On June 8, 2007, the Indianapolis Star reports that the Indiana Parole Board has voted unanimously to deny clemency for cop killer Michael Lambert. The state schedules his execution for the early morning hours of Friday, June 15, 2007.
After that hearing, I begin to notice a change in the quantity and quality of e-mails I receive.
In the weeks before the execution, I receive a steady stream of e-mails discussing the status of the last-minute appeals for Lambert’s life. But as Indiana continues to move forward with arrangements for the execution, more and more e-mails arrive in my mailbox.
In the days before the execution, as the message volume increases, the quality of the messages changes too. Writers begin to show the stirring of their passions. Writers express more feelings, fewer facts. As legal avenues close, hearts open.
Three days before the execution, I receive, "A call for holding in our hearts all those who are part of the execution, from the victim’s family to the person being executed, from the warden to the cook, from Lambert’s fellow death row inmates to all of us who are taxpayers." Finally, with an uneasy familiarity with the process, the e-mails that arrive on Wednesday don’t mention appeals or hearings; the e-mails discuss schedules, travel arrangements, and meeting locations for protesters and vigils.
I feel a leading to attend the vigil at the prison on the night of the execution. I leave work a little early on Thursday afternoon and pick up a small rental car. It’s a three hour drive to Michigan City in northwestern Indiana. I begin my drive across northern Illinois and around the traffic congested south side of Chicago. I hear nothing on the radio as I cross into Indiana. No stay. No mention of the execution on the news—nothing.
I arrive at the prison a little later than expected. I see activity all around. The prison grounds are surrounded by an old wrought iron fence and I see uniformed men patrolling the fence line with guard dogs. I’m directed into an employee parking lot directly across the street from the prison. Prison officials have carved the employee parking lot into sections. One section is for those protesting, one section is for the media, and one area is set aside for police officers and others supporting the widow of the slain officer. Plastic yellow tape carves out a generous section of the parking lot for those of us protesting the execution. We’re allowed to gather near the main gate of the prison. Officials, witnesses and others arrive and enter the facility. Police and prison officials stand near the main gate. I hear a few locals say the mayor of Michigan City is among those by the main gate. After a short time, there’s no other traffic going in or coming out.
Several people make short, informal speeches to the protesters. After the final speech, we sit, sign petitions and exchange names and information. Before the sun sets, we begin to picket with drums and handwritten signs along the street and sidewalk near the main gate. I count 25 protesters. Several TV stations are present and begin turning their cameras to us. For a time, we march quietly back and forth. We answer a few questions posed by the media and explain our position. . . even cop killers don’t deserve to die.
Approaching sirens overwhelm the quiet. From a distance and growing louder, supporters for the slain officer arrive, en mass, in police cars with their lights flashing and sirens wailing. The lights and sounds fill the air and announce their arrival to the entire prison. I wish Michael didn’t have to hear this, but I’m pretty sure he did. I imagine it’s one of the last sounds from the outside world he heard.
During the evening hours, a few people from both groups meet informally and chat. I meet an officer and his son in the employee parking lot.They both are wearing shirts with police badges. I’m wearing a shirt that says, "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind." We shake hands and talk. We’re here for different reasons, but it’s a friendly conversation. There’s no animosity.There is common ground. Everyone is here for someone else.
The hours pass. The neighbors, who are watching from their front porches, begin to quietly retire. Friday is another work day for them. Protesters too begin to excuse themselves and leave. The evening grows even quieter. The groups get smaller and huddle together. We wait. We know that things are beginning to happen inside the prison.
Shortly after midnight, prison officials escort Michael Lambert into Indiana’s death chamber. He’s shackled to a table. They find a vein in his arm and administer the chemical cocktail that kills him.
Before 1:00 AM, officials come to the gate of the prison with an announcement. In the glare of TV lights, they announce that Michael Lambert is dead.We’re told he never requested a special meal. He had no final words and we’re told he complied with prison officials throughout the process. He didn’t put up a fight.
I’m back on the road to my apartment. I’m alone and driving on dark, empty streets, trying to figure things out. Should we protest? Did it make a difference? Was my voice heard? Did I do enough—should I have been arrested to make my point?
I remember reading Advices and Queries. I remember one I read years ago: "Every stage of our lives offers fresh opportunities. Responding to divine guidance, try to discern the right time to undertake or relinquish responsibilities without undue pride or guilt. Attend to what love requires of you. . .".
Maybe I didn’t stop an execution, but I opposed it. Maybe someone heard my voice. How silent the woods would be if only the best birds sang.
Every love song, every act of love is important and everyone is capable of making a difference by and through love in the life of another person.
I want to do today the work that love requires—even if I’m sad when it’s done; even if it ends with death.