Friday, August 31, 2007

Long Live Kenneth Foster!

What a week it's been for me! Most of my emotional energy was mainly wrapped up in my friend Kenneth Foster, who has been on death row for almost a decade. Kenneth and I have been corresponding through letters for a couple of years now. He contacted me and asked me to send him some of my poetry. I did, and we've been writing each other since.
He was a much more diligent pen pal than I was, I must admit. I've been more on the sporadic side. I love Kenneth's letters. They are colorful and sprawling. They're filled with postivity, intellect and humor. They open my eyes to his world and my world. In many ways, he seemed to know what was going on in my world more than I even did.

Two weeks ago I got word that Kenneth's execution date was August 30. I started contacting everyone I knew to spread the word. I contacted lawyers, journalists, and every rabble rouser I knew. His case is innately sensational, it just needed national attention. People needed to get mad. And they did. Protests outside the Governer's mansion. A flood of faxes, letters, phone calls and e-mails to the Governor.

Kenneth has been serving hard time on Death Row (22 hr. lock down) for 8 years for a crime he didn't commit--and this fact is recognized both by his defense and his prosecutors. His friend Mauriceo Brown shot a man unexpectadly and 19 year old Kenneth drove the getaway car. This was after a string of robberies they performed that same night. These crimes certainly added to Kenneth's culpability but he didn't kill anyone nor was there any inkling that he planned a murder.
So if he didn't kill anyone, why was he facing this lethal needle? Texas has this peculiar law called the Law of Parties, which disintegrates any distinction between killer and accomplice who "should have anticipated" a murder would occur. Because of this law, Kenneth was tried alongside and with the same severity as his friend who physically murdered the white young law student. His friend was executed in 2006.

Kenneth is 30 now. Ever since he entered prison he's done nothing but research his case and write people and organizations. He formed alliances with anti-death penalty activists, and has dedicated much of his time to establishing as many connections to the outside world as possible. Because he's a poet, he made friends with poets whose work he admired, like me. Behind glass, he formed a movement. He organized non-violent protests in Death Row with other inmates, as they were being mistreated.
Thursday, the day Kenneth was to die by lethal injection, the Board of Pardons voted in favor of Kenneth and appealed to Gov. Perry, along with 13 Texas State Representatives, President Jimmy Carter and the South African president and thousands of people around the world. Five hours before Kenneth was to die, Gov. Perry granted clemency, reducing Kenneth's punishment to life in prison.
If Kenneth hadn't been so diligent, if he were like many of the other men on death row, uneducated and downtrodden, he would have vanished without a trace with the help of a slim, long needle. I don't think any one person saved Kenneth's life but Kenneth.
I sleep more soundly now, for the first time in two weeks. I go to sleep and wake up now knowing that my friend is alive.