If ever there was a reason to spare the life of a man condemned to die, a man who committed no crime other than being present at the time of a murder, it is in the compelling face, voice, and wisdom - a wisdom far beyond her tender eleven years - of Nydesha Foster.
If you saw this beautiful face in a crowd, it would be enough to steal your heart. But, to hear her speak, to hear her words of devotion, of growing up behind a glass partition, and the very loss of innocence that robbed a child of what should have been her God-given right, this, would break your heart. The innocence of a child is only for fairytales.
In a perfect world, every child would be blessed with youthful innocence, a protective veil of blissful naivete, impenetrable, if only for a short while, before the weight of the world and the often stark realities of adulthood, bears down upon their shoulders, brick by brick.
Last Thursday Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! interviewed the family of Kenneth Foster Jr., 30, who is scheduled to die by lethal injection on August 30. Foster has been on death row for ten years and will be executed under the controversial Texas "Law of Parties" which imposes capital punishment on anyone involved in a crime where a murder is committed. Foster never touched the murder weapon nor did he have any prior knowledge of the crime. These facts are not disputed.
It was the testimony, however, of a young daughter's love and devotion for her father, that left me both repulsed and awestruck; repulsed that a "civilized" society can commit legal murder, and awestruck by the grace, wisdom and strength of eleven-year-old Nydesha.
Perhaps too, I saw the look and determination of a young girl who had been exposed to hardships and loss that most people hope never to experience in their lifetimes, let alone during childhood. Through no fault of her own, Nydesha was forced to age far faster than her years, carrying the burden of a father doomed to die, a father she has not touched since the age of one. And in that face, I thought I recognized something of my own, of my past, of a daughter visiting a parent behind that cold glass wall, unable to touch, to feel the loving embrace of a father.
While my experiences were nothing like the nightmare that Nydesha has endured with such dignity and strength of character, I "met" my own father through a similar fate and glass barricade. Mine, at San Quentin, where every weekend for the first three years of my life (and the length of his sentence), my mother took me for that prison visit, where I am told, I rejoiced in seeing my out-of-reach father, reciting for him, new poems and nursery rhymes that brought a few moments of joy into his otherwise small, contained life.
So to hear the words of Nydesha Foster, and to see this young victim, a victim of nothing short of a crime against humanity that the state of Texas will commit in a few short weeks, was testimony enough that the death penalty snuffs out more than a single life, it takes with it, piece by piece, the lives of family and friends. An eye for an eye, apparently, is not enough.
The following are excerpts from the transcript of the Democracy Now! interview with Nydesha Foster.
Nydesha Foster: "I was about one years old when the incident took place. And ever since he has been put into death row sentence, I have been -- he's been watching me grow up from behind glass, and I've seen him watch me get older from behind glass. And it's a hard thing for me to do, but I get used to it, but it's not a happy thing for me to do."
Amy Goodman: "Have you ever touched your dad?"
Nydesha Foster: "When I was one years old, before the incident happened. I have not touched my dad since probably 1996."
Juan Gonzalez: "And when you speak with him, what are some of the things he tells you, in terms of continuing to have hope that he will be able to be saved?"
Nydesha Foster: "Yes. He encourages me. That's what keeps me strong about his case, because, you know, if I didn't have him to encourage me, I would probably not be able to do anything, because I'd be so sad and stressed out. But it's the manner of things that he does and, you know, how he listens to me, even when people don't look or listen to us."
"It's, you know, everybody -- he calls me his little princess, and, I mean, I feel like I am his princess because of the things he does for me. And even though he is a father behind glass, he does a lot of stuff for me. You know, he still is a father. And people need to recognize that."
"When somebody is a big part of your heart, like my father is - I mean, my father is more than half of my heart. I mean, I love him so much. And if the state of Texas kills him just for driving a car, it's like you're killing my heart. It's like you're killing half of me. It's like if you execute him, you might as well execute me, because of the types of things and the could-have-should- have-known stuff, and it's just how the Texas Law of Parties, they just really need to take the time to listen, and my dad probably would not be in the predicament that he is in, if the Law of Parties would take the time to listen to us."