Second Place — "If Prison Is A Grave"
BY DANI GALLAGHER (23) | Monroe, CT
“I was in prison and you visited me” Lord, what if “prison” is a grave? because this world is set to put to death the same child you died to save
I sat down across the table
from a man three times my size
with ink all up his arms
and tattooed teardrops by his eyes
I looked around, heart beating fast, I knew I was out of place
he said “It means so much to have you here” with a soft smile on his face
he told me of his fears and hopes
and of the dreams he once would pine as I winced a bit with uneasiness
at how alike his were to mine
I’d assumed we’d be so different
due to our circumstance at birth
as it seems today that that’s the thing to determine what a life is worth
where I knew love and playgrounds, he knew fear and gangs
fighting for survival but now
his life in the balance hangs
because the same system that had failed him all throughout his life
seeks to come full circle now
to end his ceaseless strife
it seems those walls are not impenetrable they’re meant to keep the people in,
but to the injustice of the outside world cement walls become quite thin
a system built on racial bias
that looks upon the poor with harsh disdain where the mentally ill and the impoverished are those most likely to be slain
a world fallen to hypocrisy
with logic oh so feeble
where we declare with pride that “I’m pro life!” all while rooting for the needle
because a life lived behind bars
is not seen as a life at all
they dehumanize our sisters and brothers and set them up to watch them fall
vengeance and discrimination
define the system we’re told to trust
but calling it the “justice system”
doesn't make it just
so I’ll return back to my question:
what if prison is a grave?
are we qualified to end the life
of a sinner You forgave?
Third Place — "The Tools"
BY ZURI DAVIS (26) | Jacksonville, FL
These are the tools used to kill my people
My great-grandpapa got the whip
It started off like any other day
He did the tasks until his back was sore
While plotting his escape
When night came, he saw his chance
And tried to make his way to freedom
But master caught up and dragged him to a shed Where blood replaced sebum
My grandpapa got the rope
It started off like any other day
He was tending the citrus grove
In the hot Florida May
His bountiful crop put a neighbor to shame
So a crowd came that evening
They beat him, drowned him, burned him
My papa got the bullet
It started off like any other day He was driving to the office
When his Jaguar’s engine gave way He pulled over and called for help When an officer saw him standing there Reasoned the car couldn’t be his And shot my papa when he got scared
I got the needle
It started off like any other day I drove a friend to the gas station He went inside to pay
He came back with blood on his hands And $80 in his pocket
I swear I didn’t know he would kill a man But my name is still on the docket
And left his body swinging
These are the tools used to kill innocent people
"If Jesus the Christ Were Alive Here Today"
BY GEORGE DOYLE (23) | Montgomery, MN
If Jesus the Christ were alive here today,
Would he face his death in the very same way?
Cross up on Calv’ry and tomb where he lay?
Or Capitol Hill who denied him a stay?
Would he as incarnate beloved of God
Be blinded and shot by a firing squad?
Perhaps as our savior and kingdom’s true heir,
Be fastened and fried in the ol’ ‘lectric chair?
Maybe in show of his love for the least
He’d hang as a millstone from our lynching tree?
Conceivably due to our sinful rejection,
He’d pass as a victim of lethal injection.
Truth is, he does—he dies every day,
In each of his children we make share his pain.
We scorn and revile them, and tear them apart,
Bury their mem’ry and stop still their heart.
BY KATE LETTERMAN CONWAY (29) | Jasper, IN
In these United States,
We remain ununited,
Namely on the right
Of the states to end
27 stand in favor
Of capital punishment,
In these United States,
Who could be surprised
That those states
Which use the death penalty Most frequently,
Are the same who
Gripped so tightly to
Old Jim Crow,
And continue to hold fast To this system with racist roots?
How can we the people
Profess to believe in
Liberty and justice for all When what our
Criminal justice system
Deals out is
for the white,
for the rich?
How can we the disciples
Profess to believe Jesus’ words “Blessed are the poor”
When the only poor
We seem to be interested in
Are those that can be served
For a day or two– maybe a week– And whose pictures can be
Used to flood our feeds?
How can we the Church
Profess to believe in
The sanctity of life and
The dignity of the human person While standing for the killing of Our fellow man?
I suppose it’s much easier
To defend only the lives of the unborn, But our savior never said
This work would be easy.
Take up your cross
And follow me.
Whatever you do for
The least of these
You did for me.
And you will be forgiven.
Can we look into the eyes of The victims of violent crime See their hurt, Validate their pain,
Serve them in their grieving, And trust that they can be sincere When they pray,
“As we forgive those
Who trespass against us”
Instead of thirsting for revenge?
