Posts Tagged ‘executions’

Lingering Grief

March 27, 2014


Water calm, still
Sky clear, cloudless
Briefly disturbing what lies there … then
Slowly recedes, slowly recedes
Water calm, still
Sky clear, cloudless

© 2014 Thomas W. Cummins

Can’t withstand the light of day

March 26, 2014

I posted this earlier today on Facebook:

Missouri execution: another death, another grieving family. Is that what balances the scales of justice? Could it be mindless revenge instead? What are we looking for?

Five in a row … uninterrupted. Seems like we’re trying to run the table. Florida and Texas are pulling away in the race.

So, citizens of Missouri, name the man executed in November. What did he do? Then name the ones in December, January, February. What did they do?

Can’t remember? These deaths are being done in your name. Is this whole death penalty thing working for you? Are we safer? Are victims’ families happier? Has grief been dissipated? Are we more respected and admired as a state? Or do we applaud and cheer when the governor gives his “thumbs down”?

Let’s move forward. Dead-of-night and secretive taking of life that can’t withstand the light of day and accomplishes nothing awaits our collective rejection and abolishment.


February 10, 2014



When was
As a child
When the
Sexual abuse
Or when
No one moved
To Stop
As it continued
With others
And he stood
Or when
He began
Beating the old woman
Who befriended him?
Some may say
It was on the gurney
In the blank white room
At the prison
When was

 © 2014 Thomas W. Cummins

A half smile and a nod

January 30, 2014


If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?
And if I am only for myself, then what am I?
And if not now, when? – Hillel

Last evening, at the offender’s request, I was a ministerial witness to his execution. There were only two witnesses for him, and I was the only one who actually knew him. During the past 13 years, we had conversed countless times as I visited the prison where he lived. My role there is as an assistant chaplain.

From what I could tell, my eyes were the only ones he made contact with as he was lying on the gurney. He gave a half smile and a nod in response to my nod.

The above quote bubbled up as I reflect on this morning after.

If not me, who?

November 17, 2013

I’m preparing to travel to the prison where an execution will take place at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, November 20. In my role as a ministerial witness, my arrival is to be around 11:00 p.m.

The man scheduled for execution is Joseph Paul Franklin, a hate-crime serial killer. I have known Mr. Franklin for more than 12 years, and I have visited his isolation cell countless times.

Some may ask, Why bother? That question calls to mind a couple of lines from the movie, Longford, about which I have blogged previously. Lord Longford was on a radio show and was being challenged about his long, frustrating and futile efforts to free Myra Hindley, one of the notorious Moors Murderers in the early 60s. The crimes were horrendous, grisly.

Lord Longford: … Forgiving her has proven difficult, very difficult. Not for what’s she’s done to me, that’s neither here nor there; but for the terrible crimes themselves. Forgiveness is the very cornerstone of my faith. And the struggle to deepen my faith is my life’s journey. In that respect she has enriched my spiritual life beyond measure, and for that, I will always be grateful to her.

Lord Longford: If people think that makes me weak… or mad… so be it. That is the path I am committed to. To love the sinner, but hate the sins. To assume the best in people, and not the worst. To believe that anyone, no matter how evil, can be redeemed… eventually.

So, I told Mr. Franklin I would be there for him. And if the execution goes through, I will be.

Prison becomes a better place

February 24, 2011

A few days ago, I participated on a panel discussing the death penalty in Missouri. I spoke about the recent execution and the transformation I had personally observed in the man who was put to death.

During the question and answer period, one of the attendees asked, “These men who are transformed during their time in prison, what do they do with this newly found conversion? Particularly those who aren’t going to be released? How can they reach out to others?”

I responded, “They minister to each other.”

Prison life is within a community, a community of men struggling to discover who they are and where they are heading. It isn’t a normal community by any measure. Freedom has been taken away; there are countless rules; interaction with the opposite sex is non-existent; the ability to express anger or affection is suppressed.

But a life of meaning can be found once an offender realizes that prison is his life, that he isn’t enduring  a “life interrupted.” Offenders eventually find it to be  unhealthy to dwell upon life-on-the-streets, either before or after incarceration. Today is really all anyone has, and that notion is particularly acute for those in prison.

After a few years, an offender’s focus often turns toward anything that takes him out of his current environment. He seeks a different kind of freedom, freedom of the spirit, a place to dwell that is more welcoming and more comforting than the bleakness and monotony of prison life.

The spiritual life offers that, and the path to conversion begins. Chapel services are attended; meditation classes are taken; prayer time becomes part of the daily routine; bible studies are pursued, and a community of believers begins to become more and more apparent.

Ministry to others becomes part of their prison existence. They begin to notice those  who are hurting, need encouragement, lose hope to the point of near-despair, are grieving over the loss of loved ones through death or through broken relationships.

Transformation does take place. A new creation begins to exist within individual prison cells. Prison becomes a better place.