Scribble Might

A fresh perspective on the personal and political.

Troy Davis, Getting Lost, Staying Strong September 25, 2011

Filed under: Nature,Politics,Race — mandolyn10 @ 5:56 pm

I followed the news of Troy Davis’ impending execution on Wednesday, September 21 in near-horror. Set to be murdered by the State of Georgia at 7pm, this probably innocent man was making peace with his situation as I deleted emails and met with students. As 4pm ticked closer, the effort of tamping down the rising balloon of panic in me was exhausting. I checked the news feeds every chance I had, and seeing that no stay came, I prayed quick, ever more desperate pleas for someone to intervene and stop this injustice from happening. At every turn, I felt like screaming at the nearest person making demands on my time: A man is going to be murdered unjustly in a few hours! How can we just keep going about our day? 

And I’m not being self-righteous here, all I did in this case was sign a petition, call the state probation board and a judge, and ask others on facebook to do the same. But rallying against the death penalty is not my cause; it’s not something I’ve ever donated time or money to. I’ve never gone to protest an execution. The end of the death penalty is something I hope to see in my lifetime, but I haven’t given more than ten minutes of my life to making it happen. For whatever reason, Troy was real to me and no different than me, and so I cared this time.

Around 3:30, I headed into a meeting whose aftermath kept me working until 6:15pm. Walking home, watching the pale blue sky preparing for nightfall, it occurred to me that if things had gone as scheduled, Mr. Davis had been killed while I was consummed by work. I had missed my chance to pause and pray for him and his loved ones, as I had planned to do. Shame swept over me, and I paused at home only long enough to change into workout clothes and shoes for a run.

I headed to the woods across from campus. At the point I should have turned around given the time, I had to keep going. I don’t know why, but I turned off on a path I don’t take often, one that is quite steep in places and not well traveled. I lumbered on slowly, trying to let the rhythm of my footfalls on the trail drown out my sadness, my sense of impotence. Absorbed in allowing my body time to release some of the emotion of the day, I suddenly realized it was too dark for me to be in the woods, and a bit later I admitted I was lost, night biting at my heels. I wandered around in an oval, trying to find the trail that had run out on me so I could trace my way back, but it had disappeared. I eventually found a way out: I had to slide, tumble, and fall my way down a long, steep embankment to a creek bed I could just barely see, it’s white rocks glowing in the black environ. Bruised and cut in a few places, I followed the creek bed until the trail I’d come in on came into view.

When I look back on getting lost, I suppose I had options other than endangering myself by going down a brush-covered hillside in the dark. And though at the time I didn’t consciously connect my choice to go that route to the fate of Troy Davis,* now, I think there was a part of me that felt I had to prove something, if only to myself. I even suspect that I wanted to be punished, to suffer the consequences of my foolish choice to go into the woods so close to dusk, and then to go farther on a trail I don’t know by heart. Penance for my reluctance to devote my life to fighting for the things I believe in. I wanted to feel brave, feel like I could fix a mistake and come out ok.

In the end there wasn’t anything I, or anyone else could have done to prevent Troy Davis’ murder, but out there in the woods, alone with the dangers of the dark: unseen ledges and trip-causing rocks, mountain lions, wild boar, brown recluse spiders, I could save myself by not panicking, by thinking clearly, by putting one foot in front of the other.

That’s probably all it takes to stay strong in whatever cause we find ourselves overwhelmed by: don’t panic, think clearly, keep going.

*A careful reader pointed out some time discrepancies in this piece. Upon investigation, I’ve learned that the stay on Troy Davis’ execution last Wednesday lasted about four hours, and that in fact he had not been killed while I was at work, as I had thought, but around the time I made way back to the trail I’d lost. I cannot imagine being Troy Davis in those fours hours. Having prepared for a 7pm death, what must it have been like to hear, at 7:05pm, that the Supreme Court was considering a request to stay his execution? Did he dare hope he had a chance of surviving that day? Did he get to see his family one more time? Who was with him and were they a comfort? The death penalty is arguably a cruel and unusual punishment for every death row inmate, but this pause of the inexorable capital punishment machine, which rendered no justice, must have also been excruciating for Davis’ loved ones.

This entire case has brought the issue of the inequities in the judicial system into stark relief for millions of people worldwide. I hope when we look back at the history of capital punishment in the U.S. that the execution of Troy Davis is a turning point. If you want to find out more about how to join the effort to abolish the death penalty, please visit:


4 Responses to “Troy Davis, Getting Lost, Staying Strong”

  1. Andrew Scott Says:

    I have to say, the Troy Davis situation was definitely a weird one for me. I didn’t know much about the case until pretty much the day of, but I had heard of him and his plight. When the Supreme Court stepped in, I was relieved – like things were happening like they do in the movies…that God had come to save the day, so to speak. And then the death penalty machine lurched forward, and with the blessing of the law, extinguished a life.

    I took to Facebook, and just read the varying emotions that were expressed on people’s status updates. And of course I asked myself where I fit in. I did feel helpless. I also felt a certain dread for what our government is capable of. But at the same time, I think of what citizens in other countries (think: Libya, for example) go through, and I still thank my lucky stars that I’m here.

    And so all I could do … because I wanted to do or say something … was to post the song “Love’s In Need” – originally written and performed by Stevie Wonder, but remade by Blackstreet, a new jack swing group. It was my way of expressing myself in a subtle manner. Perhaps too subtle however, because all of the feedback I got seemed to be for the song itself, and in no way reflected that anyone understood why I chose to post it.

    If Troy Davis was innocent….wow. What a tragedy. An unfortunate event that for me, surprisingly, has not generated the civil unrest I thought it would. And based on what I’ve read, I agree with you Mandie – there was definitely a reasonable doubt. At least from what I’ve read.

    As far as your “don’t panic, think clearly, keep going” insight is concerned….brilliant. Loved it (and try to live by it), and had no idea that was where you were going. But it all tied together. I admire your guts though.

    Just sayin though: I for one would never (ever) be keen on going jogging where mountain lions, boars, and brown recluses are known to tread. Especially when it’s getting dark (but yeah, mostly never, lol). That’s what gymnasiums and even stadium tracks are for. Not as scenic, surely, but maybe a tad safer?

    Hope u don’t mind my verbose response. But I do love to write 🙂

    – Andrew Scott (pen name)

  2. mandolyn10 Says:

    Andrew! Welcome to the blog, and thank you for your thoughtful response; it was a pleasure to read. I didn’t know where I was going with this piece either until the very end, so often the case. Fine musical tribute to Troy Davis, and I just made your post of it on FB not so subtle. BTW, the woods are well-traveled and safe in the the day time, but it’s the domain of the wild at night. I had been in staff training and opening hell for all of September and hadn’t noticed it was getting dark earlier, until it was too late last Wednesday. So I will keep running in the woods, just not anywhere near dusk!

  3. mom Says:

    Hey, my girl! That was wonderful, well written . . . aw it’s too late to write more . . . of course I could–I’m like Andrew–love to write also–but I should’ve been in bed at least an hour ago…Love, wonder, awe . . .

  4. Emalou King Says:

    Thank you for this well written personal contribution to Troy Davis.
    The trail adventure all makes sense…blessings+ Emalou King

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