The Night Before, as told by Tony Egbuna Ford

Note: the following details several events that occurred on Texas Death Row the night before the state-sponsored murder of Christopher Young took place (on 7-17-2018).

Back here on death row, the way that we are isolated makes conversation hard. Especially when you are not in the same section. On the side of the pod that I am housed we have three sections, A-C. On the other side of the pod, the other three sections are D-F. Each section is separated by a wall which separates each section’s 14 cells (7 cells on 1-row and 7 cells on 2-row) along with their day rooms, which are in front of the cells in that section. The only way into each section is through the crossover doors on 1 and  2-row and through the gate which leads into the section from the main floor. Inmates can talk with each other from day room to day room when we are allowed out at recreation, or we can attempt to yell at each other over the run, which is hard to do when there are other people attempting to talk in your section, or if someone has music playing particularly loud. Every now and then you will have inmates show some courtesy and allow someone to speak freely without interruptions or interference with other noises. The last few weeks, death row has been on lockdown, which means that we are locked inside our cells 24 hours a day. The only time that we are allowed out during this time is if we get a visit or are taken to Medical. For 3 days out of the week we are given a shower. Otherwise, we are locked in these cages (cells). So, because of this lockdown, a lot of the conversations that we have had to conduct with Chris was over the run. The main people that he talks with are Damon Matthews, who is over in B Section 1-row, Perry Williams who is in the same section that I am in, but he is on 1-row while I am upstairs on 2-row, and Ricky Cummings who is next door to Perry on 1-row in C section. The other people that Chris would like to talk to, but is not able to, are over on the other side. Anthony Medina and Rob Will who are over in D section, and Tomas Gallo and Jeff Prible who are in E section. And then there is Obie Weathers who is over in F section. Now because of the lockdown we have to pass messages over to the other side usually when the door to the crossover is being opened, or if someone from another section is placed in the shower in our section.

The night before Chris’ scheduled execution date courtesy was in full swing, allowing for conversation through the night. There was some crying and there was some laughing as we each took turns telling stories from our past together–reliving good times and bad times back here. Some time through the night, a female guard, who is new, came through with the Cleanup Squad– population inmates tasks with cleaning the floors and showers on death row. When she entered death watch (which is A section, where Chris is housed) a situation occurred where she had words with another inmate, and because she wasn’t sure of who it was, she just selected someone. And that ‘someone’ that she selected was Chris. Those of us who were talking with Chris didn’t understand what was going on. All we were told from Chris when he resumed conversation was that he believed that he was about to get gassed and that he loved us! That was all, so we were literally stunned as to this turn of events! I mean, one minute we were talking about how wonderful it would be for Chris to be able to have his daughter, along with Laurence and his Aunt Valerie, up at the radio station KPFT in Houston, on Bobby Phats’ show called “The Groove”, where a painting of Prince would be presented to Bobby Phats from Chris cause he knew that Prince is Bobby’s favorite artist. Now this?! Now Chris is about to be possibly gassed and ran in on by a five-man team of guards in riot gear–who would no doubt beat and hurt him?! When were we talking about his hope that he would get to meet the victim’s son, Mitesh Patel, and NOW THIS?!

In the intervening moments that went by, every time that we seen a guard who works the pod, we would inquire about what was going on, only to be told that, “Chris threatened a guard”. We kept saying, “No, he didn’t” and “We was just talkin’ with him”. Then, Chris calls out to us that he has asked for rank to come down. We asked him to tell us what is happening and he said, “Hold tight! I’ll get back with you all!”, and then he was gone again. It was eerily quiet. As if everyone was holding their breath. But I could tell that the tension was building for all of us who love Chris. Without anything needing to be said, I knew that everyone who normally talks with Chris was getting ready to possibly be gassed along with him! This is something that he would not have wanted, but it is something that would have happened, cause the love and solidarity that we have with/for Chris would have dictated nothing less! In the meantime, while trying to find out what was going on, we were watching the doors to the pod to see if a team was coming or if the rank was going to come down. At the same time, we were trying to get messages to the other side to let the guys over there know what’s going on.

Once the rank came down, first it was Sergeant Steele from what we learned later, the conversation went something like this:

Sgt. Steele: “Chris, why did you threaten my officer?”

