Instead, it comes verbatim from a real, ancient gospel that was rejected as heresy by the Church, and excluded from the Bible. And the priest begins to think: People are always finding God in prison — but what if He was already there? Research for this book was two-pronged. I began by learning about the death penalty. Clearly, I needed to see a working death row — so I scheduled a visit to Arizona to see the facilities and to talk to a death row inmate face to face. I was halfway across the country on a plane when my visit was cancelled — apparently, they decided I was the WRONG kind of media.
Eventually, I sweet-talked my way into a tour of Death Row. Prisoners are locked down for 23 hours a day, in individual cells. So I begged to be taken to the execution chamber, which in Arizona is called the Death House. Both were spotless. I was flicking the microphone switch outside the gas chamber when a woman came up and asked me what I was doing. She folded her arms. As it turned out, this was the warden of the prison. I asked her if she had ever presided over an execution — she had.
Finally, she told me about Debra Milke, a woman who told her four year old son that they were going to see Santa. She was sentenced to death, and told the warden that no one in her family spoke to her anymore. She asked the warden to come to her execution for that reason, when it happens. The warden said yes — not because she thought Milke was innocent, but because she was a Catholic and someone had to pray for her soul. The man returned with a huge book full of the statutes and procedures used to execute someone in the state of AZ.
This is a legal document that very few people have ever seen. The warden began to read it to me aloud. It gave information about how to find a vein for lethal injection in difficult situations — like in between the toes, or in the groin. And finally, she told me how an execution is performed. There are three officers who serve as the executioners behind a wall, holding hypodermic needles. The warden comes in and reads the legal document stipulating the death penalty for the inmate.
I feel terrible. She does not under their language, she never helps with the cooking, cleaning up, lousy at gardening, and she sleeps very late. The wine had already begun to soak into the wafer. They came in with flashlights and long handled mirrors, and worked systematically. But the price of such mercy is total surrender, and perhaps Alex's very life. Beth Wiseman did a wonderful job in writing this story that has so much substance but remains entertaining. He encourages Catholics to remember the importance of keeping Sunday holy, urging that it not lose its meaning by being blended with a frivolous " weekend " mentality.
What this means, basically, is that the amount of time between the administration of the sodium pentathol and the potassium chloride is NOT usually enough to put the inmate to sleep — and this is why the Supreme Court is debating whether or not lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment. I was writing so fast and furious as the warden was giving me this information that at one point I spread out on a horizontal surface — and then freaked out a little when I realized I was sprawled across the lethal injection table. In fact, of all the people I met who worked there, not a single one actually advocated the death penalty.
That warden retired unexpectedly about a month after my visit. I sort of like to think maybe I had something to do with it!
I had to fly back a second time to Arizona to visit a death row inmate — a man named Robert Towery. Robert and I sat down on either side of a Plexiglas wall. He stood up when I walked into the visiting booth. The death penalty was suspended in , but by , it was back in action. Is it a deterrent? Is it cheaper than life in prison? Well, it differs from state to state, but in Texas, for example, it costs three times more to execute a man than it does to imprison him for forty years, mostly due to the judicial appeal process. Is it fair?
What seems to matter more than the race of the inmate is the race of the victim — if a victim is white there is more likelihood of a capital murder conviction. Plus, only certain murders qualify for capital punishment — suggesting that the legal system thinks some deaths are more awful than others. Everyone knows which gospels made it into the Bible, but very few people realize that there was a history behind that editorial decision. In , two brothers were digging for fertilizer in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, when they found an earthenware jug filled with leatherbound texts.
They burned some for firewood…and the rest made their way to scholars, who identified them as the Gnostic Gospels. There were tons of groups calling themselves Christian, and all believing different things. The Gnostics were one of these groups. They believe that being Christian was a good start, but to truly reach spiritual enlightenment, you had to find a secret knowledge — the truth that there is a little bit of divinity in all of us…and that the journey to find it is unique for everyone. To that end, you should always be asking questions about faith, instead of believing what you were told.
They followed multiple gospels which preached this secret teaching, including one I particularly like, the Gospel of Thomas. It sounds much more like Buddhism or mystical Judaism than a traditional gospel. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what is within you will destroy you. You can imagine how threatening the beliefs of the Gnostic Christians were to the early Christian church, which was trying to unify itself. And yet — the baby got thrown out with the bathwater.
By getting rid of those Gnostic texts, Christians also dismissed the belief that people might reach spiritual enlightenment in a bunch of ways — not just one RIGHT way. This, the 15th Picoult novel since , is a page-turner, not in the mystery-murder fashion, but in the breath-taking, thought-provoking way.
