My life does take unexpected turns. I mean this in the best way — I’m mostly a sportswriter, of course, but then I find myself involved in all sorts of projects, some which seem pretty directly related to the sportswriting gig, like writing the movie they play at the Baseball Hall of Fame or last year’s wonderful Tip Your Cap campaign. But then some have no apparent connection to sports at all, like last year’s equally wonderful First Woman Voter campaign.
This Thursday, I’m in conversation with John Grisham for his new book “Sooley.” I have no idea how that happened either; I hope you’ll join us.
But I want to share an entirely different and unexpected project I’m involved in with the hope that you might want to take a moment to help.
There’s a man on death row named Quintin Phillippe Jones — everybody calls him Quin. He is scheduled to be executed on May 19. He committed a terrible crime when he was 20 years old; he murdered his great-aunt Berthena Bryant in a $50 robbery for drug money. He does not deny any of the details of the murder nor does he believe himself worthy of forgiveness. As author Suleika Jaouad says: He has not forgiven himself.
If you have read Suleika’s bestselling book “Between Two Kingdoms,” you have already heard about Quin — he’s Lil’ GQ in the book. Suleika and Quin first exchanged letters almost a decade ago when she was diagnosed with leukemia and given a 35% chance of surviving. She wrote a column for the New York Times about the loneliness of facing death and the hardships of isolation. He wrote to her about how much her words resonated with him. They have exchanged many, many letters since. She went to visit him on death row.
When he wrote that first letter, he had already begun a transformation that astounds the mind and soul. Quin’s childhood was unimaginable to most of us, filled with sexual abuse, drugs, poverty and pain. He says the first person to pull a gun on him was his mother. He was living on the streets by age 13. And yet he does not blame any of that for his crime or his fate in life. Instead, he began spending his time in prison reading, working out, seeking redemption and, incredibly, writing letters to people all around the world in an effort to spread some comfort and joy.
These letters are absolutely amazing. You can see a few of the letters he has shared with Suleika through the years at our website, but the truth is that these are not unusual, he has been writing these sorts of letters to so many people we’ve heard from. A teacher talks about having boxes and boxes of Quin’s letters. A nine-year-old girl talks about Quin being her very best friend and she wrote to the Pope asking for his help. A mother talks about writing to Quin about her son’s suicide, and him writing back from the experience of twice attempting suicide himself.
We’ll be sharing as much of this as we can because there are so many people that this man has reached and helped from the isolation of death row.
Take a look at this collage of letters Suleika put together. Look at the handwriting. Sometimes just seeing the handwriting can tell its own story.
Suleika and others have started this grassroots effort to get Quin’s death sentence commuted so that he can spend the rest of his natural life in prison. There are many legal reasons that this should happen that you can read about on the site. Here are just three:
1) The death sentence is suspect because the jury was presented with since-discredited psychological evidence of his “future dangerousness,” which is the key component for applying the death penalty. And when I say the evidence has been discredited, I’m not kidding — the very person who invented the psychological checklist that was used by the prosecution in court published a paper stating that it should never be used in criminal cases.
2) The ringleader of the gang was a guy named Riky “Red” Roosa. He was convicted of two murders, and he was sentenced to life in prison and will actually be eligible for parole in 2039. Roosa is 18 years older than Quin and white. Quin was only 20 at the time of his crime — there is all sorts of compelling new science that shows the brain does not reach full maturity until people reach their mid-20s — and is black and he received a death sentence.
3) The family of the victim is, in this case, also Quin’s family and Berthena Bryant’s sister Mattie Long and her nephew Benjamin Jones have both long forgiven him and ask the state not to add to their trauma by executing him.
I’m obviously not a lawyer so while I find all of these arguments rational and powerful — it seems so clear to me that no matter where you may stand on the death penalty that Quintin Jones does not deserve to die — it is the person who I find compelling. Even in prison, even in isolation, Quin has something to offer this world. He has been, by all accounts, a model prisoner for 20 years and he is so clearly and vividly on a journey of redemption.
Thank you for reading this; I know it’s not what you signed up for, and we’ll get back to the sports and fun stuff. But I hope you’ll at least take a moment to think of Quin and, if you feel up to it, sign the petition asking Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to let Quin live.