Tales from death row: Justice for Rodney Reed

By: Caitlin Adams

On the trip down to see Rodney on Tuesday, July 3, I heard a Teddy Pendergrass song, a song of his I love.  I hadn't heard it in a long time and the song has inspired this week's blog.  "You're My Latest, My Greatest Inspiration."

As I listened to the song, I thought of Rodney. He really is my latest and my greatest inspiration—not just because his smile is "more beautiful than the Mona Lisa and worth more than gold"!  As I navigate the ALS journey each day—each day somehow needing to be able to let go a little more, each day needing to muster more and more acceptance of what is happening to me physically—it really is Rodney who inspires me.  15 years, 5,572 days, 133,729 hours, as of this writing, he has had to let go every second of every day that he has been unjustly imprisoned.  When I consider what he has had to and continues to have to accept, it makes my little burdens (and I do mean little burdens) so very much easier to bear.  When I get completely flummoxed by fingers that don't work or it takes me 20 minutes to get socks on or 15 attempts to pick up a piece of paper. Or when I realize that the list of things I can't do anymore is getting as long as the list of things I can do, his smile appears in my mind's eye and before I know it one is spreading across my face in response, even when I try—really try, because I want to be mad—to resist, his smile always wins, always coaxes one out of me.

There is no injustice in my having ALS.  People get sick every day and people die every day.  In Rodney's case there has been a terrible injustice and every time my mind wants to take me down the self-pity road, the “poor me”, the “why me”, the “it's not fair” road—there is Rodney's smile, his laugh. Before I know it, I'm not heading down that debilitating road of self-pity.  This alone is one of the greatest gifts of our friendship and it surely has improved the quality of my life in so many ways. When I'm not wasting time feeling sorry for me I'm much less likely to judge others. I'm more willing and open. I smile more. Everything is easier, better.

A quote of Eleanor Roosevelt's that I’ve always appreciated comes to mind, "You must do the thing which you think you cannot do."  On the days when I find myself feeling that I simply cannot do this disease for one more minute, forget one more day. When I'm sure I can't bear what's coming. When I'm scared, just simply scared,  I remember this quote and I think about 15 years, 5573 days, 133,755 hours and Rodney's daily awareness that the State of Texas wants to murder him and—yes, you guessed it—I see his smile and I get through.

I've talked about Rodney's smile quite often, in this blog, in other blogs, with friends and family, basically with anyone who will listen!  That his smile so easily comes across his face in the hell that is death row is nothing short of miraculous.  That his smile is so life affirming, so ineffably alive, so freely shared lets me know that no one, no situation, nothing can take a person's freedom or their dignity. Oh, they can lock you up in a 6 x 9 cinderblock cell or in a body that doesn't work. They can even kill you, but they can’t take your freedom and dignity.  Those you have to surrender, you have to give up; there just is no surrender or give up in Rodney or me, either!

For all of you out here in the free world, never underestimate the power of your smile. Be one.  Mother Teresa said it beautifully, "Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing."

For Rodney: "...You're my latest, and my greatest, I tell you, my latest, my greatest make life a joy to live and I'm thankful, I'm blessed just to know inspire me. Inspire me, don't you know keep lifting me up higher, higher..."



Caitlin Adams is a resident of Bastrop, Texas.  After meeting the family of Texas death row prisoner Rodney Reed outside of their home in early 2011, she began writing with Rodney.  She has developed a friendship with Rodney's mother Sandra and his family in Bastrop, as well as making regular trips to death row to visit Rodney. 

After learning about the facts of Rodney's case, Caitlin has become an advocate for Rodney Reed – here we present Caitlin's story about her journey for justice.