Indeed, she closely followed the
situation of the late Gary Graham (aka Shaka Sankofa),
another Texas inmate, executed in June 2000, who many
thought innocent. "When they'll execute someone
under those conditions, "Brittany notes, "I
realized, at that point, it doesn t matter whether
I'm guilty or innocent, this has now become a very
political thing... At this point, they're just killing
When, after an attempted breakout
by some men on the Huntsville death row, Texas imposed
new harsher conditions on all death row inmates, Holberg
wrote to Kathleen O'Shea's newsletter:
"Since this occurred, you
would not believe the treatment we are given. Just
two weeks ago, we were informed that not only would
we be strip-searched for our one hour of recreation
a day, but also when taken for a shower. So for the
last two weeks, we have been stripped no less than
six times a day. This is every day, sometimes at times
like 2:30-3 a.m., and we never leave the building
or our cells for that matter."
It took guts to complain. And the
authorities didn't like it. But Brittany Holberg spends
a lot of time seeking small justices. Spend a few
hours with Brittany, and one begins to think that
inside prison, this hard luck girl/woman finally grew
up. Unless she is totally shucking me, this is not
a vicious person.
As she speaks about the possibility
of a mediation process with her victim's relatives
once her appeals are settled, the idea of killing
her seems utterly pointless. Who could it possibly
serve? No one, except perhaps the prosecutor who numbed
the good citizens of Amarillo into feeling a bit safer
about crime when he brought them a death sentence.
Brittany is the symbolic witch they'll
all burn in the hope of expiating a larger, far more
complicated problem from their midst. By sacrificing
her, they won't solve that problem. In fact, they
will extend the cycle of violence, and produce a whole
new generation of crime victims among Brittany's relatives.
If Brittany is executed, then little Mackenzie will
be left to join the ranks of the families of murder
victims. Witch-burning or no, the killing will be
just as traumatic for her, an innocent, as it was
for A.B. Towery's children.
As I write this, there are some 3,514
men and women on death rows in 37 states from California
to Texas to Florida. Almost all of them have mothers
and wives, partners, lovers, daughters, children,
friends, grandmothers. Count the numbers. This violent
circle reaches far and wide. And it is here where
women bear the heaviest burden of this deadly epidemic.
They bear it stoically, often silently. But the cost
to them is huge.
I am sitting in a Delaware restaurant
with Barbara Lewis, a Wilmington pharmaceutical worker
whose son, Robert Gattis, 41, has been languishing
in jail for almost 13 years, 11 of them on death row.
Little Delaware, the second smallest
state in the union, has the highest per capita execution
rate in the country topping that of Texas and Florida.
This is a state that had public flogging laws on the
books until the 1960s.
"My son has had six dates set
to die," she tells me over coffee. Ms. Lewis's
sensitive face reflects her 60 years. "That's
been a reality since he was sentenced. They told me
they were going to do it how and when. There aren't
words to describe this. No one understands what it
is like for somebody to bind your child and put him
to death. There's no clean way to do it. It's killing
For more than a decade, Ms. Lewis's
existence has centered on her weekly visits to Robert.
She is his lifeline to the outside world, his last
connection to humanity. She has three other children,
several grandchildren and a job she must keep, lest
the entire family go down in flames. Her bedtime prayer
is, "Oh Lord, help us all to keep going."
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