I received word tonight that the Governor of Virginia has declined to grant clemency to Teresa Lewis, a mentally-impaired woman who was sentenced to death for murders she took full responsibility for planning, but did not perpetrate. The men who actually did the killing got life in prison, instead. Below is my effort to appeal to what he has said his faith is, responding to what Teresa has declared hers to be, in hopes that it helps when joined with others.
Please go to his website and leave your own message - not just a name to be counted against the many more who will register their support for the death penalty in his state, but a voice that might move him to reverse this grim decision. Whatever or whomever she is a channel for, Teresa has been a blessing to other women doing time, and could continue to be so.
You needn't be "born again" yourself - or even speak the same language - to try to save this woman's life. I honestly don't know what it will take - if anything at all will work a miracle with this man. I do think that it matters in the greater scheme of things that we take the time nevertheless, to show that we care.
Teresa is to be executed on September 23, so please act today.
Subject: Executing Mercy
Dear Governor McDonnell,
As you know, Teresa Lewis is scheduled for execution on September 23, 2010. Only you can stop this from happening. She has taken more responsibility for her conduct than most adults ever do, though she has the cognitive abilities of a child.
For centuries people with developmental disabilities have been treated as less-than human; objects of ridicule or curiosity; subjects for experiments and involuntary sterilization; workers to be exploited at slave-wages; scapegoats to carry the burden of our collective failings.
We've come a long way in recent decades in how we treat the mentally disabled. Our readiness to execute them, however, indicates that we still have a ways to go.
Virginia has a precious opportunity to secure a place in history by deciding not to dispose of the life of this humble woman who has given of herself to others at a time of their deepest remorse and despair, despite her own predicament.
Teresa is not the one begging you to spare her life - we are. By her faith, her death on earth will reunite her with the Christ in Heaven whose love she is clearly a vessel for now to other women in prison.
What message will carrying out her execution deliver? That there is no room in American justice for mercy, or in the human spirit for transformation, or in the hearts of our people for grace?
We aren't asking you to end the death penalty in Virginia, or to save this woman's soul - the latter has already been done. She will die more free than many who demonstrate twice her mental capacity. We're simply asking you to be a vessel of God, too.
His justice would not exact more of her than of those "normal" men who committed the actual murders. His justice would not value her life less than theirs. He would look across this country at the countless Americans who have taken the time out of their lives to fight for hers, and hope that humanity is on the precipice of learning mercy for the condemned - particularly for those who are so visibly touched by His grace.
Teresa Lewis committed a horrible crime that she cannot compensate her victims for, even by surrendering her own existence, as she did the day she took responsibility for what she had done. If given life in prison she would not harm another human being again, and could even help others heal. It is not her who threatens us any longer - it is our need for vengeance that endangers this nation now.
It takes power to exercise mercy which - throughout the course of human history - has been the quality that distinguishes those who conquer from those who lead. Please reconsider your decision to allow this execution to proceed.
Thank you for your time.
Margaret J. Plews
Retiring Arizona Prison Watch...
This site was originally started in July 2009 as an independent endeavor to monitor conditions in Arizona's criminal justice system, as well as offer some critical analysis of the prison industrial complex from a prison abolitionist/anarchist's perspective. It was begun in the aftermath of the death of Marcia Powell, a 48 year old AZ state prisoner who was left in an outdoor cage in the desert sun for over four hours while on a 10-minute suicide watch. That was at ASPC-Perryville, in Goodyear, AZ, in May 2009.
Marcia, a seriously mentally ill woman with a meth habit sentenced to the minimum mandatory 27 months in prison for prostitution was already deemed by society as disposable. She was therefore easily ignored by numerous prison officers as she pleaded for water and relief from the sun for four hours. She was ultimately found collapsed in her own feces, with second degree burns on her body, her organs failing, and her body exceeding the 108 degrees the thermometer would record. 16 officers and staff were disciplined for her death, but no one was ever prosecuted for her homicide. Her story is here.
Marcia's death and this blog compelled me to work for the next 5 1/2 years to document and challenge the prison industrial complex in AZ, most specifically as manifested in the Arizona Department of Corrections. I corresponded with over 1,000 prisoners in that time, as well as many of their loved ones, offering all what resources I could find for fighting the AZ DOC themselves - most regarding their health or matters of personal safety.
I also began to work with the survivors of prison violence, as I often heard from the loved ones of the dead, and learned their stories. During that time I memorialized the Ghosts of Jan Brewer - state prisoners under her regime who were lost to neglect, suicide or violence - across the city's sidewalks in large chalk murals. Some of that art is here.
In November 2014 I left Phoenix abruptly to care for my family. By early 2015 I was no longer keeping up this blog site, save occasional posts about a young prisoner in solitary confinement in Arpaio's jail, Jessie B.
I'm deeply grateful to the prisoners who educated, confided in, and encouraged me throughout the years I did this work. My life has been made all the more rich and meaningful by their engagement.
I've linked to some posts about advocating for state prisoner health and safety to the right, as well as other resources for families and friends. If you are in need of additional assistance fighting the prison industrial complex in Arizona - or if you care to offer some aid to the cause - please contact the Phoenix Anarchist Black Cross at PO Box 7241 / Tempe, AZ 85281. firstname.lastname@example.org
until all are free -
MARGARET J PLEWS (June 1, 2015)
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