Death Row Takes a Snow Day

“Look outside.”

I am fast asleep when I hear him. My son. William. His voice is sweet and small.

“Mom, look.”

The shower is running. Todd is already up. I smell soap. Faintly.

Over and around me, the bed linens have achieved that exquisite warmth and softness that peaks between the hours of five and seven AM. The stool at the foot of my bed knocks against the foot board as William climbs over it. One tiny leg, then the other.

“Mom,” he says. He lays his head on my shoulder. “Look outside.”

I sit up, turn around, and take it in. The snow. And really, you’d have to live in the south to see the snow the way we see it. Beautiful, special and dangerous all at once.

The bed is centered against a large window. The shade is up. William and I rest our arms on the headboard like Charlie Brown and Linus at the retaining wall, and we scan the frosted landscape.

Charlie Brown and Linus

There are, at this point in the morning, no footprints. No tire tracks. The skateboard my daughter forgot to put back into the garage, like the Monster energy drink that was carelessly tossed into our front yard by a teenaged pedestrian, is hidden. Out of sight. Every crack in the sidewalk, every weed we neglected to pull, every sin left out in the weather, is indiscriminately covered in a forgiving six-inch blanket of snow.

School is canceled. Work is delayed.

Vowing to make the most of this gift, this catch of free time, we busy ourselves. We make pancakes. Build snowmen. I clean my closet for the first time since forever. Since the last time it snowed.

In Jackson, Georgia, about two hundred miles from us, Kelly Renee Gissendaner learns that her execution will be postponed.

Death row inmate Kelly Renee Gissendaner is seen in an undated picture from the Georgia Department of Corrections

Gissendaner was to be put to death this week for the 1997 murder of her husband. She was to be the first woman executed in Georgia in 70 years. But it is snowing. The execution will have to wait until Monday when roads and schedules are clear.

I think about Gissendaner on and off throughout the day. I wonder about her. How will she pass the extra days that have been granted to her by the snow? How does she feel about it, this catch of free time? Does it feel like a gift, an answer to prayer, or is it prolonging her anxiety?

I think of Gissendaner’s daughter, Kayla. She was only seven when she lost her mother and father to prison and murder. Seven. The same age as my son.

The afternoon sun warms the air, and by lunch time, the slush-slick snow slides off of our metal roof in sheets. Drips from the trees like rain. The ground, and all that litters it, slowly reappears. It is almost over, this break from reality. And I am a little down about all of us returning to our respective routines, but I am also a little relieved.

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24 Comments on “Death Row Takes a Snow Day

    • I usually resist the urge to post anything void of humor, because I am not sure that is what readers feel like reading. I am glad you found it worth your time to read.

  1. What a compassionate woman you must be to think about that delayed execution while enjoying the snow day with your son.

    As for that first snowfall – even though I live in Buffalo, NY, I have to agree that snow is beautiful before it’s disturbed by traffic and footprints. I can appreciate the beauty at the same time that I curse the difficulty of dealing with it.

    Good post.

    • Thanks. Compassionate might be to strong a word for it. It is just fascinating to contemplate how the same storm impacts different people in such different ways (but impacts them all, just the same). Thanks for reading.

  2. This post really shows how one day can incorporate so many ranges of emotions and life situations. I’m glad you are still enjoying the snow with your son and also contemplating the darker side of life. Life is about both and all the shades of grey in between.

  3. Ginger, don’t protect us. We can take in whatever you want to write and I always view it as a gift. People on death row seldom enter the consciousness of those of us who are free. Thanks.

  4. Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention. I Googled the case and came across this:

    Almost no one expects Gissendaner to be put to death. Georgia has executed only 1 woman since electrocution began in 1924. “You’re going to have a hard time getting a Gwinnett jury to impose a death penalty in any kind of case,” said local defense attorney David Whitman, a former prosecutor who is not involved in the case. “And when you’re dealing with a woman, you’ve got two jumps to go through.”

    It seems as though there are quite a few inconsistencies in the case. The actual muderer entered a plea bargain with the prosecutor where he was spared the death penalty for testifying against Kelly Renee Gissendaner, who wasn’t even present at the killing.

    Some your readers might like to read this:

    http://murderpedia.org/female.G/g/gissendaner-kelly.htm

    In my opinion, there is enough in this document to spare her life, and women all over Georgia should mount a last minute protest.

    • I have never seen that website. I like how all the articles are together. I can’t understand how this woman was sentenced to death. I really can’t. I do wonder if the snow will give protesters time to change the course of things.

      I mentioned this story at lunch yesterday. (I like to say things in a neutral way and see where the kids land.) Anyway, I said, “The state was going to execute a women today, but they are going to put it off because of the snow.” My daughter’s response was, “We still execute people?!”

      • To be honest, I am an an atheist, but if I were a Christian, and enough snow fell on the morning of the execution for it to be postponed, I might want to examine my conscience, and thank God for preventing me from committing an unpardonable sin.

        Thanks to the snow, there is still time.

      • It confounds me how many American Christians (and I am both, so I have license to criticize) categorically omit prisoners when standing up for the sanctity of life.

      • Bryan, I thought you might like an update on this: on the Monday that they were set to execute Kelly (which was days after the original, delayed-for-snow date), the chemicals to be used in the execution became cloudy and had to be thrown out, and at the moment, there are no FDA-approved execution drugs available to the prison for execution. There is the possibility that the supreme court could grant her clemency.

      • Thanks so much for keeping me updated, Ginjuh.

        The UK press is quite good on stuff like this, and I did read it in The Independent yesterday.
        Nevertheless, I really appreciated the thought on such an important matter.

        The article included a recorded message from Kelly Gissendaner to her three grown-up children, saying she loved them.

        Of course, we shouldn’t forget there was a murder committed, but neither should we forget who actually committed it.

        As Gregory Owen testified against Kelly to save his own skin, if the execution still goes ahead, he will become responsible for the deaths of two people, courtesy of the State of Alabama. Somehow, that doesn’t sound like justice to me.

        By the way, although capital punishment was effectively abolished in the UK in 1964, ironically Britain was one of the countries that used to supply the US with the chemicals used in executions. The reason there are no FDA approve drugs is because the export of them was banned by the EU Commission in 2011. For some reason the US doesn’t make them.

  5. I sometimes wonder if the reason we (have to) sleep every day is to remind ourselves of inevitable death and non-existence. As if we are practicing every day what it’ll be like to suddenly lose consciousness/awareness.

      • Yes. I always find it interesting how we all have to go about living life as if that day won’t come. Maybe it was same for her, but w/i a shorter time span.

  6. Gosh, a striking and poignant contrast! Even though I had read the words “Death Row” in the post title, I forgot about that while I was enjoying the description of the snow, and then bam!

  7. This post sucked me in today. I love your writing. I’m resisting the urge to read any and everything about this case — I’m a GA resident, too. No snow days for us in Savannah, though — just loads of dreary rain.

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