Friday, May 13, 2011

The Locked Gate: Standing Up for My Brother on Death Row

My brother and I don’t always agree, but I defend his innocence, and I’ll never walk out on him again.


Twenty years ago, Troy Davis was convicted of murdering a police officer and sentenced to death. Davis maintains his innocence, and his family, including sister Martina Davis-Correia, have appealed the case with help from Amnesty International. Davis’ final appeal was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court, paving the way for the state of Georgia to set an execution date.

Information about the case, and to sign a petition to help save Troy:

Troy Davis and Martina Davis-Correia

Martina Davis-Correia with brother, Troy.

Photo courtesy of Martina Davis-Correia.

Mama, my younger sister Kim, and I were visiting my brother, Troy, like we did most weekends. Inside the prison in Jackson, Ga., death-row inmates and family members sat in a narrow corridor, a locked door with yellow bars and a guard separating us from the non-death-row inmates and their visitors.

After Troy and I went over the latest developments in his case, we started talking about religion. Troy has always prided himself on knowing as much as he could about all religions. He’s studied the Bible, the Torah, the Quran, and the Book of Mormon. Troy has friends from all different religions and ethnic groups, and he wants to understand all their faiths.
We got into a heated debate about Bible verses. But when Troy began reciting the Bible to me, throwing in some passages from the Torah and Quran for good measure, I got mad. “I don’t have to listen to this!”

I got up, left the prison, and went and sat in the car, pouting, waiting on Mama and Kim.

The argument wasn’t really about a Bible verse. Most likely I wasn’t even right about the verse, and I knew it. My daily frustration about Troy’s case and the legal system just came to a boiling point that day. I couldn’t get Troy’s lawyers to do what they were supposed to do. They knew Troy was innocent, but they didn’t have the resources to properly defend him.

Troy’s sense of impotency ran far deeper. He had no control over his own life or over Georgia’s justice system, which is trying to kill him.

Every weekend, I sat in there with Troy, while he dissected police statements and pointed out enormous contradictions and inconsistencies in witness testimony. He had nothing to do all week long aside from examining his case file. And he had nowhere else to pour out his frustrations, except when he was with us. I was trying my best to get him out of there, trying my best to get someone to listen. And then, Saturday after Saturday, I had to relive the case with him. My irritation mounted each time Troy found and parsed a new detail about his case … how could he have been convicted on such flimsy evidence?

About an hour later, Mama came out to the car. Every few minutes, Troy had gotten up and gone to the gate looking for me, she said. He thought maybe I had gone to the restroom and was coming back.

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An hour after we got home, the phone rang. It was Troy. He wanted to apologize to me.

That’s when I realized: I could get up and leave when I felt like it, and Troy couldn’t. He was powerless to leave, powerless to go after me. And, frustrated as I was with his case, Troy’s sense of impotency ran far deeper. He had no control over his own life or over Georgia’s justice system, which is trying to kill him. And then, on top of it all, his older sister walked out on him, and he couldn’t do anything other than twist his neck as far as he could to look out the locked yellow gate to see if she was coming back.

With everything else stacked against him, he couldn’t stand the thought that his big sister was angry with him. No wonder Troy called me right away to tell me he was sorry, even though I had been the one who was wrong.

I hung up the phone and bawled.

I will never walk out on Troy again. Not unless he is free to come after me.

Martina Davis-Correia and Jen Marlowe wrote this article for Beyond Prisons, the Summer 2011 issue of YES! Magazine. Jen is a human rights activist, author, and documentary filmmaker. She is currently working on a book with Martina.

Get the back story on Troy's case with author Jen Marlowe.


  • Information about the case, and to sign a petition to help save Troy:
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