Chris replied: “Look, I give you my word, cause my word is my bond, that I didn’t say anything to that guard!”

Sgt. Steele answered: “You are JUST an inmate. I’ll side with my officer ALWAYS.”

Chris then said: “Then why are we even talking? I gave you my word that I didn’t say anything to her. There’s nothing more to say. Do what you do. No matter of fact. Why don’t you call Lieutenant Couch, cause talking with you is useless!”

Sgt. Steele then left. Around this time, other people in their various sections started to become aware of what was going on and so the tension on the pod rose even more, with some of the guys getting belligerent and making declarations of their own of what they would do if something happened to Chris. This didn’t and wouldn’t make things easier, so where we could– namely myself on this side and Tomas on the other side– we started telling guys to leave it alone and to chill until we could find out what is happening. Cause things could go from bad to worse real quick if the guards get scared. When they get scared, they react. If they had guns instead of canisters of gas, there would be a lot of dead inmates, specifically black and Mexican ones! And despite how things was looking, I know that those of us in Chris’ inner circle wanted a peaceful resolution to the situation that was happening over in death watch–no matter who that situation was happening with. But as is the case with death watch now, and as is the case with death row, many of the guards walk through death row as if many of us have personally done something to them. It is hard to talk with them. And many of the senior guards, who are supposed to keep the younger, newer guards in line, just don’t. So what you have are guards who will purposely walk through death watch with an antagonistic attitude, trying to provoke the men over there. This was the case on this night.

When Lt. Couch came down he spoke with Chris. Because of their history, which at first was not very good, but as Chris changed into a more positive person the belief was that their past personal feuds was settled and left where they belong– in the past. However, that was the first thing that Lt. Couch brought up, the past, and so Chris said to him,  “I thought we was past all of that? Yet you throw that in my face again, while I am trying to resolve this situation?” And even as Chris is saying this, we learned later that the person who did get into it with the guard kept saying, “WHY ARE YOU MESSING WITH CHRIS?! I AM THE ONE SHE HAD WORDS WITH!”. Showing that some guards, whether they be new, old, ranking officer, or whatever just wanted to start shit with Chris, and possibly have a use of force against him one more time! I guess for “good ol’ time’s sake”! Fortunately, Lt. Couch continued to talk with Chris. And as he did, Chris asked him to just look into the situation and he would see that he never said anything to the guard who was accusing him of threatening her. What ended up transpiring, when the situation was finally looked into, is that it was revealed that if the guards working the pod, or Sgt. Steele, had just asked the guard who accused Chris of threatening her, they would have found out that it wasn’t him. She clarified who it was. Because she is new, she couldn’t identify who it was by name and so she ‘guessed’ that it was his cell! The situation was resolved without Chris having to get gassed and ran in on by the five-man team. Still, we was pissed cause it is something that never should have happened! After they (guards) were finished in death watch, we was able to talk with Chris and find out what happened. But, he didn’t want to focus on that. He wanted us to get back to the things that was important to him. And that wasn’t one of them. So, despite the things that had occurred and the things that was threatened against him, Chris had us laughing again. Taking our minds away from that situation and helping each of us to try and come to terms, as best we could, with what might happen the next day.

The day of Chris’ scheduled execution date and the events of the night before couldn’t have been more different than day and night! I had a wonderful visit with Chris’ Aunt Valerie. Chris was able to meet Mr. Patel face to face, in a visit that TDCJ tried too hard to prevent. Yet, it happened as both of them had long been wishing. A few of the brothers in Chris’ inner circle was fortunate enough to be able to listen to the radio program “The Groove” hosted by Bobby Phats over on KPFT. So, we were able to hear his daughter Crishelle speak over the radio, along with his Aunt Valerie and good friend Laurence, who presented Bobby with the painting of Prince that Chris did. And in between music breaks, we would talk over the run saying how wonderful everything was going. A whole bunch of “ALREADY JASIRI!!!”, calling him by his adopted African name. The night, into the early morning, turned into one of celebration. Celebrating Chris. Showing him the love and respect that he so richly deserved. And shouting out our love to him as he was escorted from the pod to his final visits with his family. The final day of Chris’ life would have been vastly different had the events of the night before been allowed to happen. But, because of Chris, it was resolved. Things was resolved in a manner that shows who he is. Something that the parole board rejected. But something that those of us who know him fully understand: Chris is a truly GOOD MAN that the state of Texas took away from us and his family. Still, his goodness and positivity will always be remembered. We all love and miss you, lil’ brother!

