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Excerpt: 'A Saint on Death Row: The Story of Dominique Green'


By Dominique Jerome Green

I really would enjoy it if one of the first things people noticed about me was the radiance of my smile. The conditions under which I live have robbed many here of the smallest traces of happiness that once could have been found at the very core of their being. So heads hanging down, faces plastered by frowns and defeatist attitudes are things you find here en masse. Which is why the simple fact that I can smile, I can laugh, I can allow myself not to take this seriously should be more than enough reason to capture folks' attention, but it's not.

Instead, people are drawn to the black and blue rosary that adorns my neck, which is made of 101 beads, and which hangs to below my waist. As long as it is, and as stand-outish as it is, I don't know why I thought very little attention would be paid to it. But whatever the case may be, that was definitely wishful thinking on my part, because everyone who sees me ends up asking me questions about the rosary. The questions have ranged from gang-related to religious, from natural curiousness to understanding, from playfully humorous to sarcastic.

I used to not answer the questions. If I responded, I used humor or wit to put an end to or deflect the questions.

The reason I wear the rosary and have kept it for all these years was personal, something that only belonged to me. But recently, even my attorney asked about it when she came to visit.

The time had come, I decided, to finally talk about the rosary.

When I first arrived on death row, I was just a kid — one confused, smart-mouthed and belligerent kid. Fortunately, back then death row was nothing like it is now. Now we are all individually isolated. Then the environment was communal. I could interact with men who saw in me the potential to grow. Those men taught me, they mentored me, they helped me find myself. They showed me how to open my eyes and in turn open up my mind.

Today it's not like that. The communal environment that enabled me to grow is denied men who come here today, men who need those teachers, those mentors and those spiritual guides to help them understand that coming here is not the end of their lives but merely a second chance.

That all sounds so easy now. But at first I couldn't accept or even fathom that concept. I was like, "How can you even call living here on Texas Death Row a second chance at life?" What finally allowed things to fall into perspective for me was when a friend, one of my mentors, was set to be executed.

He told me the fact that his number was being called and not mine was what would give me a second chance to use all the knowledge he had passed on to me to make a difference in someone's life. His words stuck to my heart.

With his passing, not only did I pick up his torch, but I also began making my rosary, bead by bead. Each bead represents a friend, mentor or spiritual guide of mine who has died and who gave me the chance to use their knowledge and wisdom to touch other lives.

I never expected my rosary to get so long. As messed up as the Texas judicial system is, I expected the courts or the people to eventually put a stop to what was going on down here.

But they haven't. And 11 years after I was sent here, the death toll continues to rise. More than 250 people have been executed since my arrival. I've known almost all of them. I chose to stop adding beads to my rosary at 101, because by then I understood how to use what I had learned to have an impact on the lives of others and to help make a difference.

Most men here will never get the chance to understand self-discipline from people like Paul Rougeau; how to have a sense of humor even when things are at their worst from people like Rick Jones; how to have whole countries believing in them and showing an outpouring of support to free them like Odel Barnes; how to be a friend and big brother like no other like Vincent Cooks; how to never let this place break one's mind, body or spirit like Emerson Rudd; how to lead by being a follower like Ponchai Wilkerson; how to make people change their beliefs in capital punishment as did the wrongfully executed Gary Graham; and how to look at being here as having a second chance at life like Da'woud.

Those are lives my rosary reflects. So no, it doesn't bother me that my smile is not and probably won't ever be the first thing people notice about me. After all, its radiance is allowed to come from what I wear around my neck anyway.

Copyright 2009 by Thomas Cahill. All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Nan A.Talese, an imprint of The Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

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