Savor the story and all the complex moral issues it raises. The story takes many surprising twists and turns, and the last sentence is a shocker. You may not believe in the death penalty, or you may scoff at religion, but you cannot deny the astonishing power this story holds. It will force you to look at the issues from all sides. Tough and gritty, yet poignant, I defy anyone to get through this book without crying at least half a dozen times. The question of what we believe and why never gets old. In this novel, she delves into questions of faith, vengeance, and redemption by exploring the rage of a mother who has lost her child, the bitterness of a criminal, and the fate of one critically ill child that forces them together one last time to test the answer to the question: can even the most understandable thirst for vengeance be quashed if it meant saving someone you love?
This novel is another success for Picoult, who tackles the most complicated personal and political issues with compassion and clarity. She also seems determined to give the Da Vinci Code a run for its money…Laced with intriguing musings on the Gnostic Gospels, Picoult's bold story of loss, justice, redemption and faith reminds us how tragically truth can be concealed and denied. Let the book club debates begin. I have no idea where they were keeping Shay Bourne, before they brought him to us.
Rumor had it that in fact, the prison did have a pair of death row cells — not too far from my own humble abode in the Secure Housing Unit on I-tier. Crash Vitale — who had something to say about everything, although no one bothered to listen — told us that the old death row cells were stacked with the thin, plastic slabs that pass for mattresses here. I wondered for a while what happened to all those extra mattresses after Shay arrived. Moving cells is routine, in prison. As he was escorted in by a phalanx of six correctional officers wearing helmets and flak jackets and face shields, we came forward to the front of our cells, pressed up against the Plexiglas in our doors to better see.
There were eight cells in I-tier, each holding such distinct personalities that to me it sometimes seemed a miracle the steel bars could contain them. Cell 1 housed Joey Kunz, a pedophile who was the bottom of the pecking order. Cell 3 was me, Lucius DuFresne.
The COs passed by the shower stall, shuffled by Joey and Calloway, and then paused right in front of my cell, so I could get a good look. Shay Bourne was small and slight, with close-cropped brown hair and eyes like the sea in the Caribbean. Maybe now would be a good time to tell you what I look like. The sores are scarlet and purple and scaly. They spread from my forehead to my chin. Most people wince. Even the polite ones like the eighty year old missionary who comes to bring us pamphlets once a month always does a double-take, as if I look even worse than he remembers.
But Shay Bourne just met my gaze and nodded at me, as if I were no different than anyone else. I heard the door of the cell beside mine slide shut; the clink of chains as Shay stuck his hands through the trap to have his cuffs removed. The COs left the pod, and almost immediately Crash started in. I was a little surprised that a death row prisoner would have been able to purchase a television from the canteen, same as us.
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It would have been a thirteen inch one, specially made for us wards of the state by Zenith, with a clear plastic shell around its guts and cathodes, so that the COs would be able to tell if you were extracting parts to make weapons. As Calloway and Crash united as they often did to humiliate me, I pulled out my own set of headphones and turned on my television.
But when I tried to change the channel, nothing happened. The screen flickered, as if it was resetting to channel 22, but channel 22 looked just like channel 3 and channel 5 and CNN and the Food Network. There were clowns and balloons and even professional hockey players.
Boo hoo, I thought. I took off my headphones. It was a crime of passion — the only issue is that I focused on the passion part and the courts focused on the crime. But I ask you, what would you have done, if the love of your life found a new love of his life — someone younger, thinner, better looking? Someone without HIV would have a normal T-cell count of a thousand cells or more, but the virus becomes part of these white blood cells. When the white blood cells reproduce to fight infection, the virus reproduces too. As the immune system gets weak, the more likely I am to get sick, or to develop an opportunistic infection, like PCP, toxoplasmosis, CMV.
Dead is dead. I was an artist by vocation, and now, by avocation — although it was considerably more challenging to get my supplies in a place like this. Where I had once favored Windsor-Newton oils and red sable brushes, linen canvases I stretched myself and coated with gesso; I now used whatever I could get my hands on.
I had my nephews draw me pictures on card stock in pencil that I erased, so that I could use the paper over again. I hoarded the foods that produced pigment. Tonight I had been working on a portrait of Adam, drawn of course from memory, because that was all I had left. With the broken tip of a pencil, I had transferred the color to my makeshift canvas. I enjoyed working at night because it was quieter. Even if I do, I find myself getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom — as little as I eat these days, food passes through me at lightning speed.
I get sick to my stomach; I get headaches. The thrush in my mouth and throat makes it hard to swallow. Instead, I use my insomnia to fuel my artwork. Instead, I had pulled out my painting and started recreating Adam. Distracted, I walked to the front of my cell, to see who he was having a conversation with at this hour of night. But the pod was silent, empty.
Maybe he was having a nightmare. Well, in a way, he was right.
I may not have been handed down the same sentence as Shay Bourne, but like him, I would die within the walls of this prison — sooner, rather than later. In a way, I was relieved to talk about TV instead of art history. Although I used to be a PBS snob, I now found myself watching the shows the rest of the philistines in here enjoyed. We were addicted to the Red Sox and the Patriots; we kept meticulous score of their league standings depending on the time of year, and we debated the fairness of umpire and ref calls as if they were law and we were Supreme Court judges.
