Stories about the experiences of serving time with men who are on death row always incite my compassion. I have learned about friendships on death row, and I try to imagine what it’s like to live in such close proximity with someone you know who is scheduled to die by execution at any given time. It’s made me wonder how individuals who are housed with Death Row Inmates are impacted by the constant threat of death that hovers over them.
When I reflect on the Death Penalty, I ask myself, is it right or wrong, just or unjust? Does it really help the families of victims with the grieving process? Does it deter crime? Does it reduce overcrowding and rid society of irredeemable convicts? These are difficult questions.
It is important to think about how executions taking place in prisons are adversely impacting the men who are housed alongside the death row inmates. Does this practice further instigate festering symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
One man, Sean Thompson-El, who has PTSD after spending 30 years in prison, spoke to me at length about a Death Row friend named “Big Homie” (Larry Griffin) who he vows was wrongly executed during Sean’s incarceration. He served time alongside him in Missouri State Prison. Griffin’s execution had a huge impact on Thompson-El’s road to redemption and subsequent reentry success.
In the words of Sean Thompson-El:
Larry Griffin was executed by lethal injection on Missouri’s death row on June 21, 1995 for a murder he didn’t commit. How do I know he didn’t commit that crime? Well, because like everyone else who was remotely familiar with our criminal culture during the time that the alleged murder took place we know who the real assailants are. In fact the victim’s killers admitted to the authorities that they were the true assailants. They informed authorities that Larry was innocent of the crime. Unfortunately the actual killers themselves were serving LIFE sentences and the authorities disregarded their statements.
Thompson-El referenced a New York Times columnist Bob Herbert who wrote “If Larry Griffin were being tried today for the murder of Quintin Moss, he would almost certainly be acquitted. The evidence is overwhelming that he did not kill Mr. Moss. While significant, this development is not that much of a surprise to those who understand that human beings are fallible and that much of the criminal justice system in the United States is a crapshoot. Whether it is this case or some other, it is inevitable that we will learn of someone who has been executed for a crime that he or she did not commit.
Then, Thompson-El continued:
The above article gave me little solace. An innocent man is dead and the state couldn’t care less. To them Larry was just another criminal. To others he was the ultimate victim of the system. To me he was a friend. Like yesterday I can recall him smiling and yelling my name from his recreation cage on Missouri State Death Row Unit, or walking the yard at the Potosi Correctional Center telling me that he knew he was going to die for a murder he didn’t commit. He was never angry, or violent about it. He was just a man who had learned to accept and face the injustices of the criminal justice system. Larry Griffin maintained his innocence to the end. It is evidenced in the many articles and the expert opinions that Larry Griffin’s case deserved some attention. He had grounds for recourse. It’s nice to see so much attention given to his case and the fact that he could have been exonerated under different circumstances, but unfortunately for Larry it doesn’t matter. He’s deceased now; convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. There’s truly no justice in that.