The Final Visit: Alone with Anthony Sanchez On His Last Day
Early this morning, I visited with Anthony Sanchez for an extended clergy visit. For close to a year, we have grown closer and closer. Speaking by phone every night at 8pm, we have shared our hopes and dreams. Truth be told, I didn’t think this was how things were going to end up. We had produced such a strong case for his innocence…or at the very least…a strong case for too much doubt. It felt like all of it was behind us this morning. In a cold prison visitation room, we looked each other in the eye with the understanding that the end was getting close.
From the beginning of the conversation, Anthony wanted me to know that he had no regrets, “I have fought for my innocence in the most effective ways that I know how.” When I told him that I felt like I failed him, he replied, “You have taken my claims of innocence to the entire world. Nobody else could have done that but you.” Leaning in, he said something that I’ve heard him say many times, “I would rather die on my feet proclaiming my innocence than begging for clemency down on my knees.” Once again, I was reminded of just how courageous Anthony really is. Then he added, “If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t change anything. I made the decisions that I had to make. With your help, I was able to be something more than a prisoner…a real person. Thank you, Jeff.” Both of our eyes began to water.
Though much has been made of the decisions that Anthony made, I was reminded in those moments why he made them. He thought that clemency was impossible for him. He wanted to be rid of his lawyers. He wanted to plead his case on his terms. I could go on and on, but the point is that these decisions were made by someone choosing to exercise their agency in an exceedingly visceral way. He wasn’t going to be controlled by lawyers anymore. He was going to be his own man. “I did it my way, Jeff.”
Anthony started talking about his family. I was especially moved as he talked about his 6-month-old grandson, Florentino. They’d met for the first-time last Friday. “It was the best moment of my life. It was as if God was giving me a glimpse of the future.” It made me think about Moses getting a glimpse of the promised land. Anthony wasn’t allowed to be presence for his family in the ways that he wanted to…but they always seemed to find a way back to him and he them…and this moment was no different. Love can conquer a multitude of obstacles.
Like in many of our previous conversations, The Busken Family came up, “I want you to know that I am more than happy to give my life if it will grant them peace.” Having done this work for many years now, I’ve heard such language before. This time, however, something was different. I could see the love in his eyes. I could feel the love in his spirit. There is no doubt that he meant every word. I hope the Buskens will be able to hear him.
Sensing that time was running short, we journeyed into the celebration of the Eucharist. “Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.” The words echoed over and over. We both were placing our hope in the magic of the Resurrection. “Take: this is my body.” I felt the presence of God both in the Eucharist and in him. It was almost as if God was transforming Anthony into the very presence of Christ right in front of me. When we finished, Anthony said something that I will never forget, “Does this mean that we can meet each other at the gates of heaven?” Holding back tears, I loudly proclaimed, “Absolutely. Love always wins.” Then, he surprised me again, “I bet Juli Busken will be there too.” Leaning in, I anointed his head with oil and whispered the prayers.
Before I knew it, it was all over. I hugged him tightly. Then, that was it. Or maybe, that was the beginning of eternity. Indeed, it is by death and resurrection that we are all set free.