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 Eric’s unit is on lockdown (all privileges, including hot meals, withdrawn because someone misbehaved – this isn’t the place for more detail) but Eric rejoices that he has been allowed a visitor, is glad that he is in good health at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
Eric's convict number is #999228. He 37 years old and is an inmate of the Polunsky Unit, Livingston, Texas.