The Human Face

Tales from death row: Justice for Rodney Reed


By: Caitlin Adams

I have supported many causes, many efforts in my lifetime.  Civil rights, abolition, criminal justice reform, human rights, civil liberties, protecting our environment, keeping our foods safe, fighting poverty, oppression and marginalization and the list does go on.  Being one of millions involved in the promotion of these causes is powerful, heady stuff,  humbling and daunting.  Those of us involved in these struggles are inundated with numbers, percentages, statistics, so much of the time, that I can sometimes forget it's so much more than just a cause or a number.  My advocacy for and friendship with Rodney each and every day,  has provided "The Human Face" to each and every action, each and every petition, email, phone call, letter that I've done over the past 19 months.  And in myriad ways this has changed me as an activist and as a human being.

Whenever I read a petition or take action on someone's behalf, I am so very aware of "The Human Face"—the real, the concrete, the specific human being the action is about. It comes about something like this:  I remember the number of days and hours Rodney has been unjustly imprisoned. I remember Rodney Rodell Reed was born December 22, 1967, the fourth of six sons to Walter and Sandra Reed.  That he grew up an Air Force "brat". I remember Rodney is brother to Robert, Ronald, Richard, Rodrick and Ryan. That he is father to Aaron, Christopher and Anthony.  I remember that Rodney is grandfather to Jaymeson and Marlei.  That he is uncle to Colton, Ronnie, Lil Ryan, Brittany, Baby Ryan, Marcus, Isaiah, Jacob, Noah, and Aubrey.  I remember that Rodney has lived, loved, made mistakes, done good things.  That he was an Olympic caliber boxer, with dreams of going to the Olympics. I remember that Rodney was a certified nurse's aid, who cared for the elderly and infirm. Each of these remembrances becomes "The Human Face". It encourages me to imagine, to learn the "who" behind every number, percentage, statistic, to always be aware of the real, concrete, specific human being(s) those figures represent.

"The Human Face" for me, has a way of making being an advocate, activist ever so more personal, real, painful, heartbreaking, agonizing and at the very same time so incredibly rich, joyful, meaningful and grace filled.  Because I can see Rodney smile when I visit, hear his words, thoughts, feelings, I can see his smile all the time. Then I can imagine the smiles on the faces of each person whose petition I sign, whose Facebook page I "like", or who I send an email or letter to support. Rodney's words, thoughts, feelings come back to me so often as I am learning about another human being's plight. They help guide me to see through what needs to be seen through so I'm able see the real, concrete, specific human being before me. Each of them becomes a part of me, in a way that is palpable, that leaves me at peace, that allows me to experience what Ani DiFranco sings of—“I know there is strength in the differences between us. I know there is comfort, where we overlap."

Sandra is all well and so we had a visit day yesterday, 10/29, with Rodney. It was so very delightful as always to see his human face.