TEXAS IS GOING TO KILL MY FRIEND


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 capital punishment in the United States.  It wasn’t a particularly cheery exercise, and it certainly didn’t help with my sleep.

Continuing on the theme of my poor judgement, I began reading the comments left at the end of these news articles.  These comments varied widely, from those asserting these (mostly) men “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:

  1. We are nearly exactly the same age.  We would have been in the same grade.
  2. We both grew up in rural areas and both have a fondness for our respective countrysides.
  3. He committed the crime for which he is on death row when he was only two months past his 18th birthday.
  4. 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 by 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 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.

Little Prince

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.

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12 thoughts on “TEXAS IS GOING TO KILL MY FRIEND

  1. As a person of deep heart and spiritual strength, bearing witness to this, the whole thing, the person, the process, the suffering, the state, the execution…IS an important part of the healing of this blight on humanity. Thank-you for your courage.

  2. Thank you Bri-Anne for your humanity. Let me know I can send a small contribution for your trip — since I won’t be in Toronto on June 23rd.

  3. That you would put so much energy into this is beyond my understanding. Sorry but I have no empathy for your cause. My sense of humanity lies not with him as a person who’s remorseful over a past deed but rests firmly with his victim Bridget Townsend who never had the choice to live. While he may find peace in the afterlife her parents will still be living a shattered live. I do however envy you and your compassion towards your fellow human being.

    The story of Robert Pruett however does put me against favoring the death penalty.

  4. Hi Bri-anne,

    Please don’t be discouraged by those who don’t understand why you are doing this and please continue to spread the words on human decency. Some simply don’t understand the true meanings of compassion and the joy of giving.

    I am in GTA and I wish we can meet some day to combine our skill set and convictions to make the world a better place for future generations.

  5. I have always found the issue interesting since I have seen the movie Dead Man Walking. I was so conflicted watching that movie. I do know that I do not believe in eye for an eye. I get both sides of the issue and I don’t know how I would feel if it were a family member but I don’t think it would change. I hope I am never in that position to test it. I envy your compassion and the work you do. Wow amazing!

  6. Bri-anne:

    Ramiro Gonzales is on death row for the rape and murder of 18 year old Bridget Townsend. He fully confessed.

    Gonzales has a prior record for another aggravated sexual assault with deadly weapon, whereby he allowed the victim to live. I cannot locate her name.

    Gonzales got a “life” sentence for that rape, which, tragically, was not truly life and because of that a young innocent women, Bridget, was tortured and murdered by Gonzales.

    This happens, constantly, within our criminal justice system.

    My hope is that you will put a lot of effort into stopping that.

    Many murders and rapes and other horrible crimes are not solved. It is, unlikely, we know all the horrendous acts committed by Gonzales.

    One wonders why Gonzales did not just accept his punishment and waive appeals.

    Does he not believe his punishment is deserved?

    1. Dudley:

      You are right that Ramiro raped and murdered Bridget Townsend. Thanks for using her name. I think it’s important. You are also correct that he fully admits that he is responsible for her death.

      And yes, Ramiro had received a life sentence for the rape of another woman. That rape was vicious and I am glad she was able to escape. You cannot locate her name because she doesn’t want you to. I know her name through court records and from being in the Bandera area, but she has indicated she doesn’t want her name used in media and discussion, so I don’t.

      It seems, however, that your understanding of the timeline is not completely accurate. From your comment it sounds like you are under the impression Ramiro received a life sentence, was released and then kidnapped, raped and murdered Bridget Townsend. This is not correct. Ramiro killed Bridget Townsend in January of 2001. That case went unsolved for quite some time. Before he was arrested and tried for Bridget’s murder, he committed the second sexual assault. It was while he was in jail awaiting transport to prison that he confessed to killing Bridget. He did not serve time for the sexual assault, get out, and then continue his violent path.

      As for putting effort into stopping cycles of violence, I must say, I am trying my best. I am training to become a therapist. I will be working with people who are the victims and the products of others’ violence and failures. As I’m sure you know, those who perpetrate and perpetuate violence are often victims themselves. My hope is that by working with people who have experienced violence, we can help to stop the violence trickling down through generations. Although Ramiro owns his actions and the pain he as inflicted, I don’t believe he would have harmed his two victims if he hadn’t fallen through so many cracks. I want to help stop violence on the back end, before it blows up. As somebody who has experienced violence themselves, I am desperate to see a change. So Dudley, I’m trying. I’m doing my best.

      As to your question about why Ramiro did not simply give up his appeals and become a “volunteer”:

      My understanding is that for many of the men on death row, they do not give up on their appeals and “just accept their punishment” — even when they would rather simply go through with the execution as quickly as possible — because that decision affects more than just the themselves. For obvious reasons and with few exceptions, those who sit on death row would like to see the practice of capital punishment abolished. By giving up on appeals, many of them feel like they would be letting everybody else down. In Ramiro’s case, his attitude towards “just accepting his punishment” has evolved over the ten years he has been on death row. At first he fought to stay alive for his family, not out of any sense of “deserving” to be alive, or even much of a desire. He now fights to stay alive because he believes he still has something to offer; that even behind bars he is able to make a meaningful contribution to the world. I am privileged that this is the only side of Ramiro that I know. I also agree that he has much to offer the world.

      Of course, so did Bridget Townsend. This is a fact that cannot be ignored. But nobody, Ramiro included, is advocating he be released from prison and that he doesn’t deserve to be punished.

      Thanks for your comment and for your passion in giving voice to the victims of violence.

      Sincerely,

      Bri-anne

      1. Ramiro may be your “friend” but he is a vicious kidnapper, rapist and murderer. Bridget Townsend’s Mother was MY friend. The woman he kidnapped and raped, and most likely would have killed had he not been caught (and yes I know her name), was MY friend. He is exactly where he belongs and hopefully his sentence will be carried out soon.

        1. Hi Minnie. Yes, Ramiro is my friend (no quotations needed) and he WAS vicious. Terribly and inexcusably vicious. I can’t imagine the grief your friend lives through daily. I look at my own children and imagine how I’d feel if somebody violently took them away from me…the whole thing breaks my heart.

          And I also agree with you that Ramiro is exactly where he needs to be – in prison. Even Ramiro agrees he deserves to be in prison. Nobody is advocating for his release, only that he not be executed. I promise you, 34 year old Ramiro is not the same person as 18 year old Ramiro. His remorse is genuine.

  7. Dear Bri-anne,
    I was looking up information regarding Ramiro, and found your article. I just wanted you
    to know that I have been praying for Ramiro, his family and all who love him, and now
    that I read this article I can pray for you too by name. I write to some of the men on
    Texas death row, (including one of the men who got a miracle stay of execution this
    summer), and I hope and pray that Ramiro gets one too. I am so happy that Ramiro
    has you in his life, and I am sure he considers your friendship as a blessing and a
    gift from God. God bless you Bri-anne! Please feel free to contact me, I would
    love to hear from you.
    Sincerely,
    Judy Marsh
    God’s Treasures in Prison.

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