Always,

In Strength and In Spirit!

Tony Egbuna Ford

July 18, 2018 @ 4:10 pm

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Statement to Abolitionists from Christopher Young, set to be executed by Texas in July

I Love the People

#SaveChrisYoung

I want to thank you for the solidarity and love. Good day to you and good day to the struggle across the world. I want to thank you again for all of the support for not only me but for every prisoner captured in bondage. Without you, there would be no us. I want to give you your flowers while I’m here and give you your flowers for the others that have no voice.

I’ve been fighting this struggle with you for the last thirteen and a half years. Fighting with the likes of the D.R.I.V.E. Movement, the PURE movement, the International Socialist Organization, and the Workers of the World Movement. I also have to mention the LGBTQ Movement, the #MeToo Movement, the TDPAM, and the TCADP Movement. We all fight the same struggle.

I want to thank you all for being here. Today is not only a day for struggle but also a day for love and solidarity. If you don’t feel the love and solidarity from your comrades, then you’re here for the wrong reasons. The love should be flowing throughout the crowd. Throughout the people. Love flows no matter where you are.
I’ve been on death row for thirteen and a half years. With that time I’ve been fighting the struggle against the death penalty. Fighting the struggle against poor housing, fighting the struggle against the inhumane treatment that has been dealt out for all these years.

When I joined D.R.I.V.E. (Death Row Inner-Communalist Vanguard Engagement Movement) I did it because I went through the same system every lower-class individual would go through in my situation. The trial process I went through was a sham. The living conditions I’m subjected to are inhumane. Having to eat inedible food, suffering contaminated ventilation, having no human contact, living in sensory-deprived housing. It is an unjust classification system that has been outlawed in numerous other states such as Arizona, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Those states have all been a part of the fight. I’ve been continuously gassed, ran in and beat up by this system’s riot team, and beat up for the struggle. I accepted and loved it all. Fighting for the people is something I was taught was necessary for the ones coming after me.

I compare this struggle I’m in to the struggle my people were subjected to starting well over 400 years ago. I was one of the rebellious individuals who jumped off the ship on the crossing of the Atlantic in another lifetime. I was Denmark Vessy, Nat Turner, and John Brown when it comes to this housing and treatment.

Again I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad you’re fighting alongside of me. The struggle hasn’t changed. The struggle hasn’t stopped. The struggle continues. The death penalty is still around. Classism is still prevalent. The struggle continues.

I’m still here but now I’m facing an execution for July 17th. I’m not only to be murdered but I’m to be assassinated. Yes I said that. I’m Troy Davis. I’m Trayvon Martin. I’m Michael Brown and Sandra Bland. I’m Stephen Clark and Sheed Vassell. I’m no different from those getting gunned down in the streets by a police officer that’s overstepping their authority for no reason besides that they can.

What I ask the people is to continue to fight. Fight against the death penalty. Fight against the systemic violence and corruption.

We still have rights in this country and we need to speak up for them.

I’m Stanley “Tookie” Williams, I’m Kenneth Foster, and I’m Mumia Abu Jamal.

I’m Chris Young. Let’s continue to fight for another life discarded with no thought. Let’s #SaveChrisYoung.

I love you like I love the struggle. Shout out to the struggle and remember what Huey always said, “POWER TO THE PEOPLE!”

#SaveChrisYoung

 

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About his case:

Christopher was convicted and sentenced to death as a young man for a murder which occurred during a convenience store robbery in San Antonio. Over a decade later, he is now facing his execution as a very different man. His case shows not only the arbitrariness of executions, and the fact that many on Death Row are capable of change, but the case also exhibits many of the legal problems we often see in death penalty cases. The jury selection in his case was very biased, and his lawyers are now arguing for a new trial due to religious discrimination against a prospective juror, which is often a cover for excluding people of color from juries.

