A few years ago, while doing research for a grant application for HIV prevention programming with inmates in the Texas prison system, I came across a list of executed inmates that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice maintains on their website. It is surprisingly well maintained, with up-to-date information on the executions and a profile of each inmate on death row - including each person's last statement.
A part of me was fascinated by this information and, instead of continuing with my research, I spent the entire afternoon reading about the men and women that had passed through death row. I went through each person's online file: demographic information (the bulk of the offenders were Hispanic or Black and young), the official 4 or 5 sentence description of the crime committed, dates the inmate was admitted and executed, and two photos - one straight shot and one profile.
Once I had a bit of background about the crime, I would read each person's last statement. Most involved God, many insisted they were innocent and were being injustly committed of a crime, some asked for forgiveness, some asked for peace, and others simply stated "Warden, I'm ready."
There was one last statement, however, that hit me in the guts and made me cry. It was this statement that, seemingly out of the blue, I remembered this morning and felt compelled to share.
Napoleon Beazley, a Black man from Houston, was arrested at age 18 for shooting an elderly man in the forehead while attempting to steal his car. Seven years later, at the age of 25, Napoleon was given a lethal injection by the State of Texas. These were his last words on May 28, 2002:
"The act I committed to put me here was not just heinous, it was senseless. But the person that committed that act is no longer here - I am.
I'm not going to struggle physically against any restraints. I'm not going to shout, use profanity or make idle threats. Understand though that I'm not only upset, but I'm saddened by what is happening here tonight. I'm not only saddened, but disappointed that a system that is supposed to protect and uphold what is just and right can be so much like me when I made the same shameful mistake.
If someone tried to dispose of everyone here for participating in this killing, I'd scream a resounding, "No." I'd tell them to give them all the gift that they would not give me...and that's to give them all a second chance.
I'm sorry that I am here. I'm sorry that you're all here. I'm sorry that John Luttig died. And I'm sorry that it was something in me that caused all of this to happen to begin with.
Tonight we tell the world that there are no second chances in the eyes of justice...Tonight, we tell our children that in some instances, in some cases, killing is right.
This conflict hurts us all, there are no SIDES. The people who support this proceeding think this is justice. The people that think that I should live think that is justice. As difficult as it ma seem, this is a clash of ideals, with both parties committed to what they feel is right. But who's wrong if in the end we're all victims?
In my heart, I have to believe that there is a peaceful compromise to our ideals. I don't mind if there are none for me, as long as there are for those who are yet to come. There are a lot of men like me on death row - good men - who fell to the same misguided emotions, but may not have recovered as I have.
Give those men a chance to do what's right. Give them a chance to undo their wrongs. A lot of them want to fix the mess they stated, but don't know ho. The problem is not in that people aren't willing to help them find out, but in the system telling them it won't matter anyway. No one wins tonight. No one gets closure. No one walks away victorious."