My mom raised my siblings and me in a Catholic household. We were all altar servers
and she taught Sunday morning CCD classes for children. By adolescence though I
traded faith for substance abuse and left the church behind. It would not be until
coming to death row that I would rediscover my faith while attending Mass.
It wasn’t easy. Fr. Dan Kenna, a Franciscan friar who brought us the Mass on North
Carolina’s death row in the late 1990s and early 2000s, often used the parable of the
prodigal son to convince us to return to God. He reminded us that everyone strays
from the path, but the important part is to repent and reconcile our relationship with
God. I was angry and defiant, questioning Fr. Dan like an inquisitor while my friends
This was especially true when Harvey Green was put to death.
Harvey and I exercised together and grew close. He served as one of my early mentors
on death row. Like Fr. Dan, Harvey urged me to pursue God. Ask my questions, be
angry or defiant, but be in a constant relationship with Him. Harvey was a vocal
Christian on and off the block. He admitted his crimes and repented, urging others to
do the same without seeming to judge. In Harvey, I witnessed the scene from Luke
As Jesus hung from the cross between two criminals, one reviled him, saying
"Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us." The other rebuked him and
said, "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation?
For Christians, in particular, support of the death penalty is the ultimate betrayal of
faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. We are all justly condemned in the eyes of
God, but He so loved us all He gave up His only Son to wash away our sin. What right,
then, does anyone have to claim executions are “just”?
Before they took Harvey away he urged me not to let death row define me as the
State intended it. His final words to me were: “You. Are. Valuable.” I remembered this
and clung to the thought even as a self-proclaimed Christian Governor denied Harvey
My friend’s execution hurt me as many more after him would. Harvey was a
manifestation of Jesus as a man on death row. He showed me why it is important to
recognize our faults, ask for forgiveness, but be fearless in the pursuit of change.
So must the Church, the Body of Christ, grow in its ministry to the incarcerated and
pursuit to end the death penalty. “The Right-to-Life” can be just words. We put faith in action every day of the week, seeking mercy and showing compassion, but manifesting the love of God above every other consideration.
Adapted from the forthcoming book:
Witness: An Insider’s Narrative of the Carceral State.
Due to be published by Haymarket Books, Fall 2023