Can we look into the eyes of The guards
Whose duties are to
Take these inmates, strap them down, And be the last pairs of eyes They gaze into
Before they leave this earthly life, And help these professionals live out The commandment
Thou shall not kill?
Can we look into the eyes of The lawmakers
And pray that they will work Tirelessly to dismantle
A system that is unjust
To the poor and marginalized, That gatekeeps healthcare,
A system which only
Contributes to the creation of People who commit violent crimes?
Can we the people,
Decide to practice
What Jesus preached
To extend mercy,
To serve the poor,
To love the marginalized,
And see the inherent dignity
In every human life?
Abolish the death penalty, for we know It is not a mere human’s right
To determine who lives and who dies.
"Trials of Men"
BY ISAIAH BRICKUS (28) | Philadelphia, PA
They came in the night. The darkness hid them. It did not hide me. It only followed.
They found me on 33rd and Olivet.
A dozen men on the same corner, but it was clear they wanted me.
Some men scattered. One stayed. He unsheathed his knife.
The protective fire left his eyes when he found is neck held beneath a baton.
Yelling ensued. Three times he told the accuser that he had nothing to do with me.
I did not know what I had done. Surely, I would be informed later.
I found myself on the very same pavement, under the very same baton.
Blood rushed from the crown of my head.
Obscenities booming in my ear and spit spewing down the side of my face.
Insults shot from his lips as my own lips cracked on the concrete.
Suggesting criminality and a corrupt heart.
Burnished bronze skin like war paint.
Falsehoods uttered as authoritative decrees.
I said not a word.
The accuser decided to be judge and jury.
All I could do was wait to see if he so desired to be executioner.
Those who seized me left me in a small cell overnight.
Occasionally, they would enter and remind me how they felt about my alleged crime.
Lacerations on my back like lashes.
No amount of intergenerational preparation can truly equip one to endure blows to the back, or to the face, or to the soul, or to the identity.
A night of no respite.
A gaze of no mercy.
They brought me to be judged.
Silent as an Innocent while they search for the Lamb.
My guilt, never questioned.
My innocence, never assumed.
“If he were not a malefactor, would we have delivered him up to you?” they all said with a straight face.
Even then, the court admitted, “It is not lawful to condemn any man unto death.”
Until it was.
They soon addressed the elephant in the room.
In their eyes I was not a man.
Denounced, as a bastard son of slaves.
I know my Father.
Once I was truly caged, everything changed.
Living was both a toll and an offense. I have no reason to be here.
Others give their reasons as to why I am here. It doesn’t make sense to me.
The officers on the outside were presumptive.
The officers on the inside were gruesome.
The back of my jacket read unrepentant black man, in less kind words.
Everyone seemed to know why I was there, except me.
They made sure to treat me accordingly.
They assured me, I was only in their care for a short period of time.
They, like the judge, wanted nothing to do with me.
A problem to be solved.
A man to be executed.
All the same.
Remorse from the judge was possible.
Nonetheless, I was just another degenerate number.
They wanted my head on a platter, no different than my cousin.
Each moment dwindled into nothingness.
Each year sunk within an abyss.
It was not long before I found myself if front of the same judge who condemned me to prison.
He was now condemning me to death.
Parole was forsaken.
I did not recognize who I had become.
I had grown into how they saw me.
Much has changed since I was first slammed on the pavement.
I waited for redemption to be around the corner.
Justice wears the same robe.
I wear the same skin.
I didn’t do it.
I held to that conviction for years—decades even.
The conviction for truth.
After decades of spiritual assault, maybe I did do it.
They think I did.
Originalists, constitutionalists, positivists, and the like,
All appeared to me as relativists.
Their truth was not THE truth, yet it had become MY truth.
I had no final words.
The needle went in to my vein
Yet, I could not elude the feeling of a rope around my neck.
A glass window between me and the family of my alleged victim.
I went from feeling like I was in a zoo, to feeling like I was in an aquarium.
This is the most I have seen the outside world in decades.
I saw their tears. I saw their grief.
I wanted to comfort them.
I wanted them to comfort me.
“I love you,” I said in my heart as I remembered my first time losing a loved one.
A tear fell from my eye.
Suffocating in grief.
Whoever’s blood has been institutionally placed on my hands, I love him too.
I assure you. I did not do it.
I am sorry.
Exhaustion hits my body.
Perhaps from the execution solution.
Perhaps from all this system has put me through.
I desire to be seen.
I desire reconciliation, even for those unmended relationships not of my own doing.
I desire freedom.
I know now that freedom will only come at the hands of the Just Judge.
I am getting sleepy.
Justice finds rest in mercy.
…going home to Glory.