If you had five more days to live, what would you do with them? I’m sure some people would be off doing a last minute swim with dolphins or flight along the Grand Canyon. Others would be more interested in spending time with friends and relatives and saying their goodbyes. Maybe some of use would frantically try to finish the one special novel that really is going to live for ever!
But what if you have to spend those last five days locked in a prison cell measuring just six feet by ten feet? On one of the days your sister and son whom you haven’t seen for eleven years will visit. On two of the days your friend and pastor will be allowed in for eight hours and four hours. On your last day you will be allowed to make a few calls to people in the USA and a couple of people in Europe will be allowed to phone you. You will eat your last meal.
This, as you may know, is the situation of my penfriend Eric Cathey. Several of you have very generously supported my Facebook campaign to save his life. As it stands, the prospect looks bleak. News in only this afternoon is that the Texas Defenders’ Service, a group of anti-death penalty lawyers, is making a last minute Harbison Claim (whatever that is!) which may make a difference. There is still time. Last minute stays of execution are very rare but do sometimes happen. A stay is only a temporary reprieve but as there is evidence that Eric is innocent (as he has always stated), our brightest hope is that his name, in the end will be cleared.
Meanwhile, how will Eric spend the rest of his time?
I think he will spend much of it writing. In the last few weeks, his letters to me have increased in number and in length. And let’s face it – if you are dependent on friends to send in books, you have nothing but a radio for entertainment and you are only allowed out for an hour’s exercise once a day and not at weekends, what else is there to do?
All this has forced me to reflect on how precious and liberating it is to be able to write. Eric comes from a very deprived and challenging background. Right now his freedom has been completely curtailed. And yet, through his writing, his spirit can fly free. In an almost completely isolated yet public environment, he can still create intimacy and community, he can still enjoy companionship and, indeed, love.
In these, possibly his last days, when it is almost too late for any more letters to arrive, his pastor is still taking in e-mailed messages and he can still send letters out.
What an invaluable skill – or is it an art – we practise! How should we use it? It is too precious to be degraded – and that can happen so easily! I am sure we all have our own opinions about how!
‘Texas Death Row’ is a publication by Penguin which appears to be updated regularly. It is simply page after page of photos of those executed in Texas with details of their crimes and last meals. Who would want to read such a book? I ask myself. And perhaps more significantly to writers of this blog, who wants to write it and why? To me, it seems an obscene degradation of a priceless art. But then I am biased. If the worst comes to the worst, my friend Eric will appear in the next edition. Maybe the writer is busy researching it now. I find that idea almost as chilling as state execution itself.