Provoked To Wrath


David’s crime was without a doubt a senseless, horrifying, brutal act even we couldn’t begin to comprehend.  But he had two brothers and a sister who did not want to see him sentenced to death because we knew all that led up to this terrible moment.  Gary, Daniel and I knew who also was at fault and was just as responsible for the murders as David.  There were no witnesses when David murdered but there were three witnesses to the daily molding and making of the murderer.  We were witnesses to a murder just as senseless and brutal, the murder of a child’s soul, by his own parent’s!  Gary and I would take the stand and tell our story then, the judge and jury would know too.  They would know, as children we lived in fear under our father’s daily threat of what would happen to us if we ever told anyone our secrets.

At the Dallas County Courthouse we were taken to a set of oak benches in the main hallway outside the entrance of the courtroom.  For the most part we sat in silence glancing around at our surroundings and watching people come and go.  We did not look like the brother and sister of the man on trial for capital murder.  Two people, a man and a woman, obviously familiar with David’s case, were passing by the bench where we sat waiting.  They stopped, looked us over and as the pair continued on we overheard the woman say, “That’s the brother and sister? They look normal!”  I wanted to shout out to them.   So did David before our father destroyed him!  We’re not deaf!  We’re the brother and sister of someone who spent years living in a hell he couldn’t change as a child!  Spinning out of control as a teenager and plunging into the depths of madness as an adult!  Some of us, not without scars, manage to escape the claws of wicked destruction of our lives!  But some of us slide into a deep dark world of insane thinking, damaged and ruined beyond repair!  This is what happens when you don’t treat children the way they were meant to be treated!  They are tender, vulnerable gifts from God, not your plaything for your amusement when you’re bored.  They’re not your punching bag when you’re angry and they’re certainly not your relief for pent up sexual desires!  That’s what I wanted to say instead, Gary and I just looked at each other and rolled our eyes at the insensitivity of the two.

Gary was the first to be called to testify.

The Day My Mother Died

The Day My Mother Died
Someone took my picture, I was devastated.

People from the Upper Bay Baptist Church drove us to UCLA Medical Center to see our mother one last time.  Entering her hospital room I felt like I was trespassing on private ground, barging in on the secret world of a mere acquaintance.  Standing by her bed I wanted to be invited to come closer and at last take a place in her heart.  Her eyes barely flickered with a faint spark of life and I held my breath so I wouldn’t blow it out.  My unspoken thoughts begged her not to go I kept silent, waiting for her to spend her last words on me.  There was little time left but there was enough for my mother to finally say, she loved me.  That’s all I wanted to hear, all I ever wanted from her.  But instead of reaching out her arms to hug her children for the first and last time, the ghostly phantom of a figure that was our mother, kept her distance unable to give us the one thing we so badly wanted.  All my life, I had been jealous of the invisible impenetrable wall she surrounded herself with.  Now, I envied death because it had a closer relationship with her than I ever did.  She wrote a letter on her death bed asking God’s forgiveness.  In the letter she promised, if He let her live she would do everything to be a better mother and finally protect us from our abusive father.  She asked God to let her into Heaven.  She was 36 years-old, I was 16 years-old.

I dropped a tear in the ocean.  The day you find it is the day I will stop missing you.
–Author Unknown

Lessons from Death Row

Anger towards our father loitered around my subconscious like an annoying visitor that refused to leave.  But, by way of death row, a persuasive argument presented itself convincing me to open the door, usher the useless guest through, and lock it out forever.
The first time I read David’s last letter it was from a stubborn, obstinate frame of mind seeing no benefit to the reasoning behind the words.  Months after he was executed I re-read the letter.  This time the magnitude of the grace and forgiveness David wrote about overwhelmed, humbled, and put me in my place.  My unshakeable stance to even consider our father could be forgiven smacked of arrogant posturing by the realization that, any forgiveness I could ever bestow on anyone was puny and irrelevant in comparison to God’s grace and mercy.

David’s letter in part read:

“Lynda, old feelings of bitterness on anyone’s part only serves to destroy a blessing called “ability to forgive”.  That blessing isn’t anything to take for granted.  Believe me anger is sweet to the tongue but bitter to the stomach and is one of Satan’s many snares to hell.”

