Responding to the faux-Confession

I finally responded to Garry’s long letter. I wasn’t really sure where to start, I mean, his letter was very intense and very dense. So I just said that. I told him how much I appreciated his honesty and how much he trusted me to share his story with. I told him when I was reading it how it was easier for me to pretend I was reading a fictional novel rather than his true-life story.

It’s the same thing I had to do a few semesters ago when I (stupidly) took the course Literature of the Holocaust. If you ever want to cry your eyes out, contemplate suicide, and forgo sleep for about…how long is a semester? Then I highly recommend reading Primo Levi, Louise Murphy, or Jiri Wiel. I did not even finish most of the books (I know, bad literature student), but for the few chapters I did read, I had to pretend it was just some sick twisted author making up some sick twisted plot just to be sick and twisted. I couldn’t tell myself it was real life.

Same goes for Garry’s story, although, obviously, it is nowhere near the disturbing, heart-wrentchingly sad retelling of Holocaust events, it still rubs me the wrong way and I still don’t want to convince myself it is true.

I slipped into my letter that since his story reads so much as a book…that maybe “one day” I’d write a real book about his life. Of course, as I told him, I won’t do anything without his permission and his family’s. In all honesty, I really think a book about his life would be an interesting read; it would definitely be interesting and enthralling to write. My initial thought after getting to know Garry and recognizing the awkward and uncomfortable feelings I’m having over the whole situation was to publish a book with my journals–which have been typed and publishing in this blog–but with obviously more. I can’t do anything without his knowledge/permission though. I don’t know if that’s legally true, but for me, morally.

After talking about what he told me in the previous letter, I commented on his gracious redrawing of the Jesus photo so I can hang it on my wall. I told him it was an incredibly sweet gesture and if he did send it to me, I would frame and hang it. That wasn’t a lie. I just didn’t tell him how it would not be over my bed and how I do not believe he would watch over me and protect me. Whatever. It’s for the better anyway.

I also told him how happy I was that he had a strong family behind him. I didn’t want to be like “I can’t believe a criminal on death row has a family,” so I tried to word it in politically correct terms, but basically  I wrote “I’m happy you have a family who sticks with you no matter what.” And I am. Happy. For him. That’s weird, right? To be happy for someone waiting to be executed by the state?

It sucks now that I know he didn’t actually do anything to deserve his punishment. I mean, it’s great that he didn’t murder anyone, of course! But it’s like…damn… he’s innocent, but he spent the last 14 years behind bars awaiting his death. It’s sick to think that some cop, some judge, some warden, won’t give Garry the time he deserves to review his case HONESTLY and realize he didn’t do the horrible thing he was accused of.

But still, Garry always seems to have hope in his tone. He is at peace with his life, he has a good family, he has at least one friend in me; what more could he ask for at this point, besides his freedom? He still writes that he hopes to be reunited with his freedom soon and it’s still the most haunting line he writes. I couldn’t take it anymore so I mentioned it in my response. I quoted him (as if I was writing a paper and not a letter to a prisoner who hardly speaks English) and asked if that meant he was appealing the ruling and trying to be exonerated. I didn’t ask if it was the other option–the freedom of death. I’ll let him divulge that information when he feels ready.

That’s the next step, anyway. I already asked what crime he was convicted for, I don’t think it’s fair to also ask him when he’s going to die. Not yet, at least. Although I know he trusts me and I know he’s always honest with me, I think I respect him too much at this point to ask such a personal detail. I’m just so glad that the respect I have is not for a child murderer, like I had thought for the past few months!

I ended my letter with talking a little bit about the Boston bombings. What I didn’t say was how when they were about to inevitably catch Dzhokhar Tsarnaev when he was hiding on the boat, that I was secretly hoping they’d just shoot him. I guess in the spur of the moment my real opinions come out–I guess I am pro-death penalty.

That being said, I still don’t think Garry should be killed. I was talking the other day to one of my coworkers about a paper he had to write for a Criminal Justice class when he was in college about capital punishment. He said at the time he was doing his case study, which was about seven or eight years ago, over 30% of the prisoners who were executed after receiving a death sentence were later found to be not guilty due to advances in technology over the years. Even one year could be the difference between real evidence or fabricated. We have so much technology as it is, but there’s always going to be more.

Okay, fine, I guess I’m still on the fence about it. Regardless, I don’t want Garry to be executed while there are still questions about his potential innocence. I really want to know when his date is, but I’m still so scared.


This Sounds Like a Movie, Right?

I was getting a little anxious. I thought it was a while since I heard from Garry, but really I sent my last letter around the 18th, and I got his response yesterday, which was dated the 21st. It’s weird that I was so concerned. I guess I thought I scared him off by asking what he did to wind up on death row.

His response letter was six pages long.

He wasn’t shy at all about telling me. I don’t think I was expecting him to be, but I also wasn’t expecting the directness in which he told me his story either. It sounds like a movie or a book. It doesn’t seem real. But what reason would he have to lie to me or make something up? He has already been convicted for the alleged crime and incarcerated for fourteen years, so it’s not like he’d be doing anything by not telling me the truth. I don’t know if I should post the exact details of the situation, I might have to do a little more research to make sure it’s allowed even though I changed names and all that.

