I just got home from jail. We were shackled with chains on our hands, feet, and waist in the DC jail.
I was chained to families of the murdered and families of the executed who had stood together on the steps of the Supreme Court with a banner that read: “Remember the victims, but not with more killing.”
I went to jail with SueZann Bosler, Sam Reese Sheppard, and Art Laffin whose loved ones were murdered.
I went to jail with Randy Gardner whose brother was executed by Utah’s firing squad in 2010. Randy was arrested wearing his brother’s orange jumpsuit.
I went to jail with Derrick Jamison who was wrongfully sentenced to death and spent 20 years on Ohio’s death row. He was given six execution dates and came within hours of an execution before proving his innocence and showing that the prosecution withheld over 30 pieces of evidence. Derrick saw over 50 of his friends killed by the state, and lost his mother while in prison… he went back to jail for the first time since his release to stare the beast in the face and be a part of the abolition the death penalty that almost took his life.
I went to jail with my fellow faith leaders, and clergy, including several core leaders here at Red Letter Christians – Pastor Michael McBride, Father John Dear, Leroy Barber, Lisa Sharon Harper, Shawn Casselberry, Doug Pagitt, and others. Our brother Tony Campolo prayed for us as we were handcuffed, and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove led the freedom choir.
We went to jail with some of the icons of the abolition movement, while hundreds of others stood in solidarity.
So what did we do that landed us in jail, shackled with chains?
We held a banner in front of the Supreme Court that said, “Stop Executions!”
We held a banner.
But we did not just hold a banner.
We challenged the myth of redemptive violence. We exposed the machinery of death. We took on the system of revenge. There’s no other way to explain why you go to jail and get put in shackles for holding a sign in front of a court that is supposed to protect the right to free speech.
We did not just protest – we protestified. We proclaimed the Gospel. We performed liturgy in the streets. We declared that mercy triumphs over judgment, that God blesses the merciful, that Jesus came not for the righteous but for the sinners. We spoke truth – that no one is beyond redemption, and that everyone is better than the worst thing they’ve done. That’s what we went to jail for.
Hours after our release, the state of Virginia executed Ricky Gray, a reminder of the urgency of our witness at the Supreme Court. We will not stop until the executions stop.
What we did at the Supreme Court was about the death penalty, but it was also about something bigger than the death penalty. It is about what it means to follow Jesus in a world that is plagued by violence and death.
I will write more later about the experience, and about our trial next month, and about what Jesus might be calling us to do in the days to come.
For now, I have to go explain to the kids why I went to jail. And I’ll tell them what I always tell them when I go to jail: “You can go to jail for doing something wrong, and you can also go to jail for doing something right. I went to jail for doing something right.”
And I had good company as I did it, including a condemned prisoner from Galilee. Thank you all for your prayers and support… we felt the love from around the world.
I am proud for what we stood for this week, and for what we stood against. That’s why I smiled in my jail photo as I remembered the words of John Lewis… “I smiled because I knew that we were on the right side of history.”
Read other accounts of #MoralResistance from arrestees at Tuesday’s Supreme Court action.