Welcome at the blog of Dini Commandeur. I've written quite a lot of columns for various magazines. I also write short stories every now and then. These columns and stories are available for everybody at this blog. I'll release new columns and stories periodically.


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In Heaven There Are No Stamps

Sunday 12 February 2012 The friend with whom I will soon go to America sends an email with the message that a few days before our departure there will be an execution in Florida. "If he gets a reprieve of a few days, there is a chance that the execution takes place when we are already there," she emails. Oh heaven, that will be something. For that girlfriend and I not only go to America for a vacation, but also to visit our correspondence friends in Florida, and they are there on death row. Likely, they will know the man who will be executed. From others who have visited prisoners on "execution day" I know how tense the atmosphere in the visiting rooms can be. And we always notice it ourselves in the letters. Someone is executed in the USA on a regular basis, and Florida is not the only state where we have pen pals.
It is always a dark period for the men when an execution is imminent or has just taken place. Writing uplifting letters at such a time doesn’t make sense. Indeed, I think it’s not even appropriate. But letting them know that you're thinking of them is always good. So, an extra letter or card is being sent. We have been busy this year, with all this additional mail the stock of stamps had to be regularly replenished. Now it is that time again and everything is put in motion. The press will analyze and explain why, many years ago, the man had been sentenced to death. If he is lucky, family and friends will come to visit. He will receive supportive cards from human rights groups, or correspondence groups. From those cards he will know that he is being thought of in various parts of the world. If all goes as it should, his lawyers will work hard and will do everything possible not to let the execution go through. And the Bishops of Florida will write the Governor to ask for mercy. They have done so often before but never has a life been saved by those letters. Maybe an ecclesiastical figure who’s even higher up in the hierarchy should get involved to get in touch with the Governor. Perhaps the Pope should stop by again. That happened in 1999, when my pen pal Darrell in Missouri was about to be executed. Exactly at the same time that Pope John Paul II was visiting America. That execution came at a bad time, because the Pope seized nearly every opportunity to speak out and oppose the death penalty. So Darrell's death was delayed until the Pope was back in Rome. The Pope had arranged a personal meeting with the Governor of Missouri. Then, out of respect for the Pope, the death sentence of Darrell was commuted to life imprisonment. Thus, it would be worth a try in Florida as well to send a higher clerical officer to the Governor. Or perhaps the Bishops could stand between the protesters who show up faithfully every time an execution occurs. But probably Bishops are not permitted to do so by their superiors. Although their Big Boss up above would surely find that a good idea.
Already for quite some time I was thinking about the Bishops and the letters to the Governor. Whether Bishops in other states also send letters when an execution is coming up, I don’t know, but that the Bishops in Florida do was known to me. And also that those letters were pearls before the swine – a wasted effort. The Bishops, like the then Pope in 1999, should meet the Governor at the negotiation table, I thought. And with the help of one of my colleagues from the group "Envelopes of Hope" (mediation in the correspondence with prisoners) I searched the email addresses of the respective dioceses. There were emails to Florida with my thoughts on the death penalty, the story of Darrell and the Pope, and the proposal to follow the example of the Pope. That the mails had arrived, I knew, and I had also requested a confirmation that they had been read. From the diocesan offices there was initially no response, but I had actually not expected that either. Therefore, I wasn’t surprised when a couple of "unread" messages arrived. From a few other emails there was a “read” receipt but no further response. But then a friendly secretary on behalf of one of the Bishops sent an email back and said that all the Bishops had had contact with the Governor regarding the detainee on death row and there was nothing more they could do. He also wrote that the Bishops meet the Governor in person every year. At that time, several topics are discussed and the death penalty is also put forth. A few days later there was another email, which was dictated by one of the Bishops himself. This email was more detailed on the matter, as the Bishop explained what all he had tried to change the mind of the Governor on the execution, "and have publicly urged the Governor to end the use of the death penalty in our state.'" The Bishop also wrote that he would pray for both the Governor and for the man who was being executed.
But soon those prayers were no longer needed. This time again, the Governor did not listen to the Bishops. And again, the efforts of lawyers and human rights activists had been in vain. What goes on in the mind of such a Governor when he puts his signature on the document? Or does he only think of the voters and the majority of the American population who still support the death penalty? The Bishops could do their very best, but also at the next execution, the one to take place this month, their letters will probably fail to make a difference. The people want vengeance and the Governor is more likely to listen to the people because a Governor watches the votes. But maybe it would indeed be an idea if the Pope occasionally booked a return trip to America. Or even better: If his Boss from Heaven would intervene. If the Governor would receive a letter from above with the message that those executions must come to an end, that “an eye for an eye” really does not work. It would be nice, such a letter from above to the Governor. But in heaven there are no stamps and up there one is apparently not concerned with earthly matters. The "death penalty problem" will therefore need to be resolved down here. And there is only one solution: Abolishment.

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