“Here on the Texas death row I see the results everyday of fear and bitterness only magnified about a thousand times.  Here, men beaten down by false expectations of themselves, stripped naked of hope, spiritually squirming and desperately clinging to the very deceptions that put them here.  A person that expresses compassion risks ridicule.  But there’s strength in what these here consider weakness.  I mean if wallowing in bitterness and anger is being tough then I’ve been the toughest out of 250 here on death row.  Hey, if God can forgive me for all I’ve done, I can certainly forgive our dad.”

“I love my brothers and sister, always have.  I just never learned to love right but, Jesus has taken care of that also.  Thanks for being there.”

Love you, David

From that letter I learned if I was to believe God’s grace and mercy was granted to David, and I did believe it, I had to believe my father was afforded the same.  I couldn’t have it both ways.   As with the inmate on the gurney, the matter was between God and my father. At the last minute he may asked to be forgiven.  God doesn’t care how long it takes or where we find HIM, HE only cares that we do.

My life was touched and changed through an unimaginable circumstance, from a place I would have never guessed possible.  Everything I really needed to know I learned from deathrow.

Goodbye Daniel

Daniel Allen Long before he disappeared to the street

The death certificate listed acute respiratory failure, and pulmonary edema as the cause of death.  But Daniel also had a heart problem, not in the medical sense, the kind that could be treated with medicine or surgery.  There was no fix for the condition of his heart, my brother literally died of a broken heart.

Permanently bruised, and tender to the touch, Daniels heart was overly cautious.  When rejected or provoked he was known to fire back, lash out in harmless defense to shelter and protect his fragile unhealed wounds from being torn open.  But when you got to know him, and he was sure you weren’t a threat, he let you see the real Daniel.  My brother loved, he loved baseball, dogs, fishing and music, but his deepest abiding love was reserved for God and His most precious of gifts, babies and little children.

Daniel left this life owning nothing but a backpack with a change of clothes inside and his battery powered radio for the music he loved.  He was without all the material things that are seen as great treasures.  But, along life’s journey Daniel had in his possession something more important, something people would consider amazing given the brutality he suffered at the hand of our father.  He was completely without greed, envy, bitterness and hated no one, not even our father.  Never once did I hear Daniel speak against his abuser and if I spoke ill of him, he would excuse our father by saying “Lynda, it was the war.”  It hurt Daniel less to have a noble reason for why our father treated him so badly.

One of my favorite memories of Daniel was the way he would end our conversations.  He said; “Lynda, do you know why you put your shoes under your bed at night?” I always asked why, knowing what the answer would be.  “So you have to fall on your knees in the morning.”  Dying was not something Daniel was afraid of, it was living.  It’s been five years since Daniels body was found in a dark lonely room in the ghetto of Mexicali, Mexico after years spent living under bridges, in parks and even in a box in an alley.  Before Daniel died he called me, I asked him why Mexicali, Mexico he replied; “Lynda, people down here don’t see me as a bum, they think I’m somebody.”  That’s all any child wants is to be seen as somebody.
He was somebody, he was my brother.  My brother is finally free from the nightmare of his tortuous childhood, rest in peace little brother.  I miss you everyday.

God Loves You Kids And So Do I!

Carl and Louise Hagan on their wedding day. Painting by Kathleen Hagan

The timing of when we met the Hagan family couldn’t have been more perfect, they were the life preserver we desperately needed at that moment.

Louise and Carl Hagan loved kids they had six of their own.  Louise was the epitome of motherhood and Carl, fatherhood.  She was warm and tender, the gentleness of her heart shined through when she looked your way and in that moment you felt you were all that mattered.  Carl Hagan was a quiet, bear of a man but when he spoke, his comments were always wise and important.   The Hagan home was nothing fancy, they didn’t have a lot in material possessions but to Gary, Daniel, David and I they had everything.

The Hagan family interaction was so different from what we knew my brothers and I thought it was strange, but we liked it.  In their home, voices were never raised in anger cursing screaming and name calling were not allowed.  There was love, deep respect, common courtesy, and gratitude for all they had been given.  The thought of inflicting pain on someone through whipping, beating or kicking as a means of punishment never entered their minds.

Louise Hagan had no idea how bad our life was but her gift of understanding kids allowed her to see something was terribly wrong inside our house.  She pointed out, praised and encouraged the qualities she saw in each of us to an excess because she saw we were so badly in need of kind words.  Carl and Louise had instilled Kindness and sharing in their six kids, they never resented me and my brothers getting part of their parent’s time and love.  Day or night their door was always open to us, we knew we would eventually have to go back to our house and all that went on there but, we were fortified in knowing we could go back anytime.

Until Mrs. Hagan, my brothers and I didn’t know the feeling of being hugged, she never let us leave her house without one.  Snuggling us to her heart, her arms around us, we knew her love was to be counted on and always would be.  Her parting words to us were always, “Remember, God loves you kids and so do I.”

As our wonderful mentor and lifelong friend turn’s 89, I thank God for His Divine intervention that made our childhood easier to bear.

I recently asked Louise Hagan why she and Carl, who passed away many years ago, devoted their lives to the welfare of four children that weren’t their own, four kids that happened to move into a house, two doors and a vacant lot away.  She replied, “From the moment I met you kids and your mother I felt deep within my spirit we had a bond that would never be untied.  I intuitively knew you were forever inextricably a part of our lives, God-fused with purpose and for a reason.  We loved you kids!


Finding Grace and Mercy on Death Row

In this photo, (our father is the photographer) our family looks normal but, we are far from it!  I am eight-years-old and well into the role of my brother’s keeper as I wrap my arms around two-year-old David.  December 8th marks the fifteenth year since he was executed by the state of Texas in Huntsville.

His last letter to me demonstrates that God’s grace and mercy reaches into the darkest places – even to death row.

Dear Lynda,

My best memories are of you or include you.  Your influence makes up the best part of me or contributes to my better qualities.  I love you always have, always will and I’m proud you are my sister.  Please, I ask you to view my departure as a circle completed.  I’m honestly optimistic and anxiously await my journey with a strong faith and vision of God’s secret rewards.

In terms of the law of the land I’m where I belong.  Jesus has blessed me with his Holy Spirit.  If they came to me right now and said, ‘You can go free but you have to be the man you once were, I’d tell them to close that door!  Lynda, I wouldn’t give up the freedom I found in Christ for nothing.”

I love my brothers and sister, always have.  I just never learned to love right but Jesus has taken care of that also.  Thanks for being there.

Love you, David

Living thirteen years in a 5×9 cell David learned the only way to heal his heart and soul, broken by a childhood wrought with abuse, was through God’s amazing love.  And, by way of death row and David’s letters, my life was touched and enriched through unimaginable circumstances, in a place I would never have guessed possible.

Never Alone

Gary and I with Mrs. Hagan the woman God sent to be our lifelong mentor

Afraid of the unknown, I dreaded my trip to death row but, it was “the visit” that provided the final catalyst, propelling me toward the future that held ultimate freedom.  I learned that our lives can be affected and changed through unimaginable circumstances, and in places we would never guess possible, even in a place of death.

On the drive home from death row, my ultimate freedom from the past came on a rural, dirt road somewhere in Kansas.  All I could think of was Ellis Unit in Huntsville, Texas and how everything David had written about prison life had become a personal, tangible reality to me.  My tears that had always been reserved for the four of us and our lost childhood flowed onto death row and included the men and boys I saw there waiting for their “day certain” to die.  In my sorrowful state I made a wrong turn and I became lost.

Too consumed by the degradation of humanity I was immersed and drenched in for thirty-two hours, I wasn’t bothered by my error.   Stopping on the side of a narrow, maintenance road I was completely alone surrounded by wild sunflowers and tall, ripe wheat fields.  Except for the fall hum of the cicada, it was silent; there wasn’t a breath of wind in the air.  I stood in the warm, Kansas morning light letting the sun absorb the chill from my soul, put there by the cold, ugly place I’d just come from.

I thought of David’s letters as he wrote of the “One” he turned to for help in releasing him from the horrors he’d endured as a boy, restoring him to a human being and a man.  How he looked to the only “One” with unlimited access to death row, able to walk him through the days and give him strength to hold on through thirteen years of living in a 5×9 cage.

I thought of Mrs. Hagan and the words she spoke to me and my brothers so many years ago, “God loves you kids and so do I.”  I never doubted Mrs. Hagan’s love but over time I’d come to believe God’s love was only meant for the well dressed and pretty, not us, the Long kids.  This time I “heard” her and I listened to her with an open, less inferior heart and allowed myself to believe we were lovable.  In the middle of Kansas, on the side of the road, I asked God to please take back the girl who first met HIM at the Upper Bay Baptist Church.  I relented and asked for stronger shoulders than mine to take over and bear the weight I had tried to carry alone for so long.

Before my next breath, I felt the touch of HIS hand, I received on the spot approval, there was no waiting period required and I was bathed in the sheltering cover of the refuge I once knew.  The shelter that hushed the inner turmoil and lifted me above the turbulent times, giving me the strength to bear the years of growing up.  The wrong turn was the right turn.  In my state of lost hope and loneliness I found peace and solace again bestowed upon me in the loving reminder that we are never alone, even in a 5×9 prison cell.

The Death of Goliath

After our mother died I had little contact with our father.  Over the years, out of loneliness he got in touch occasionally, trying to make a self-serving connection with me.  The calls became more frequent when he became old and confined.  He was in his final days when we last spoke he called me from his nursing home bed.  For awhile I politely listened to speak as he always had, rambling on about things that held no meaning for me, trivial conversation like our childhood never happened.  Never once apologizing and taking responsibility for all he did to us.  Had he forgotten he had one son on the Texas death row, and another one so mentally beaten down, life was too hard to bear when clean and sober?

So afraid of stirring his hair-trigger temper I always held my tongue, cowering at the sight and sound of him, deterred from voicing my opinion to him in fear of retaliation.  This time I was not going to let him go easily and allow him to sneak off and take his last breath, without hearing what I finally had the courage to say.  He was not going to have the luxury of ignoring the past, and think the four of us were unaffected by the living hell he put us through.  With my last chance at hand, I interrupted my father and blasted him, letting him hear my anger.  He listened in silence as I refreshed his memory, and with years of bottled up words, I heaped piles of blame on his unapologetic back.  When I was finished I listened for his response, his long awaited apology, pleading through a river of tears for us and more importantly, God, to forgive him.  I heard him hang up without a word.

I thought I would feel a sense of gratification but, I didn’t because his silence told me what I thought didn’t matter to him and, I regretted my timing.  I had stooped to his level by beating him down in his weakened state to satisfy my life-long desire.  A few days later I called him back and the nurse who answered his phone said he was in a coma.  I asked her to put the phone to his ear.  I said “Dad, Its Lynda, I’m sorry, good bye.”  I don’t know if he heard me but I couldn’t let him go to his death with my harsh stamp of condemnation imprinted on him for God to see.

Gary called to give me the news of our father’s death.  The nursing home staff sent me a picture of him in what I’m sure they thought was a kind gesture.  The image of what he’d become was pitiful.  The man that struck terror in my heart and caused me to shutter in his presence was gone, He bared no resemblance to the Goliath I once equated him to.  His body was so frail and thin he looked to be swallowed up by the recliner he was sitting on.   His eyes were dark and sunken in a bony, wrinkled face and the feeble smile he attempted for the picture revealed few teeth.  He was clothed in a hospital gown covering everything but his skin-over-bone stick arms and legs.

At first I wished I hadn’t seen the picture.  To remember him young, handsome and mean seemed better than to remember him old, shriveled up and mean.   But, the longer I looked I encountered an unanticipated benefit hidden within the photo, the years of living in fear of my father dimmed, and the way I held his memory underwent a transformation in my mind.  The idea that the man in the picture was what we were afraid of seemed ludicrous.  It was like looking under the bed and discovering the monster you thought was there didn’t exist after all.  For the first time I felt sad for him and with tears falling on the photo I wondered…who did what to him as a child.

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