Unless he is granted a reprieve, Ramiro Gonzales will be executed by the State of Texas on August 10th.
Two years ago, while I was pregnant with my second child and experiencing a period of chronic insomnia, I found myself in a late night web surfing marathon reading article after article about the execution of Clayton Lockett. Mr. Lockett, an Oklahoma inmate convicted of the kidnapping, rape and murder of Stephanie Neiman, died 43 minutes into a botched execution from a heart attack after the vein used to accept the lethal dosage of drugs collapsed.
In an exercise of poor judgement, I began reading the comments left at the end of the news articles. These comments varied widely, from those asserting Mr. Lockett “got off too easy”, to general outrage at the continued use of the death penalty, to suggestions of alternate methods of execution that would be cheaper and more effective (the firing squad, hanging and altitude chambers being popular choices).
Skipping through some more pages I came across a website where inmates on death row can advertise for pen pals. Many of the listings were men obviously looking for romantic companionship. Some of the listings, however, seemed very thoughtful and sincere. I happened across Ramiro Gonzales’ listing and was drawn to his profile for a few reasons:
- We are nearly exactly the same age. We would have been in the same grade.
- We both grew up in rural areas and both have a fondness for our respective countrysides.
- He committed the crime for which he is on death row when he was only two months past his 18th birthday.
- He spoke of being a spiritual person, and that intrigued me.
After thinking it over, I decided I would write to Ramiro even though I held some reservations. I read about the crime for which he is on death row and felt a huge amount of pain for the victim and her family. I think of them often and wonder how they cope with the loss.
A month after sending my letter, I received a reply from Ramiro. His letter was kind, interesting and curious. He described his life on death row. I described my life as a pregnant wife and mother who likes to travel around Canada singing folk songs. I kept him in the loop about my pregnancy and sent him a photo of my son’s ultrasound. He had never seen an ultrasound photo before and he has used it as a bookmark ever since. We’ve slowly developed a relationship. I look forward to receiving his letters. We rarely discuss his crimes, although he has expressed a deep remorse.
In April, I realized it had been some time since I had received a letter from Ramiro. I logged onto JPay (I can send Ramiro emails but he must respond through the post) and was blocked from the service. I began to worry I had said something in one of my letters that got Ramiro in trouble and me blocked from contacting him. I was worried something had happened.
Something had happened. In Texas, it is the county one is tried in who sets the execution date. Ramiro had been taken from the Polunsky Unit (where all Texas Death Row inmates are kept) to the county jail to receive his execution date from the judge. August 10th, 2016.
I found this out while listening to a live radio show. The Prison Show broadcasts every Friday night out of Houston. The first part of the show deals with news relevant to Texas inmates and their loved ones. The second part of the show features “shout outs”. People call in to the show and say hello to their friends and family in prison. It has sort of a WWII Resistance feel to it. For the past few months, I’ve been calling in to say hello to Ramiro. It’s the only way he can hear my voice. Just before I was put on the air, I heard Pat Hartwell, a prominent Texas Anti-Death Penalty activist, read out Ramiro’s name and his execution date. It felt like I had been sucker punched in the gut. I ended up leaving my shout out to Ramiro trying to hold back tears.
I’m not sure I understood just how much I would grow to care for Ramiro. I mean, I always cared for him, in the way that I care about human beings in general. I care about everybody sitting on death row and have become more involved in working towards the end of the death penalty in Texas. But now being against the death penalty isn’t just a cause and the men who have become society’s scapegoats (more on that in a later post) are not only statistics. These are real people who killed people who are going to be killed by other people to show that killing people in wrong. It’s just more people killing people.
When I say “The State of Texas is going to kill my friend”, it is not hyperbole–it is the truth. And all the pain you would imagine from knowing your friend has less than three months to live without being able to do anything about it, it’s all there. I feel it.
A couple of weeks ago I received a letter from Ramiro asking if I would go to Texas and be one of his witnesses. I agreed. So, if a stay or reprieve are not granted, I will be in Huntsville on August 10th to watch my friend die. Honestly, I’m not sure if I’ve been able to sit with the full weight of that yet.
I expect I’ll be posting quite a bit about my journey (emotional, spiritual and geographical) in the coming months. There’s a lot to say about what is happening but the thought of trying to get through all of it in one night it too overwhelming.
For those of you in Toronto, I am holding an event on June 23rd at Rosedale United Church. Two thirds concert and one third info session, the evening will be a fundraiser to cover some of the costs for my trip to be with Ramiro (this is mostly childcare for my kids while I am away) as well as a newly forming anti-death penalty group called Canada Cares TDR. I hope you might consider joining me. I am in the process of checking to see about a possibility of live streaming the event as well.
If you are a person who prays, I ask that you please keep Ramiro, as well as the family of Bridget Townsend, in mind. Kind and loving thoughts are also appreciated. Aside from writing letters to the Governor and the Texas Board of Parole and Pardons asking for clemency, it’s really the only thing left to do.
It’s likely the most effective thing too. Since 1976, the Board has only recommended clemency in four cases. Two of those were rejected by the Governor. Two successful campaigns for clemency and 537 executions.
Love and light.