DeathRow_SanQuentinBut a synopsis, just because I don’t want to seem so vague that it’s probably not true, is probably okay: He basically admitted to me that he has been in and out of jail his whole life, the last time (before this time) he was sentenced to eleven years and served eight before he was paroled. He did not say what he did the first few times he was in jail, and the eight years was the longest sentence he served, the others were 1-3 years. Needless to say, he was pretty accustomed to living behind bars. It reminded me of Shawshank Redemption, when he could not deal with living in the real world and ended up killing himself. I don’t think Garry would do that though, since he is so crazy religious and he seems to be very content with his life at this point.

Anyway…So after he was released he moved back in with his mom. He has a sister and more than one brother, but I couldn’t figure out how many. Without telling too much (until I know I’m allowed), his brother, his sister-in-law, and he got into a car accident a few weeks after he came home and had to go to a clinic for medical attention since he did not have health insurance yet. Blah blah a week or so later a nurse was found murdered and they pinned it on him. There was some sketchy false witness and character statements that went through the court system, and with his record of being in and out of jail most of his life, and he wound up being convicted of the crime, which he promises me he did not commit.

I reread the letter twice already (the first time was late last night, and I’ve been at work all day today. I plan on reading it again; it’s more intense than the SVU marathons I usually watch). I am definitely relieved he didn’t actually kill someone, and that it was allegedly just one someone and not a slew of children or something. My mind defaults to the worst case scenario, so when I read his story I was thankful. It still is terrible to hear that he was more or less set up to take the blame for this woman’s murder, not only because I am getting to know him and feel sorry for him since I know what a nice person he is now, but also for the poor woman whose real murderer is still free.

It’s easy to place the blame on a convenient person, but it shouldn’t be done in a murder case. He didn’t mention if he was appealing the case or not, but he said, as he has in several other letters, that he hopes to be “reunited with [his] freedom soon.” I still don’t know if he means that literally as in he is going to be exonerated, or if he means by death.

Before he went into his six page story of his current arrest, he did briefly talk about his art. I had gushed about the Jesus drawing he did for me and he appreciated it. He said he had drawn similar drawings of Jesus for his mom and aunt, and that they had the picture framed and hung on their walls. He told me he was in the middle of redrawing it for me on larger cardstock so I can do the same thing. He wants me to hang it above my bed so Jesus can watch over me while I sleep. It is a very sweet gesture and I really do appreciate that he is doing this for me, but I don’t think I am going to hang a portrait of Jesus over my bed. I will display it though because it is a great piece of art. Not that he’d know otherwise, but I don’t want to lie to him either. I haven’t written my response letter yet, but I think I’ll just leave that part out. It’s not technically a lie.

I learned a lot about him from this letter, but I still have many questions. Indirectly, I learned he still has a good relationship with his family. He mentioned his mother twice in the letter, his father, his siblings, and his aunt. It is nice to know that his family is still with him despite what he is in jail for, and that he was been in trouble his whole life. I don’t know if my family would be that forgiving. I guess it has a lot to do with the fact that this sentence, his sentence to death, is for a crime they know he didn’t commit. He was at work at his dad’s shop during the time the murder supposedly took place, and he was at his sister’s house the rest of the day. I guess I wasn’t expecting him to have a family, or at least a family as close as they seem to be. It proves to me that he probably is a good person who just found himself in trouble, probably hung out with the wrong crowd or something. I still haven’t given up the idea that he was in a gang though, for some reason I still believe that is the case.
Needless to say, I’m so relieved that I finally know what he is doing on death row, and I can finally stop assuming the worst. I want to write back to him now but I work in a really busy place and I can’t really whip out his letter to truly comment on everything he wrote. He deserves more of my attention than I can give at the moment, so I’m sure once I’m done really working through it and writing my response I’ll post again.

Business Behind Bars

Before I even got the chance to send my response letter back to Garry, he sent me ANOTHER letter. At first I was like, this guy’s needy, but really–what else does he have to do besides write letters? I don’t know what I would do if I were stuck in a cell 24 hours a day. I’d like to read, but he said the selection of books he gets is slim to none.

thIn this letter he told me about how he was in a different prison before San Quentin. While he was there (and I still don’t know why) he started tattooing other inmates. There was another guy, he said, who was tattooing before him, but once Garry started and word got out at how good he was, the other guy started giving him shit, tried talking him down, said he was nothing and his tattoos were bad. It’s interesting to see how similar prison society and real life society is. No matter how successful you get just by working hard at your skill, someone will always be there to bring you down and try and make you feel less about yourself.

That was the point of his story, I guess. He did say something that really touched me. He said “An educated woman with entrepreneurial skills with a spontaneous out fun personality is all you are my dear friend.” I don’t know if anyone, ever, has said something so sweet to me before, and it came from a murderer on death row.


