The other day I was trying to explain to a friend the range of emotions I experience in just one day on death row. Let me start by describing my bi-weekly visits with my grandparents, which take place on alternating Tuesdays. Twice a month, they leave home around 4:00 am, well before daylight, for the 440-mile round-trip drive to my current place of residence, Mississippi State Penitentiary.
In 13 years, they have missed just six visits due to extenuating circumstances such as prison lockdowns, inclement weather or illness. During these precious, two-hour visits, I am reminded of how lucky I am to have unconditional love and support in my life.
As I sat in the visiting room awaiting their arrival, I watched them laboriously make their way down the corridor towards me, which is a good 50 to 70-yard walk. At 83 and 84 years old, they have inevitably slowed as age has taken its toll and also due to recent injuries which they have sustained.
While I was overjoyed to see them, I was also sad knowing that in two hours I would have to watch them go – yet again. Bittersweet does not begin to describe the emotions I feel each time they depart until the next visit.
My grandma told me when this nightmare began, that they would always be here for me because they love me and support me, and that they know as well I do that I am innocent. She also said that nothing prevent them from coming to see me and that I am not alone in this struggle.
While their visits give me the will I desperately need to go on, I can’t help but feel bad because it is such a labor for them to drive nearly 500 miles to visit me for just two hours. When I mention that to them, however, they always reassure me they wouldn’t have it any other way and that I am worth it.
My grandma and I have a running banter about this very topic whenever it arises. Most times, she says, “Jeff, if there wasn’t any other way, I would skateboard up here to see you if I could or even knew how.”
Sometimes, she says she’d walk, but my favorite version is that vision of her skateboarding here, not only because it cheers me up and makes me laugh, but also because I know she is telling the absolute truth. If she did, in fact, learn to ride a skateboard, I doubt she’d embrace the rest of the skater culture, with the graffiti, piercings, music and such.
After the short two-hour visit has passed, my mood shifts from happy and grateful to sad and lonely as I watch them return to where I should be – home. Back in my cell – or hell – the good and happy feelings remain, but there is an undertow of sadness and bitterness that pervades. The positive emotions are inevitably replaced by negative ones, because after witnessing this selfless, loyal and genuine act of love by my grandparents, I realize and am reminded yet again, my wrongful conviction has also robbed them – I owe them so much. It has also robbed me from spending their golden years with them, and from me taking care of and giving back to them the care they have always given me.
So there is one visceral example of the roller coaster ride of emotions in just half a day here.
The following is a meaningful verse from a favorite song of mine that conveys the way I feel about this:
Talk Talk – I’ve felt the coldness of my winter
I never thought it would ever go. I cursed the gloom that set upon us…
But I know that I love you so
These are the seasons of emotion and like the winds they rise and fall
This is the wonder of devotion – I see the torch we all must hold.
This is the mystery of the quotient – Upon us all a little rain must fall.
—Led Zeppelin: “The Rain Song”