back on death row

“I cannot let you in, sir. You’re not on the list.” “But I phoned with the warden-office last week  and I made an appointment.’You’re not on the list. I need you to leave the building” “But madam, there has gone something wrong in your organization: do I have to be the victim of that? I came all the way from Holland for this visit!” I’m sorry, you’re not on the list.” “Can you call somebody to check this?” “I already called my supervisor and you have to go: you’re not on the list. Leave now, come back when you’re on the list”.  I leave the building and realize that all my stuff including my phone are in Marijke’s car. She is inside for the next four hours. But I am lucky: Gloria is still on the parking-lot because she did not find her drivers license and was still looking for it. I borrow her phone and call the wardens-office, “How can they refuse you, you’re on the list!” “Can you call them to let me in?”. “I ‘ll sure do that.”  I get in with one hour delay: welcome to the Polunsky Unit. Gloria lifts her shoulders:”They sometimes let you wait for two hours”.

Visiting “Tee” (39 years on death row) is like watching a movie of two hours feeling like fifteen minutes. We speak four hours and it feels like half an hour. Tee is a small man, very intelligent and sensitive. He is a story teller. No fairy-tails, no dramas but stories about reality, with real people, without opinions and conclusions. They grab you, make you see through the eyes of Tee, make you want to hear more, knowing what will happen next and stay with you long after  it is over. Tee takes me to a back-yard wedding, the bride, the house and the people and I suddenly stand on the green lawn and see the uninvited guest: a bird, singing beautifully. No death row, no barriers, no window. I am at a back yard wedding.

And Tee takes me to the night when his own killing-date  was set and he was staying on the block for people to be killed soon. I take a look in the cell of his friend, waiting to be killed the next morning. I see the guy walking endless cirkels in his cell, drinking cups of coffee like cheap whiskey. Wondering what he thinks. Seeing him through the window the next morning  on his way to the chair and I give signs, let him know I see him, I am there. His head lifts, he looks at me, nods. His head goes down again and he disappears. I just saw in his eyes he never expected it would end like this….. It is a dull, cold proces and it is irreversible. No entertainment here…..

And I hear the rhythmic sounds of boots, the ticking of sticks on shields and I see all the helmets and uniforms of the swat-team that passes my cell on their way to get a man who lost it. Did not get proper treatment and medication and lost it.  Behind the group there is thing on wheels with the belts and straps to use when he does not step out of his cell as soon as ordered…….

And Tee is a poet, knowing his own beautiful poets by heart and performing them. We talk about politics, human rights projects, family and what exactly is my daily program.And what I eat for breakfast and if my wife can drive a car. And that he loved Nanons book that I sent to him last year but thinks Nanon puts himself a little bit to much on the chair of the psychiatrist. Tee wants Nanon to know that a story is about sticking to your own experience, your own feelings so focussed and strong that listeners are dying to step in and see the world through your eyes.

And he tells about his mother, speaking to his brother after an argument with his wife: “when you are angry with your wife always realize that it is your wife you speak to. When you are angry to your sister always realize that it is your sister you are speaking to.  When you have an argument with your mother  always realize that it is your mother you are arguing with! When you have a fight with a friend always realize that it is your friend you are fighting with”.

Marijke drops me off at a hotel in Livingstone. In the lobby the television-set is on. Breaking news: nine people shot, one dead a few blocks from my Airb&b. People

in the lobby are watching the screen.

Nobody speaks.


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