Sometimes, like us, our teams had their hopes dashed; other times we got to share their Super Bowl. Before I could respond, there was a loud crash and the thud of flesh smacking against the concrete floor. I pressed my face up against the Plexiglas lining the cell door. The others started to wake up, cursing me out for disturbing their rest, and then falling silent with fascination.
Two officers stormed into I-tier, still velcroing their flak jackets. The other, CO Smythe, had never been anything but professional toward me. Kappaletti stopped in front of my cell. Is he breathing? On the count of three…. The EMTs arrived and wheeled Shay past my cell on a gurney — a stretcher with restraints across the shoulders, belly, and legs that was used to transport inmates like Crash, who were too much trouble even cuffed at the waist and ankles; or inmates who were too sick to walk to the infirmary.
But now, I realized that it looked a lot like the table Shay would one day be strapped onto, for his lethal injection. His eyes had rolled up in their sockets, white and blind.
When Shay Bourne returned to I-tier after three days in the hospital infirmary, he was a man with a mission. Every morning, when the officers came to poll us to see who wanted a shower or time in the yard, Shay would ask if he could speak to Warden Coyne. He cast into the center of the catwalk — risky behavior, since the COs would be back any minute. God only knew why a bird would make a nest in a hellhole like this, but one had a few months back, after flying in through the exercise yard. One egg had fallen out and cracked; the baby robin lay on its side, unfinished; its thin, wrinkled chest working like a piston.
Calloway reeled the egg in, inch by inch. We all had forgotten what it was like to care about something so much that you might not be able to stand losing it. The first year I was in here, I used to pretend that the full moon was my pet; that it came once a month just to me. And this past summer, Crash had taken to spreading jam on the louvers of his vent to cultivate a colony of bees, but that was less about husbandry than his misguided belief that he could train them to swarm Joey in his sleep.
A moment later the doors buzzed open; they stood in front of the shower cell waiting for Shay to stick his hands through the trap to be cuffed for the twenty foot journey back to his own cell. I cleared my throat. Could I have a request form, too, when you get a chance? He finished locking Shay up again, then took one out of his pocket and stuffed it into the trap of my cell. Not the right way, anyhow.
When I start the letters all get tangled. I want to give it to a girl who needs it more than me. I tied the note to the end of my own fishing line and swung it beneath the narrow opening of his cell door. For whatever reason, Crash actually listened. He went to the sink and turned the faucet, I could hear splashing. Oh man oh man oh man. We all knew our pipes were connected. The bad news about this was that you literally could not get away from the shit brought down by the others around you.
I stood up and turned the faucet in the sink. The water that spilled out was dark as rubies. It could have been iron or manganese, but this water smelled like sugar, and dried sticky. I did not drink the tap water in here — none of us did. But I bent my head to the tap, all the same, and drank straight from the flow. Men might be restored unto grace for grace, according to their works, Hel. My grace is sufficient for the meek and all that humble themselves, Ether — Moroni prayed that the Gentiles be given grace that they might have charity, Ether , By the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, Moro.
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This particular episode that I have abbreviated is related by one of his spiritual children. We were chatting away. I looked at the clock and saw that it was 11 p. I said good-bye to her and ran to the train station. It was not far; first I had to walk through the village streets, and then nearer to the station I had to go through a little forest—a seven minute walk in all. The moon was young and it was dark, but I refused to be accompanied, and ran off alone.
I was a young woman and afraid of nothing. I walked fast, then ran through the streets and entered the forest.
It was dark, and of course I was a little afraid, but I was all right—the path was wide, and I had walked it many times before. I slowed to a walk, since I did not see or hear anybody. Then I started running, but felt somebody grab me by the arms and throw something over my head. I tried to break loose and wanted to scream but they bound my mouth with a rag.
I fought, trying to tear myself away, trying to kick my attackers with my feet, but they hit me on the head which kept me quiet for a bit. They pulled me off the path and removed the jacket they had used to cover my head, but they did not remove the rag that was keeping my mouth shut. They took the rag from my mouth and pushed me to the ground. Let me go! The tall one put his knife to my chest and pricked it. I knew then that nothing could save me. Here I am and I know that there is no hope for me to be saved.
What can I do? How can I defend myself? I thought about God.
I knew that she was the only one who could save me. At this moment, the tall one threw me to the ground… but I did not stop praying, repeating the same prayer over and over to the Mother of God. We walked in silence, I continued to pray and I was no longer surprised by anything. I just knew that the Mother of God was with me. We walked for a short while. I suddenly saw the light of the train station.
He bought me a ticket to Moscow, wet a handkerchief in the drinking fountain, and washed my face where it was bloody because of the blow I had received. A year went by. One day I was at home studying.