He also talked about how touch is his favorite sense. I didn’t know people had a favorite sense; I’ve never thought about it before. It’s sad though, to know his favorite it touch since he will probably never be able to touch another person again, and never be touched by anyone but the C.O.s and his executioners. I don’t even think he meant it sexually. I think he honestly is missing being able to touch someone, feel close and intimate with someone, be held or hold a loved one. I never asked if he had kids. I’ll try and remember to next time. Imagine having someone you love more than anything, and not being able to feel them ever again. Not be able to be consoled with a hug or sleep next to a warm body on a cold night. It’s chilling in more ways than one.

He also told me his favorite color is blue. I didn’t know if that was telling or not, but, as an English major, I read into everything, so I took it was not him being a guy liking blue (rather than pink) but as a depressed guy relating to blue, depressing, coldness, all those kinds of things reminiscent of Picasso’s blue period more than just him liking a color. I feel like grown men don’t have favorite colors. But, maybe he does. Maybe he was just trying to fill the page with facts about him. Kind of an elementary thing to do, but as I’ve said before, I often get the feeling he is very childish and immature–not because of his personality, but because maybe he just doesn’t know better. Maybe he grew up behind bars or with no kind of guidance or role model to model himself by.

Do I Even Believe in the Death Penalty?

I got three letters this time from Garry. He sent me our typical letter, an Easter card, and a beautiful drawing of Jesus with the crown of thorns and a tear in his eye. I don’t have the heart to tell him I don’t believe in Jesus, or God, or any religion at all–he’s very religious and spiritual. I wouldn’t want to make any trouble or anything. I don’t lie to him, of course–I just don’t mention religion at all. It’s ironic, I guess. I mean, the program is through a church I’m not a part of, but they didn’t ask about my religious beliefs or anything when I signed up, so I assume it’s not a problem.

photo 2I found myself staring at the drawing for a while–tracing the perfectly drawn lines–it’s amazing what he can do with a simple red pen.

His letter was typical, I guess. He told me about the corrupt cops he knew–I guess to make me feel better about Ryan’s situation, but it didn’t. It just made me more mad to see just how many corrupt cops there are. Are we supposed to feel safe or targeted? I wrote back to Garry and after I was done praising him for his art, I told him all was almost clear for Ryan. It’s still fucked up he has to pay fines for something he didn’t do, but at least he’s not a felon and won’t have to put it on future job applications.

And then I did it.

In a very round about way, telling him of course there’s no pressure to answer, and that I’m sorry if it’s too soon or too uncomfortable to ask, but what eventually did get him caught and convicted? As soon as I wrote the words I got very very nervous. But I feel like I need to know now–like once I know it’ll be out there and that would be that. There would be no more questions and we’d finally have complete trust and honesty with one another.

Apart from Ryan and my family, I only ever talked about him with my friend Anna, and that happened yesterday. She didn’t judge me like my parents and siblings had–she just listened and seemed really interested.

We started talking about death row in general. She didn’t know how long prisoners had to sit and wait to die. I don’t really know either, but I knew it was years and years. Garry said he was already locked up for fourteen years–I still don’t know how long he has left–and I don’t know that I even want to find out. I don’t have “strong” feelings for the man–that would be absurd, we’ve only sent a few letters back and forth. But knowing he’s going to die in like five years, two years, a few months–I’d feel very bad and awkward. What do you say to someone when you know they’re going to die?

Anna and I also talked about whether or not we even believe in the death penalty. I have no idea if I do. I mean, I consider myself to be very liberal, so I’d like to say I wouldn’t want to see anyone die, regardless of the situation, but in my heart I don’t think that’s’ right. There are some people out there who are just sick and disturbed and they can’t help themselves and they can’t change–like the guy from the Aurora, CO Batman shooting. I believe whole heartedly that he should die for what he did to those people.

photo 3But then again, why do I feel like that guy should be killed but someone who killed one person or two should have life without parole? I guess for me it’s situational, I don’t know. That’s why I can’t take a stand on either side. I want to see murderers punished severely for what they do–but I also don’t want to see more killing. I’m always on the fence about almost all political issues, which gets annoying. I spend too much time in my head for my own good. Life would be simpler if I could just make up my mind!

But as I’ve worried before, obviously since Garry’s on death row and has been for fourteen years–clearly he’s a killer.

Ryan suggested a few weeks ago, and I agreed, that he’s probably in a gang. He’s from LA and said he’s known some of the guys he’s locked up with for over twenty years, even though he’s only been on death row for fourteen. His art is graffiti style–which also makes sense. If this is the case, maybe I can give him the benefit of the doubt…at least until I get his next letter. Maybe he got roped into a gang killing or something–maybe he didn’t actually kill anymore, but was just at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people. Maybe.

Garry’s letter also conveyed a lot of peace. He seems content with where he is and content with his future. He says he’ll be reunited with his freedom before long. It was sad and hopeful at the same time. It made me uncomfortable–I still don’t know how to feel.