Don believed it was God’s will that he was the first person scheduled for execution under Governor Bill Lee. He did not know what the greater plan might be, but he hoped that by going first he would help his friends and brothers on death row. He hoped that it was God’s will that the Governor would grant him clemency, and, by doing so, establish that clemency was once again a real possibility. Such a result would have given his brothers hope, and would have opened a small chink in the wall of cruelty. But Don has always recognized that he could not know the greater plan, and he has accepted that he might be denied clemency and condemned to die.
Some of you may wonder if the Governor can change his mind. Of course, he is human, and he is a man of prayer, so it is possible. If you wish to write, email, call, or join with others in peacefully and lawfully asking that he reconsider, you certainly may do so. Don does not want anyone doing anything illegal, hostile, or dramatic on his behalf. He does not want anyone to attack the Governor’s faith or human decency. It is the belief of the lawyers that Governor Lee will not change his mind, that he spent a great deal of time on this before reaching a decision, and he is very unlikely to overrule himself. But, again, if you are moved to respectfully express your views, you are free to do so.
But, presuming the execution proceeds and that Don is killed by the State of Tennessee on May 16, 2019, what else can we do? Don would ask that people take his death as a motivation to do good, to share more love, and, on his behalf, to share your faith. Certainly, visit the prisoners, whether Don’s brothers on death row, who are going to be hurting with this denial, or other inmates who will soon return to the world.
If Don’s example has established for you that the death penalty is categorically wrong, he would appreciate people conveying that message to Governor Lee and our legislators. Those of us who work with the men on death row know that, while Don was unique, and his Christian faith was remarkably strong, he is certainly not the only man who has undergone enormous moral transformation on Unit 2. There are other good men, different from Don, but also uniquely beautiful, who should not be killed by the State. Indeed, we believe that none of the men on death row should be killed in our name, and that each of them has a story and a truth that is greater than their crime.
But, whatever we do, we should remember the love and faith that Don shared. There are children, like young Donnie Johnson, whose young lives have been damaged by abuse and neglect—help them. There are the ill and infirm, who are lonely—give them comfort. Our world is imperfect, and too many people, too many children, are living lives without enough love—share your love.
Please come together, on Thursday, May 16, 2019 at 6:00 p.m. at Riverside Chapel Seventh-day Adventist Church, 800 Youngs Lane, Nashville, Tennessee, 37207. Perhaps, in coming together, we will be able to develop a plan or many plans to make something good and beautiful out of Don’s life and death.