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Second Chances: Former Death Row Inmate, Kenneth Foster Jr., Breathes New Life and Hope Through Poetry

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From death row to life in prison, Foster writes with passion and a purpose; about his daughter, life on the edge, spirituality, and the injustices and oppression crippling the legal system today.

On August 30, just six hours before the scheduled execution of Kenneth Foster Jr., the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles ruled 6-1 to commute his death sentence, which was accepted by Governor Rick Perry.  Over 17,000 people worldwide urged the Board of Governors to commute Foster’s sentence, including President Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Kenneth Foster has served ten years in prison, the majority of that time on death row under the little known statute, Law of Parties. The Law of Parties allows prosecuting attorneys to hold anyone present at the scene of a crime legally responsible for the outcome.  Texas is the only state that applies this statute in capital cases, making it the only U.S. locale where an individual can be factually innocent of murder and yet still face the death penalty.  Foster, at the scene of the crime, and along with the gunman, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death by lethal injection.  The individual who pulled the trigger has since been executed. 

By definition, the Law of Parties can subject a person to death even though he did not kill, intend to kill, help or encourage anyone to do so. 

Today, Kenneth Foster, 30, is serving a new sentence - life with the possibility of parole.  However, and according to a spokesperson for Foster, he won’t be eligible for parole for another 30 years. Currently, his prison “level” does not allow for contact visits and he is confined to his cell for 22 hours each day.  Foster has the possibility to move up through the system levels, and in a year from now, may be able to have contact visits with his 11 year old daughter, Nydesha, as well as other family members. 

A few months ago, I reported on Foster’s case in two articles for OpEdNews, Law of Parties, and From Behind Glass: Kenneth Foster and his Daughter Nydesha.  From Behind Glass was based on a powerful interview conducted by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! and featuring Nydesha. This interview took place only days before Foster was due to be executed.  Earlier this week, I received a message from Adam Axel, a spokesperson for Kenneth, who wrote that my article, From Behind Glass, had “inspired a new poem by Kenneth,” for and about his beloved Nydesha.  The poem, herewith, speaks volumes of the unbreakable bond between father and daughter, undaunted by the glass barrier that has kept them physically apart for the last ten years, but spiritually, forever connected.

"and so the story goes"

by Kenneth Foster Jr.

she won't have to be the
half-hearted princess after all,
coz death missed me
even if just by the
hairs on my chinny-chin chin.
all the fairytales missed at bed time-
it's alright,
coz we just made our own.
baby girl-
in all your glory
you took the world in your hands,
swirled them w/ an African dance,
pranced through its soul w/ your poems
and showed that their hate
can't smother true love.
behind the glass
we elevated above
the social doubts & legal deceptions.
at 11 years old
you learned a valuable lesson
about the realities of
you've been an activist
since you was 8 months old.
from the start i owed you-
fought more for you
than myself.
choked up on your squiggly letters at night
made me resilient in my fight-
tears burning w/ purpose
taking flight like Pegasus
for the stars
where we belong.
John Amador dreamed us
to existence like a prophet
before his transition.
my eyes glistened as he spoke of
our victory.
there's a mystery to the Row
like at
believe that!
i've witnessed transfigurations
on earth
like it is in heaven.
suffer ye the little children.
baby girl-
your heart remains whole,
thumping with all the intensity
that the world saw.
and God smiled upon you
when you said-
"if you kill him,
it's like you're killing me"-
coz He's been there/done that,
so He spared us the cross
and blessed us w/
time to give the world a
Holy kiss.
they won't miss us this time
as we take the world by storm.
i adore you,
so proud i be,
just smiling at the fact
you won't have to be the
half-hearted princess after all.
Your wholeness
makes me whole.

Kenneth Foster has published two books of poetry since his incarceration, Tribulations Eyes, which has been published in four languages, and his new book, Texas Tears.  Texas Tears is a book of spoken word poetry – and though in keeping with his spiritual foundation, it reveals Kenneth’s radical side and challenges the status quo of injustices and oppression that he and many of those around him have faced.  For more on Kenneth Foster, his daughter Nydesha, and how to purchase his poetry, you can visit his website at www.freekenneth.com

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Jan Baumgartner is the author of the memoir, Moonlight in the Desert of Left Behind. She was born near San Francisco, California, and for years lived on the coast of Maine. She is a writer and creative content book editor. She's worked as a grant (more...)

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