Friday, 24 October 2008

Glad, glad, glad... - Meg Harper

I’ve just read John’s ‘Pollyanna’ blog and boy, do I need to hold it in mind right now. Writing fiction? What’s that? Most of my writing time (I also run a youth theatre, am training to be a counsellor and spend far too much time doing school visits!) in the last week seems to have been taken up by sending e-mails, letters and Facebook messages because I have a penfriend, Eric Cathey, on Death Row whose execution date has been set for November 18th. I’ve recently been given the go ahead by his attorney as writing ‘can do no harm’ so am writing as much as I can in an attempt to save his life. The chances of my writing – or anybody else’s writing – making any difference are so slim (this is Texas I’m talking about and they’re executing two a week at present) that I almost feel like not bothering and working on the kids’ novel I’m trying to draw from the horror. (‘Wow! That’ll be a big seller then, Mum,’ says my sixteen year old daughter. ‘For 12-14 year olds? You think?’ She wanders off, shaking her head at her mother’s lunacy.) But my husband, the one who does the real work around here and funds my craziness, is sanguine. ‘You’re a writer. You have no choice. That’s what you’re here for.’ He doesn’t mean the fiction.
It was 85 days ago that I heard the news. There are 26 left out of a friendship that has lasted over 3 years. My latest letter arrived yesterday. Eric’s unit is on lockdown (all privileges, including hot meals, withdrawn because someone misbehaved – this isn’t the place for more detail) but Eric rejoices that he has been allowed a visitor, is glad that he is in good health at present and writes:
‘Yesterday my friend 6:6 fixed us something to eat and I swear, I never thought chilli and corn chips ever tasted so good! : ) So I got a chance to eat a good meal while listening to my favourite team win their first game of the season!’
Eric has been in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day for eleven years now, with no TV, just a radio. I think he could empathise with Pollyanna at the worst moments! What a continual and very present reminder he is to me to value my smallest blessings, including, as John points out, the support of my community. (The phone goes – it is a friend, bless him, checking that I am OK. Timing, hey?) Eric values the friends he makes shouting through the doors and the bars of the exercise areas, the few visitors who can visit once a week and talk to him through the plexi-glass and the letters from his eight penfriends. Even on Death Row the survivor makes community. Those that cannot, for whatever reason, lose their minds.
So yes, John, let us be deeply Pollyanna-ish in our gladness for whatever we have and most of all for the support of our communities – and, as we are writers, let us be particularly grateful for the communities we make through our writing.
If anyone does want to write or e-mail in defence of Eric, I would be very grateful. Personally, I don’t care if he’s guilty or innocent of the murder of which he was convicted; I am against capital punishment. But Eric has always claimed he is innocent and there is doubt about the ‘safety’ of his conviction, which has been the subject of several petitions. The details you will need are as follows:

Governor Rick Perry,
Office of the GovernorP.O. Box 12428Austin, Texas 78711-2428

e-mail: publicrecords@governor.state.tx.us

Eric's convict number is #999228. He 37 years old and is an inmate of the Polunsky Unit, Livingston, Texas.

11 comments:

Lucy Coats said...

As writers we are 'programmed' to take in experience and use it in our writings--whether sooner or later. Your husband it right, Meg, you have no choice. And whatever happens on Nov 18th (and I pray it won't be the worst), your newly written words and present actions will let Eric live on. I've been quietly thinking of him every day, and have written to Gov Perry by email. Never think that trying to save another human life is anything other than a good thing. And thank you for prompting me to count my own blessings today.

Lee said...

Thanks for reminding us of the larger world and that writing is not everything. I too will email, since I consider capital punishment barbaric.

Katherine Langrish said...

I've emailed too, Meg.

Meg Harper said...

Thank you! As some of you will know, I'm boring on about this on every possible screen space so thank you for bearing with me and for taking action! Eric says, 'Stay positive'!

Nick Green said...

I just emailed.

The awful irony is that, touch wood, the new President elected mere days after the planned execution date is unlikely to be a man sympathetic to the death penalty. What seemed 'right' yesterday may seem very wrong tomorrow...

Nick Green said...

P.S. Got my dates wrong, the election is of course before that date. Not that I imagine it'll make a lot of difference... I'm not even entirely sure what Obama's stance is, though I imagine he is considerably more liberal on this matter. But Texas is Texas.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

I've written and sited Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu as being perfect examples of men... 'who instead of taking violent action against the white people of South Africa, were capable of extending peace through passive action. Execution is an act of violence. Must I bite my child because he bites another? Or must I instil in him a respect for humanity?'
Not sure any of this will help but thinking of you these next few weeks, Meg.

Anne Rooney said...

There's also a world coalition petition you can sign: http://www.worldcoalition.org/modules/news/article.php?storyid=170

I've written to the governor, Meg, and included a few bits from my book about capital punishment.

Meg Harper said...

Thank you so much, everyone. Have been away for a couple of days celebrating my 25th wedding anniversary which has been a welcome distraction! Too right about the election, Nick! Will just have to wait and see on that. Will follow the petition link, Anne. Is your capital punishment book a novel or factual? Happy to chase on amazon but if you think I need a title, do let me have it! Thanks again everyone. Your support is hugely appreciated.

fionadunbar said...

Have signed the petition and urged non-Sassie Facebook friends to do likewise, Meg.

Suzy said...

I have emailed also Meg. I have only been writing to Eric for a short time (unlike yourself) and I truly believe, after reading much on the internet etc, that there is doubt re the 'safety' of his conviction.