- Preparation for a play is time consuming because memorizing lines and blocking (the action/movement) is as tedious as it is repetitive. The Hidden Voices production of Serving Life requires a lot of patience and energy. It took over a year to produce the essays used in the composition of this play and another four months to memorize and rehearse the 77 page script. On December 18th we will give our performance and after that I hope to return to a more consistent blogging schedule.
- At the beginning of October I received the course materials and texts for three advanced paralegal course from the Center for Legal Studies. They are a continuation of my pursuit for greater knowledge about the legal system and the best way to understand and write about criminal justice and penal reform. As straight forward as that sounds, registering for these courses and receiving the materials in a timely manner is anything but. The process of registration took nearly a year with Adams State University acting as a poor excuse for an intermediary. That’s what I get for pursuing an education outside of my alma mater – Ohio University. Registration issues are a small part of the difficulties one faces in pursuing a higher education on death row. Anyway, easing into Criminal Procedure, Constitutional Law and Intellectual Property has been a brain cramping challenge in addition to my other activities. I’m still not sure the US Supreme Court used English in the 19th century.
- There is a Tuesday creative writing class that I’ve begun to lose interest in for a reason I’m ashamed to admit, but will do so to better understand why. Originally this “mental health” class was designed to focus on topics related to incarceration. Over the last few months our focus has shifted to the Black Lives Matter movement, police curbside executions of innocent black men, and the subject of race. I was initially okay with writing about and discussing this nationally relevant topic as the only white man in a class of black men. However, the more we read black literature—Beloved by Toni Morrision, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehishi Coates, various essays by Richard Wright, James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison—I grew increasingly frustrated by the subject matter. I never experienced or witnessed racism until I got to North Carolina’s death row. To delve into the matter so thoroughly and remain objective is impossible. In my mind there spun this problem that, while many of the guys in here experienced racism and were influenced by it their entire lives, it does not totally account for their crimes. I couldn’t leave myself out of the equation. Bad things happened in our lives – some of it was systemic discrimination – but it cannot totally account for incarceration no matter what the circumstances, or who the famous author may be. I’ve struggled understanding the ease with which some people slip into the role of the aggrieved, but as soon as that though crosses my mind there’s a seed of doubt: do I feel this way because I’m white? It’s not a subject I’ve ever had to confront in my mind, nor is it in any way comfortable. So I trudge through the reading, frustrated and annoyed and unable to deny there has to be a reason for my resistance to all of it, one greater than my inability to relate on a subject that concerns every human being of every race, religion, creed, national origin and sexual orientation.
- At some point in October we were told to write a short story based on one of the prompts given to us by Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove (please Google his name, he’s written a lot of books). While trying to decide which prompt and what kind of story I stumbled across a piece of an article about leprosy. In this Smithsonian article was a brief paragraph about what the used to do to lepers in Hawaii until a cure for the disease was developed. Sufferers of Hansen’s Disease were given a choice: immediate execution or exile to the leper colony on the island of Moloka’i. There was no judge and jury or legal rights. Once it was determined a person had leprosy there were arrested and stripped of their humanity in a matter of minutes. I had my story. The challenge was writing such a harrowing tale from the perspective of an immigrant girl. I love writing challenges and almost immediately after I saw that small paragraph about the leper colony in Hawaii a story took shape in my mind, one I spent weeks cultivating. In the Shadows of Moloka’I can now be viewed under the tab: “Lyle’s Other Writing”.
- As if all the rest wasn’t enough I’ve got this habit of jumping at the chance to push my abilities. Probably a result of never doing so in the free world, but I’ve yet to really see all of my limits. So I signed up for another “mental health” class called Houses of Healing, modeled after the book by Robin Casarijan. It is group therapy, which sucks, but it’s something I can endure as I imagine people endure castor oil. Yeah, it’s that bad
- So of course I wouldn’t be me if in the midst of writing, reading, studying and self-imposed group therapy, stray ideas didn’t pop into my head. You know, the kind you just can’t shake because they’re really awesome or creative. My idea evolved into a fairly large project I will eventually devote more posts to in the future, but for now will briefly outline. There are 21 people on NC’s death row that do not have a GED or high school diploma. What if they were able to get a GED much like I did my associates degree—through a private sponsor? This is what privatizing education reform is about after all – citizens taking matters into their own hands because the government is incapable or unwilling to meet a specific financial need. There is a GED program available to regular population prisoners, but not death row. The reason is fairly simple – why spend state money on men condemned to die? Despite the thorny, oxymoronic nature of that question (1-2 million dollars per death sentence people!) and our isolation from regular population prison programs, I aim to help these men attain their GEDs through a crowdfunding program on Gofundme.com. There are still many details to iron out and, despite the difficulty of doing so, I’m trying to convince certain prison administrators of the necessity of a limited GED program for death row. For now though the need does exist and as somebody who benefitted from a privately sponsored education in prison, it behooves me to help others fulfill that need.
Prison is hell. Death row is the bottom floor of hell, but suffering can have purpose no matter how endless or seemingly insurmountable. I’ve discovered that filling my time with the pursuit of knowledge totally redefines what incarceration means for me. I guess that’s the point though, as Robin Casarijan writes; “I give people and circumstances the meaning they have for me.”