Letter from Death Row
On March 19, 2014, Texas death row inmate Ray Jasper is scheduled to be executed. Convicted of capital murder for the 1998 robbery and murder of recording studio owner David Alejandro, Jasper's death is imminent, but his words have taken on new life this week.
A letter from Jasper to Gawker (a follow-up to one he initially wrote as part of Gawker's Letters from Death Row series), was published on March 4, immediately spurring international interest and going viral on websites like Daily Mail and Huffington Post. "Everyone should read it," writer Hamilton Nolan states before publishing the typed seven-page letter in its entirety.
"Without any questions, you've given me a blank canvas. I'll only address what's on my heart," Jasper poignantly writes in the opening. "Next month, the State of Texas has resolved to kill me like some kind of rabid dog, so indirectly, I guess my intention is to use this as some type of platform because this could be my final statement on earth."
In the letter, which originated as a response to Gawker's invitation for Jasper to share "any thoughts he might have," he discusses the prison system and racial inequality in the United States. But time and time again, he returns to commentary on Texas' execution laws.
"I don't agree with the death penalty. It's a very Southern practice from that old lynching mentality," he says. "Texas is the leading State by far. I'm not from Texas. I was raised in California. Coming from the West Coast to the South was like going back in time. I didn't even think real cowboys existed. Texas is a very 'country' state, aside a few major cities. There are still small towns that a black person would not be welcomed."
Regarding Texas' stance on capital murder charges, Jasper sheds light on the controversial law of parties. "The law of parties is a very controversial law in Texas. Most Democrats stand against it. It allows the state to execute someone who did not commit the actual act of murder. There are around 50 guys on death row in Texas who didn't kill anybody, but were convicted as a party."
And after examining the challenges faced by young black Americans ("we suffer from an identity crisis, and we're being targeted more, instead of taught better"), Jasper returns to the "last thing on [his] heart": religion and the death penalty.
"There are several well-known preachers in Texas and across the South that teach their congregations that the death penalty is right by God and backed by the Bible," he says. As his poignant letter comes to a close, the inmate presents a final challenge to Texas' religious sect. "I challenge any preacher in Texas, John Hagee or any others to come visit me and tell me that God wants me to die. Martin Luther King said, 'Capital punishment shows that America is a merciless nation that will not forgive.'"
Not surprisingly, Jasper's letter, which has garnered more than 83,000 Facebook likes, is sparking debate among all ideologies. But it seems that is his intent: to create a greater dialogue for the world he will soon leave behind. His closing statement says it all.
"This is only my perspective. I'm just the hobo on the street giving away my pennies. A doctor can't look at a person and see cancer, they have to look beyond the surface. When you look at the Justice system, the Death Penalty, or anything else, it takes one to go beyond the surface. Proper diagnosis is half the cure."
You can read the full letter on Gawker's website.