May 20, 2019
Dear Friends of Don Johnson and Cynthia Vaughn,
By this time we all know what happened.
On Tuesday night, May 14, the Governor of Tennessee announced that after prayerful consideration he was not going to spare Don’s life.
Forty-eight hours later, on Thursday night, May 16, Don was dead.
Don met death with great dignity.
In the two days he was given before he died, Don did what you might expect Don to do—he cared for others.
Don put together a list of other inmates who might be most affected by his death and asked friends and religious visitors to care for them.
Don worried about those who had supported him for so long and so well and tried to call as many of us as he could before he died.
Don was concerned about the staff and expressed his love and concern for as many staff members as he could.
And Don grieved for Cynthia who had forgiven him and who had tried so long and hard to save his life.
Don was not bitter. For those of us who are bitter—and I confess I am one—Don had a lesson for us. His lesson was one of compassion and forgiveness for the Governor and acceptance of God’s will at the end of his life.
Just before the lethal drugs began to flow, Don prayed for his executioners and then sang two of his favorite hymns “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love” and “Soon and Very Soon [we will see the King].” His last words on earth were in praise of the God who had found and changed him, even when he did not want to be found and changed. For Don, Jesus was truly his savior in ways that many of us may never fully understand as well as Don did.
Five of us were allowed to see Don on the day of his death: Kelley Henry, the extraordinary lawyer who was with Don as he died, Richard Tennent, the brilliant writer and lawyer who did so much to bring Don and Cynthia’s story to the world, John and Pam Dysinger whose entire family had visited Don for 15 years and least of all this lawyer/priest who had struggled and failed to explain to an uncaring world the true miracle of Don’s life and Cynthia’s experience of forgiveness.
On the morning of his death, Don expressed three last wishes:
Feed the Hungry
Care for Cynthia
Visit Those on Death Row
If Don’s life and witness are to have meaning then we are called to do these three things.
On Saturday, May 25th, Riverside Chapel Seventh-day Adventist Church will feed the hungry from 1 to 3 in Don’s memory. You may support that gift by sending contributions made out to the church to:
Senior Pastor Furman F. Fordham II
800 Youngs Lane
Nashville TN 37207
We will work with Cynthia to learn better how to help her in the face of a loss she feared and did not ever wish to experience.
And we ask that the Don Johnson Prison Ministry will continue by enlisting more and more people of faith and good will to seek out those on Death Row to give them the same gifts Don received so long ago from others who like Don are no longer alive but who like Don continue to shine like a light in the dark.
We will maintain this website for another thirty days to continue to be able to report to you and to the world our efforts to do as Don would have wished us to do—take his death and make it a gift to the world.
May God bless you and and keep you as you seek to bring love and kindness to a world that needs both,
Rev. Charles Fels