A dear friend of mine who is incarcerated at the infamous Polunsky Unit, home of Texas’ Death Row, is the author of the second installment of ELLA’s New Voices series. I have known Paul now for two years and have visited often. Paul is a gentle giant and thoughtful soul whose worst mistake in life was not to stand up to his friend when he learned his plan for the day. Paul did not kill anyone. This is not a mistake he should die for.
Paul is sentenced to death under the Texas Law of Parties, which basically states that Texas can execute anyone who was present at a crime that resulted in the death of another, even if that person is not the killer. While Paul moves closer to execution, his partner the day of the crime and triggerman who killed a store manager during the course of a robbery, now sits in general population serving a life sentence for murder because he made a deal with the prosecutor. Paul went to trial believing that justice would prevail and that he would be given, at most, a prison sentence (which he believes he deserves) for his role in the crime, not a death sentence.
Paul’s mother is Marilyn Shankle-Grant, my sister from another mother. She and I lean on one another often because we both understand how the other feels when she thinks of her baby growing up, and possibly dying, in the custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Neither one of us gets to mother our children the way we wish we could. At least I get to hug my son. Marilyn has not touched Paul once in five years. If the state of Texas does execute him, she won’t be allowed to touch him before he dies. Only afterwards will she finally be able to give him the mother’s touch I know he so badly misses.
This inhumanity is what “justice” in Texas is all about...
Paul has been on Death Row five years now and has engaged in numerous acts of non-violent protest over the conditions he and the others live in. When I asked him to write for ELLA, this is what he sent.
Please leave Paul feedback in the comment section. I will send it all in to him. If you’d like to write him directly, you can send your letters to the following address:
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351
My love to all of you,
Not What You Think
When a person is on the outside looking in, the first image that probably comes to mind upon hearing the words “Texas death row” is of a cold-hearted killer; someone who has no regard for human life; someone who will murder another just as easy as they would open a can of soda…only someone like that could be housed here.
A long time ago, before I understood the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” and I was still a free man, I probably had a thought like this. After meeting and getting to know the people on death row, I wouldn’t dare to think so foolishly again.
There are a lot of good men in this place. Many have looked out for my well-being, both mentally and physically. Even more, they’ve kept me focused on the positive when my mind veered toward the negative. If I am having a bad day, they ask me what is wrong and are sincere with their concern. I can share a secret with them and be confident not another soul will ever know it because the particular individual I told it to is trustworthy. There are some I would go as far as letting them come around my family members. The men here exercise, play games, laugh, read comic books, and every thing else associated with being a normal person, not a heartless murderer.
More often than not, when the media speaks of death row, they make a lot of harsh comments and this creates a domino effect, resulting in most of the world thinking a similar way, or maybe even worse. We become known as the scum of the earth, animals, monsters, and even, sometimes, boogeymen. Yet if these same people who call us such horrid names were ever to meet me, or any other death row inmate, they would see….we are simply men who made a mistake. We are not men who deserve to be executed.