"Hope is the worst of evils, as it prolongs the torment of man."
I have been thinking a lot about Matt Puckett during the past month as he is scheduled to be executed by the state of Mississippi tomorrow, March 20, 2012. He has been my pen pal for a couple of years. His spiritual adviser asked me if I'd write to him since Matt liked to write. I'm no Stephen King, but I've had a few pieces published and I'm writing about the death penalty, so I agreed. Matt sent me his writing and I broke out a red pen and told him what I thought he needed to do to make his words come alive. I am not an editor by any means, but with Matt, I got to put that hat on for a little while and see what it felt like. Unlike me, Matt wasn't afraid of editorial comments and suggestions. He was thirsty for knowledge and liked a challenge. My favorite thing he ever wrote was when I told him to write an essay that started with the line, "It was another gritty Maxwell House morning." This was after he admitted to me in one of his earlier letters that he ate instant coffee to stay awake.
What I liked about Matt was his determination. He wasn't going to let his environment bring him down. Prison tends to do that to a person. But, Matt rose above it. He read. He wrote. He made it a mission to learn a new word each day and use it. He was curious about the world and he liked to discuss things. He had so many pen pals that he communicated with on a daily basis that it astounded me. He started a prison library so that everyone could read books, which he felt were important. The last book he read was "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks." I loved that book and I was so pleased that he was able to read it. I told him to look on the dedication page for one of my mentor's names, Diana Hume George. I think he got a kick out of the fact that I had a distant connection to the much better, more famous writer, Rebecca Skloot. But he was stuck with me.
I asked the "Sun Magazine" to send him a subscription, as they will do that free of charge to the incarcerated, in the hopes that he would submit something to them. I don't know if he ever did. He does have some essays out there on the internet.
His family and everyone who has had a relationship with him is in a very bad position right now. The machinery of death is in motion and there is little to stop it. I've been in this position before with Khristian Oliver and no matter how many times you call the Governor's office, there is nothing to do but sit and wait and watch and worry. It's the most surreal experience ever. Matt Puckett knows that there's a very real chance that he will die on that gurney tomorrow at approximately 6pm.
In my last letter to him, I sent him an essay about hope. We'd discussed hope, whether it was a good or a bad thing for someone in his predicament. When you really think about it, what's more healthy? Preparing for our exit or clinging to a shred of hope? Can you have both? I don't know. I've never been there.
But, I'm not going to lie or sugarcoat the truth of my feelings. Since I've grown to know him, I empathize with him for the emotional torment he is going through right now in Unit 17 at Parchman. I can't imagine what that's like. I hope that he's finding some semblance of peace tonight. And if he has to take that walk tomorrow, I hope that he does it without fear.