Statement from various faith leaders:

chris young faith leaders

If you are a faith leader who would like to sign on: http://goo.gl/forms/H55ubzL7nj

If you think Christopher deserves a chance for a new, fair trial, which can only happen with a stay of execution, or want to show support for his sentence to be commuted (to a life sentence), please ask the Board of Pardons and Paroles for a stay of execution and to recommend clemency for Christopher. You can also contact Governor Greg Abbott directly and ask that he grant Christopher Young clemency.  In your letter, please include this information: full name: Christopher Anthony Young; birth date: September 24, 1983; TDCJ#999508

Catholic Mobilizing Network offers a sample letter, an email form, and some information on clemency here: https://catholicsmobilizing.org/event/christopher-young-1

Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles
8610 Shoal Creek Blvd, Austin, TX 78757
Fax: 512/467- 0945
Email: bpp-clemency@tdcj.state.tx.us or bpp-pio@tdcj.state.tx.us.

Governor Abbott: https://gov.texas.gov/contact

Sign this petition to the governor here: Mercy For Chris Young

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Interview about the Death Penalty

I, the editor, recently completed the following interview by email. The interview was used by a college student for a capstone project, but I thought it would be worth sharing my thoughts here. Let me know what you think in the comments.

1. Many opponents of banning the Death Penalty Argue….

It is an “eye for and eye”.
It works as a deterrent to violent crimes.
It can be used as a tool to get people to plead guilty to avoid getting the death sentence therefore saving money for future trials.

What are your thoughts?
I think these arguments can be shown to be flawed. Morally speaking I disagree with “an eye for an eye” because I don’t believe we make things right by perpetrating more violence and traumatizing and punishing another family. The family of the victim doesn’t gain anything through the suffering of another family. To me the moral response to violence is healing and preventing future violence, not reacting to violence with more violence. Currently we see that while attention and resources are being geared towards incarceration, execution, and court battles, the victims are often not receiving the support and resources they need to recover, and their voices, opinions, and needs are seen as secondary or irrelevant to the desires of the prosecutor and district attorney who are motivated by politics and their careers.
The argument that the death penalty deters crime is not backed by modern data. We have seen states in the southern US and countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia continue to execute people at higher rates than the rest of the world, but there continues to be frequent violence in these areas. The death penalty has been used heavily for 30 years now and has not drastically reduced the amount of serial killers, domestic violence related shootings, and mass killings, or deterred the daily gun violence we see here. We began executions again in the US in 1977 and in Texas in 1982, and during that period we actually saw several increases in the US murder rate until the mid 90s, which those spikes happened to also correspond to the Reagan era and many social issues happening at that time. I would argue, and most current data seems to show, that is because the rate of violence is affected by many societal factors such as poverty, lack of mental health services, drug epidemics, environmental factors such as lead exposure, age of the population, and easy access to guns, and not by the threat of execution.
The fact that many countries and states without the death penalty have much lower rates of violence could be a testament to the lack of evidence that the death penalty is an effective or necessary means to prevent violence. Most modern experts discount any deterrent effect and argue that people committing murder either are not thinking about consequences, or believe that they will not be caught or will not end up on death row. My experiences with death row prisoners would support that assertion as well. Ultimately we have seen a fairly steady murder rate for some time, but a drastic drop in the use of the death penalty. This is not due to a lack of horrific and violent crimes, but rather it has been attributed to the reluctance of juries to hand out death sentences and the fact that many prosecutors have stopped seeking it. I believe we are seeing an acknowledgement that this system is not viewed as effective and a push toward rehabilitation and prevention as more favorable policies.

Using the death penalty as a “tool” to get plea deals actually strikes me as part of the flawed ideology that has created an epidemic of wrongful convictions in this country. I have heard several wrongfully convicted people say they were threatened with some version of “confess or get the needle”. I can see how the price of murder trials is an issue for taxpayers. My response would be that we need to stop using the death penalty and to resort to less costly alternatives. Bad convictions are expensive because the taxpayers will pay for restitution, and the costs of more litigation with the wrongfully convicted. Death penalty appeals are very expensive to taxpayers, but are a necessary part of the death penalty process to try to ensure justice. Ultimately, ending that system is a better, more cost effective option than using it as a scare tactic.

