brother, who dared to hope and inspire others to hope in a world where hope is forbidden, where hope is snuffed like candles, stands now himself to be snuffed out.


Go to our Action page to see what you can do to help save the life of Emerson Rudd and other victims of America’s system of injustice.