Today is the one year anniversary of my father’s sudden and unexpected death. It’s also the birthday of Troy Davis, my friend who was executed on death row in 2011 and whom I wrote Remain Free about. These were the two most influential men in my life, so I thought I’d share a few words on their relationship.
Both my father and I were moderate supporters of the death penalty in 2008, before we met Troy. So when we first heard about Troy’s case, we were both skeptical of this death row inmate’s claim of innocence—for me, it was because I had this naive, childlike faith in our justice system and institutions; for my father, I think there was a certain cynicism that that led him to distrust people by default, and who less trustworthy than a convicted cop killer?
Nonetheless, on September 23, 2008, the day Troy came within 90 minutes of execution, it was my father who was the first to tell me the execution had been stayed. My mother was adamant we accept Troy’s offer to visit him on death row six days later, but my father did not share her enthusiasm. By design, he had built a bubble in the suburbs for his kids—a safe, if a bit dull, life, far enough away from the city to be mostly free from the drugs, gangs, and violence that plagued Atlanta and the neighborhoods in Savannah where Troy grew up. I think he was afraid of us puncturing that bubble to enter the world that he had fought so hard to stay away from.
He came with me the first time I ever went to a Troy Davis rally, a few days before Troy faced another execution date in October 2008, I was transfixed. I was 15 years old, and captivated by these speakers talk about justice and freeing Troy. But he was unimpressed. He grew up in India, a bustling, chaotic democracy that was never bereft of rallies, protests, or the occasional bandh (general strikes and infrastructure shutdowns by political activists). For him, this was just another street corner rally.
I think his mind changed when he finally met Troy. Troy was so genuine and warm and kindthat nobody could meet him and not want to fight for him, to save him. I can’t remember exactly what they spoke about on those visits, but when I left for college, Troy, in his final letter, said, “I know he misses you more than you’d even imagine.” He was right, of course. He usually was about these sorts of things.
After two or three visits, my father stopped coming to see Troy on death row. Not because he didn’t care, but because “it is too depressing seeing Troy in there.” From his voice, I could tell how deeply death row disturbed him. This was not the safe life in the suburbs he had worked so hard to build for us.
But he would still wake up early in the mornings on those Saturdays we visited Troy, make the 90 minute plus drive to Jackson, Georgia, and wait across the street at the Wendy’s while we met with Troy for six hours. He would still drive me to rallies, and drop me off and pick me up at the train station when I interned at Amnesty International but couldn’t drive. Like me, he was no longer a supporter of the death penalty. And on September 21, 2011, the night Troy was executed, only five years and 19 days before his own death, he was there protesting with me outside death row, chanting “I Am Troy Davis” into the setting sun.
If you knew my father or would like to honor his memory, please make a donation to an education-related charity of your choice—education was a cause he cared deeply about. If you’re not sure where to donate, two organizations I like are Pratham and DonorsChoose.
If you knew Troy or would like to honor his memory, please make a donation to the Innocence Project, a non-profit that helps free wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing and works to prevent wrongful convictions from happening in the first place.