2. Many Proponents of abolishing the Death Penalty Argue…

· It is cruel and unusual punishment therefor unconstitutional.
· It is a flawed process and too many people are being wrongfully convicted and executed.
· It leads to false convictions due to people pleading guilty even if innocent in order to avoid getting the Death Penalty.

What are your thoughts?

The death penalty is cruel and unusual for several reasons. One reason is that administration of the death penalty is completely arbitrary. Only a small number of U.S. counties are seeking death sentences regularly. This has always been the case since it was reinstated. We have also seen people held for 30 or 40 years before being executed, and those who face execution over and over again and develop “death row syndrome” because of the trauma it causes. There are issues around mental health and low IQ and whether it is cruel to execute people who are clearly mentally ill or have a limited understanding of things. Several men on Texas Death Row had well documented mental illness before their crimes and they would likely be sent to a mental health institution in many other countries or even in other states in the US with different standards and policies from Texas. Furthermore, the issues with lethal injection, that have stemmed from an EU ban on selling lethal injection drugs to us, have arguably caused many questions about the “humaneness” of the current way of killing inmates. There have been several prolonged executions and other signs that people were in pain or gasping for air when they should have been paralyzed during the execution process.

There is no doubt that people are being wrongfully convicted and that we have executed innocent people, two of those being Cameron Todd Willingham and Carlos DeLuna in Texas. I have personally met about a dozen people who were or are on death row despite strong evidence of their innocence and the struggle that these men and women go through to get exonerated is incredibly difficult and it should be concerning to anyone who cares about justice. There is no morality in promoting a system that kills innocent people. We have over one hundred fifty cases to prove that it is happening.

Just as we have a crisis with the amount of innocent people on death row, the use of the death penalty and other harsh sentencing has created a systemic problem of innocent people accepting plea deals for lesser charges. This is not justice and it is also not fair to the victims when poor police work and political ambitions get in the way of finding the truth and looking at violent cases in an honest way. Instead we are just throwing people’s lives away, dehumanizing people, sometimes lying to victims and not actually providing any solutions or justice in the situation.


3. In my research I found the biggest moral dilemma to be whether the government has the right to choose if a person lives or dies.
What are your thoughts on this?

I do feel that is a major moral dilemma and as someone who values freedom I do see the right of the government to kill as a threat to freedom and democracy. When we look at the context of executions worldwide and in history, they often have greater political implications and go hand in hand with repressive governments. Many abolitionists argue that the U.S. history of lynchings is connected to executions. We can see an underlying theme of race based repression in US executions with their prominence in the South and with the over-representation of black men on death row. So I see this as a major moral issue that is at odds with a free society. Countries like Saudi Arabia and the Philippines show what can happen when we allow the death penalty to be used more widely, which is the targeting of dissidents, sexual or ethnic minorities, and drug addicts, and a collapse of any semblance of fairness or justice. There is also a moral issue with the government ignoring the wishes of victims who are against the policies they promote, whether it is executions, life without parole, or giving a child life in prison. Many victims are in opposition to these policies, whether it is because they forgive the person, or that they believe in rehabilitation, or have religious views that make them against the death penalty. One such group is Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation, which actively seeks alternatives to the death penalty and promotes restorative justice options.

4. In my research I have identified proponents of banning the Death Penalty to value the sanctity of life, rehabilitation and justice and opponents to banning the Death Penalty to value safety, security, cost efficiency and justice.
What are some of your values?

I value justice, equity, rehabilitation, healing, accountability, and safety.

5. In my research I have identified that proponents of banning the Death Penalty seem to be obligated to Death Row inmates, their families, the wrongfully accused, & all American citizens especially those who don’t have the money to hire lawyers.
I have identified that opponents of banning the Death Penalty seem to be obligated to victims, their families, future victims, and American citizens.
Who do you feel obligated to?

I feel obligated to inmates and their families as well as victims and future victims, the wrongfully convicted, and all Americans; that is why I try to focus on better solutions to violence that will benefit all of us as a whole. I think we often overlook that victims are sometimes also family to the accused, and that a significant amount of victims oppose the death penalty and sometimes openly fight against executions, so being anti-death penalty is in no way inherently in opposition to supporting victims.