Daniel Lucas was a prisoner on death row in the state of Georgia since 1998. In April, a group email went out via our monks and nuns association of the FPMT (the IMI – the International Mahayana Institute) asking if people wanted to give our phone numbers for Daniel to call. His execution was scheduled for April 27. About two weeks before the execution, prisoners are moved to the “death watch” area and are allowed unlimited phone calls. There was an outpouring of phone numbers given and I was the second person Daniel phoned. We spoke everyday for 1-3 hours. Daniel had been a student of Buddhism for the past 5-6 years and had completed half of the Discovering Buddhism modules. I led meditations for him on death, the visions that appear in the death process, tonglen, bodhicitta, emptiness, etc. , renewed his Refuge Precepts, and discussed many things with him as well, such as life, being human forgiveness, family, prison, teachers, and practice.
Appeals were in process, but a member of his legal team t0ld me it was doubtful clemency would be granted. However, Daniel’s fragmented family found a way to heal and become reconciled in this process, something the legal team said was very unusual. In addition, while Daniel remained in his cell in the “death watch” area, there are always two officers stationed outside of his cell watching him 24 hours a day, most probably so he does not commit suicide (an odd sort of thing – to prevent you from committing suicide so the state can execute you later…). He said at times, some of these officers would ask him questions about his belief system, etc. and Daniel would talk with them about Buddhism! Extraordinary space for him in his last few days and I told him he had no idea of the seeds he may have been planting for them.
During another phone call, when we were reflecting on the fact that we never know exactly when we are going to die, Daniel blurted out, “Ven. Amy, I don’t know if I’ll even get to the execution date or die first!” I was so grateful to him for keeping that right in my face.
The day before the execution, Daniel told me that he would probably not be able to speak with me the next day once he was moved to the room next to the execution chamber. We discussed his mind state and what was best to visualize at the time of the execution. Saying good-bye was a totally surreal experience. We do this all day long with people and there’s always a sense that we will see them again. With Daniel, it was clear that we would most probably not be speaking again. I told him he was in my heart, full of love for him, and to visualize Lama Zopa Rinpoche inseparable with the Buddha at his heart, always.
The day of the execution, naturally, I couldn’t stop thinking about him, wondering how the day was proceeding with last visits, meetings with the legal team, etc. I did a lot of practice for him throughout the day, for his lawyers, for the prison guards, the execution team. At 7pm, I was cleaning up dinner with my elderly dad. The execution was supposed to take place anywhere between 7pm and midnight on April 27. A part of me couldn’t believe this was actually going to happen. He was 18 when he participated in a heinous crime, a burglary gone completed wrong. He was barely adult and under the influence of drugs and alcohol – a most unfortunate influence of his environment – so he doesn’t remember much of what happened. There were guns. I can’t helping thinking again and again, what if there weren’t guns there? The lethal quadruple combo of ignorance, poverty, substances, and guns never seems to have any benefit as far as I have witnessed. Daniel’s remorse over the years, huge and far reaching, included contact with the victims’ family.
At 7:04pm my phone rang. It was Daniel. For a moment my heart leapt. I thought maybe there was some miraculous reprieve. I asked him what was happening. He told me he was just moved to the room next to the execution chamber. My stomach roared. We remained on the phone, with periodic interruptions from the legal team as to the status of a last appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. I read many prayers to him as he was understandably very nervous. His mind was so strong, though, in many ways, as he said he was clear what to visualize, what to think. At 9:03pm (I can still see the calls stacked up in my phone’s log), he said his lawyer told him the last appeal was denied and that he thought they would be proceeding quickly now. He was gone less than an hour later.
His photo seems so different than so many other prisoner photos I have seen appearing somewhat angry, unfriendly, cold. Daniel’s is somewhat transcendent. I like to think he is much freer now.
June 14 Update – Daniel’s 49th Day of Transition According to Buddhist Belief
In the town where I am currently living, I noticed a sunbow in the sky around noon. There was no rain at all, but a mostly sunny day with some clouds, therefore, a sunbow. Perhaps a sign of an auspicious transition for Daniel…