A week from Tuesday, Georgia is planning to kill my mother for her role in the murder of my father. My father would not want this to happen. He would not want the children he loved so much to endure the unspeakable pain that her execution would bring.
In February 1997, I lost my best friend and hero when I lost my dad, Douglas Morgan Gissendaner. He was my primary caregiver, and he always made sure that my brothers and I came first. My dad was more than just a great person to each of us: he would do whatever he could to take care of everyone around him. He made sure we knew what it meant to be unconditionally loved. The night my father was murdered the world was changed.
After my dad was killed, my brothers and I lived with Nanny, our maternal grandmother. When I was seventeen, I came home from school one day and saw that she had collapsed. I ran to her and discovered that she was dead. She had had a massive heart attack. My brothers and I lived separately from that point forward.
As I got older and was going through my teenage years, I stopped wanting to see my mother. I had visited her with Nanny when I was growing up, but when I got to college I decided to quit visiting her. As a young child I could not grasp why my father had been taken from me. As my awareness grew, so did my anger toward my mother. My mother continued to reach out to me but I ignored her. After about a year, I decided to meet with her again. I was still very angry, but I had reached the point that I wanted to know the answers to questions about my dad’s death and I was ready to ask her those questions. We had never talked about the crime or about what she had done. It was hard for both of us but she told me the terrible truth. As painful as that was, I realized then that I wanted to try to have a relationship with her again.
That was six years ago. Since that time, we have been able to have the mother/daughter relationship that had been missing for many years. My mom has changed so much over the past 18 years. We have such a wonderful relationship, and for the first time, I’m truly getting to know her. She has become a selfless person who puts the needs of others before her own. She has found Christ in a profound and different way, and she has worked toward exploring and deepening her faith. My mom has graduated from a theological program, she counsels other inmates, and she always offers a friendly smile to others no matter what she is dealing with. Even though she lives behind bars, she impacts and influences my life daily.
During the years since my dad’s murder, I have struggled with the immense pain of losing him and the fact that my mother was involved in his murder. I reached a point where I knew that I had to move from a place of anger and bitterness to a place of love and forgiveness. I had to face what my mom had done and find a way to forgive her. In the process, I saw that my mom had struggled through the years to come to grips with what she had done and face her own horror about her actions. It was not an easy road, but I learned that forgiving my mother was the best way to truly honor my father's memory and who he was.
On the night of March 2, 2015, I waited near the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison where an execution team was charged with killing my mother. I felt physically ill, nauseated and light-headed -- overwhelmed by sadness. Executing her will not bring justice or peace. It would only bring more pain and suffering.
My father's murder was the most painful experience of my life. I loved him dearly and cherish every memory of him. He was a loving and forgiving person. My dad would not want my mom to be executed, even knowing her role in his murder. He would not want us to endure another devastating loss. My brothers and I have dealt with our anger toward our mother and her role in dad’s death in different ways, but we are united in our hope that she won’t be executed. We’ve lost our dad. We can’t imagine losing our mom too.