During centuries BLACK LIVES did not MATTER and it still does not.
Let me tell you about it through my experiences.
A strange thing happened to me while dangling from a rope, choking, struggling, and dying. I could hear how the people underneath me joked about particular body parts they would love to cut off once I’m truly dead. I noticed my mother, sisters and homeboys standing there hiding in the bushes watching my ass spin around slowly dying. I wondered why no one ran over and tried to help and by the way … it’s hard as hell to breath when there’s a lad rope cutting into your throat skin while slowly choking the life right out of you. As my eyes slowly started digging into the back of my skull and that last twitch, I felt someone cut me down. ‘Hey guy! Look, no hard feelings, right? You are not really mad at us for hanging you? Afterall, people hate you, your family didn’t truly love you and by the way who cares?’ The idea, of being hung during this era after public hanging was outlawed many years ago, seems outlandish. But it happens all the time.
25 year and 3 months ago, in 1995, I was tried and convicted of first degree murder in one day in less than a few hours. The following day I was sentenced to fifty years behind bars. I was accused of beating my sister to death, causing Blunt Force Trauma Injury and Severe Edema. To support the theory, the States-expert pathologist stated that, without a shadow of a doubt, this was the cause of death and nothing else could have possibly be the cause of her death but brain death. To compound matters, the State relied upon an eye witness, Wanda Beck, that stated: ‘He hit her with hard body blows, he hit her like a man would hit another male – he beat her and I have seen it!’ To be perfectly honest, at that time I was poorly educated, terrified of the police, terribly ignorant about the judicial workings, had too many fist fights to count, a petty thief, drug dealer with a tendency to be able to avoid cops.
My behaviour angered many. Justifiably so, people felt like I deserved what I had coming. Still, I entered prison as a very anger person. Those people figured that I would die in a knife fight, Aids, or because of old age. That burden on me fueled me and because of the pain I felt, it drove me to have suicidal thoughts. That unrelenting pain was like continuously having something grag the pit of my stomach and pull everything up through my esophagus and out my palate.
Angry is an understatement, furious would be more appropriate. But I had to keep from falling apart because my family watched for years as I dangled from that three choking to death.
I walked away from Lufkin High school with ten and a half credits. I was placed in Special Ed because of skipping school and being a problem. They basically gave me a diploma to get lost. My reading and writing skills were horrible but I was forced in prison to enter the law library and read every case that I could concerning murder. To note the penal code on murder and what it states verbatim: to commit murder you have to intentionally and knowingly cause the death of an individual. Something the State never proved. I was reading but not comprehending anything. But my anger forced me on.
Instead of physical altercations I entered a Hospice care class, started college and slowly but surely things became clear. There’s something about watching people die and then figuring it out. Then I met Professor B. Huval of Lamar State College, Port Arthur. This feeble old lady gave me two wonderful things: ‘Resilience‘ and ‘Perseverance‘. In her English comp classes she introduced me to the art of writing. By God that lady cut up enough of my essays to bore in me the rules of engagement and I love, admire and thank her for it. I continued fighting myself, the ignorance, laziness, selfishness, greed, hate … I worked hard to eradicate those vices and I’m still working on that. I eventually took a leap of faith and entered one of my essays into Lamar Stage College – Port Arthur’s Expression Magazine, 2008 Edition. I explained the benefits of what Dr. Huval gave all of us and what an inspiration she was to me. I won first place and that fueled me to self educate myself to write novels, screenplays, stageplays and most importantly … fight back. Things did not come together for me until I put God first. No, this is not a flakey tail where I say God dropped angels down and made miracles happen but I will say as I worked, God worked with me and not for me. That’s when I truly discovered just what Dr. Huval had all along.
In 2009 something strange happend. An attending nurse at the hospital where my sister died, contacted my aunt San and stated: ‘Chaka was not beaten and she did not die of blunt force trauma or severe edema … she died of cardio vascular arrest ov natural causes’. The outrage started to boil over again. More miracles happened. One of my associates gave me an envelope with an expert pathologist, Dr. Plunkett, apprehensively, I wrote him; In his return letter he wrote ‘There is no objective evidence to support a conclusion that she died or had severe cerebral edema or blunt force trauma, the cause of death was due to a cardiopulmonary arrest and is sue to another and usually caused by heart disease. After reading his entire sworn affidavit I was overwhelmed with too many emotions to explain here. I have to say anger and joy was the most.
I encountered another miracle: mr. John Pizer of the Prison Legal Aid Association, Phoenix, Arizona. He agreed to help and already had a working relationship with Dr. Plunkett. He filed a writ in my behalf and evidentiary hearing was ordered in 2012-2013. I was going home after 20 years of struggling. I figured that the State official would surely let me go, seeing that I discovered that their case was a complete farce. That was not the case and I quickly discovered that my trial attorney was in on the entire coup. He entered the court room mumbling and glaring at me. Claiming that Dr. Plunkett must have taken a pay off. To the contrary, Dr. Plunkett and John Pizer were working for free.
During the hearing Dr. Plunkett cleared me completely of the murder charge. We also got copies of the hospital records and discovered that my lawyer and the D.A. withheld critical information from me and my family. Right there on page seven it states: Cause of death, cardio vascular arrest . My anger continued to boil over as the shabby public defender seemed to be working with the State. The State introduced a second expert who agreed that the cause of death was definitely Blunt force trauma associated with Severe Edema. After testifying, the old State’s pathologist Dr. Bruce, came in and stated that: ‘he agreed that the cause of death was heart related’ , essentially disagreeing with his 1995 findings and his new help, Dr. Wayne. Nevertheless, I lost the first round of the Actual Innocence Appeals – but we continued on.
A new expert pathologist Dr. Peter Stephens was called, he further cleared me of the murder charge, and explained that my sister died of heart disease. We quickly filed another Actual Innocence Brief only for this evidence to be rejected by the courts. Then something strange happened: Dr. Peter Stephens, Dr. Plunkett and my paralegal John Pizer, died. My efforts seemed to be lost and the rope around my neck tightened. My dear friend Johanna Kindt, my children Shapheka Davis and my son Trey Griffin stepped in to help.
Then the BLACK LIVES MATTER movement struck the world. Instantly, we figured something had to be done about black prisoners who were railroaded into prison and eventually died in prison while fighting for their lives – like me. So I/we are screaming, we are hearing prison reform – we are seeing cop killings daily – but no one is screaming about taking the power out of the hands of these crooked judges, and sell out lawyers who have utalized a new way of hanging African Americans – through the judicial system. There are so many of us here that cannot overcome the judicial system which is no different than the ‘SLAVE TRADE‘. So many of us have died here. So many of us will continue to die here if something does not change. Not to get too far away from my actual innocence; the disease SUDDEN DEATH has struck my family four times. This incident with my sister is just that SUDDEN DEATH, a’la heart disease.
Derrick L. Griffin, 14-12-2020
If you like to hear my audiorecording of the above text, you will find it here: