Death: The Cost of Conviction: On Kenny Smith, Alabama & Me

Death: The Cost of Conviction: On Kenny Smith, Alabama & Me December 31, 2023

Eyasu Etsub / Unsplash


Conviction is defined by defiance amid injustice.  Of course, conviction is full of dangerous consequences.  Indeed, it is the possession of such conviction that leads to spaces of great sacrifice.  You don’t know where you might end up until you get there.  Danger resides everywhere on these moral journeys.  Not the danger that kills immediately…more so, the type of danger that will kill you slowly…one fraught choice at a time.  If you feel like you’re dying…that’s what you signed up for…that’s the nature of conviction.


Some are surprised to find themselves amid the consequence of their own conviction.  Not I.  From a young age, I was aware of the death of Jesus on the cross.  Perhaps better phrased…I knew that the good guy always gets killed in the end.  Sure, there is the wonderful resurrection that happens after…but one must travel through death to get there.  I’ve known that the consequence of my conviction is death.  I just assumed it would be a physical event not a repeated spiritual event.  I guess if you stare at a cross long enough…it would be easy to forget that the person hanging there had actual thoughts, feelings and emotions bound together in a soul.


Each time I’ve accompanied one of my guys (who I’ve deeply loved) into an execution chamber this year (Scott Eizember, Arthur Brown, Anthony Sanchez and Casey McWhorter), I have faced the immediate explosion of moral ease.  I can’t help but wonder if I could have done more to stop the execution I am about to witness.  Honestly, I always feel like it’s my fault.  Could I have campaigned harder?  Could I have written a stronger clemency letter?  Could I have somehow helped the legal strategy?  Is there one more thing that I could have done that would have kept this from happening?  The questions always percolate in my soul.  Then, one is quickly snapped back to reality based on the need of the moment.  One might have been deficient before…but they are going to make damn sure they’re not deficient now.  I pray louder.  I read louder.  I hope louder.  I speak love louder.  It doesn’t matter what you do…they are going to kill the person in front of you…and they are going to make sure you feel it.  The body begins to contort.  Death comes quickly.  Your body begins to contort.  I feel my soul being ripped apart from someone that I love.  As I walk out the door, I know that I have held my convictions…but so what…everybody is dead…and I was unable to do anything to stop it.  Life is impossible when you are committed to hanging on a cross…sometimes with someone else…but most often…alone.  You don’t get over it.  You just hang up there until you bleed out.


If his execution happens, I’m scheduled to be present with Kenny Smith in Alabama on January 25.  Over a year ago, the State botched his execution.  Torture would be an understatement.  Now, the State is planning on killing him by the experimental practice of nitrogen hypoxia.  Torture would be anyone’s best guess.  So why would anyone sign up to be present with someone amid such?  Perhaps our conviction is also a form of torture.  They make us hold tight until they kill our soul and eventually our body.  Though we’re clearly in different positions, I can’t help but feel like I too am about to be tortured.  The pain that I feel will be based on watching a horror that I so desperately want to prevent.  Death is welcome when the alternative is a compromised survival.  The convict…the convicted…are left to die together…surrounded by executioners.


There is a price of defiance.  There is a price of conviction.

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