I recently read an article by Shane Claiborne that begins with these striking words, “It’s the first time I’ve counted down the days to a friend’s execution. Unless there is a miracle from God or compassion from the state’s governor, Tennessee will kill Don Johnson by lethal injection on May 16.” Shane goes on the explain about his friendship with Don that developed over the past five years of visiting him in prison. Don Johnson is on death row for the murder of his wife Connie Johnson in 1984. As the article succinctly and powerfully states, “Don’s guilt was never in question for me. But neither was his redemption.” Don Johnson became a Christian and a pastor while on death row. His ministry has impacted the lives of inmates, correctional officers, and staff at the prison. But the most powerful witness of Christ’s transforming power is in Don’s relationship with his daughter,
After losing her mom at the age of 7, she became a champion for the death penalty, especially when it came to the execution of her dad. She wanted him dead. She hated him. The death penalty seemed like justice, at first. Cynthia eventually found that her hatred was not hurting him, but it was killing her. She found herself in a prison of her own anger and resentment, confined, in her words, “to my own internal house of hell.” The justice she sought turned out to be revenge…She forgave her dad, not so he could sleep at night but so that she could sleep at night. Now she is fighting to save his life.Cynthia is fighting for alternatives to the death penalty – for her dad, and for everyone else. Despite its promises of closure and justice, the death penalty extends trauma, exacerbates wounds and creates a whole new set of victims, something Cynthia knows all too well.
The death penalty is wrong on many levels including the likelihood of executing innocent people as shown by recent exonerations of convicted people after years on death row. Even when guilt is not in doubt, the death penalty is applied unfairly based on race and economic condition. But most importantly as Shane Claiborne’s article cleary shows, the death penalty is a refusal to recognize the possibility and reality of redemption, transformation, and rehabilitation. For those of us who believe in the power of God to bring new life, we do not believe that God’s power stops outside the prison walls or even outside death row. Please pray this week for Don Johnson’s life to be spared and that our country will abolish the death penalty. If you want to read the full article by Shane Claiborne click here.
In this Oct. 13, 1999, file photo, Ricky Bell, left, then the warden at Riverbend Correctional Facility in Nashville, Tenn., gives a tour of the prison’s execution chamber. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)