Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Foreword by Joe Giarratano

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pp. ix-xii

But for Marie McFadden Deans, my life would have ended in a dank prison basement on 22 February 1991, fried at the hands of the Commonwealth of Virginia. That is not to say that there were not many other human beings, all deserving of their own books, who jumped in to help stay the executioner’s cold hands. There are many unsung heroes responsible for my being alive to write these words. The reality is that, but for Marie Deans, those other heroes would not have come together on my behalf. No matter how my story gets spun, no one can deny that Marie was the...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xiii-xvi

Over the course of researching and writing this book, Maggie and I have benefited from the kindness and generosity of Marie’s family, friends, and colleagues. First and foremost, we want to thank Robert Deans, Marie’s youngest son and literary executor, who gave us access to Marie’s personal papers as well as permission to tell her life story. Both Robert and his older brother, Joel McFadden, graciously spent time sharing their memories of their mother and her work. William Tremper, Marie’s first husband, also talked with us and provided critical insights into Marie’s family and upbringing....

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Introduction

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pp. 1-8

This book is the story of one of the most remarkable and complex women I have ever met. She was a fighter, a storyteller, and a civil rights activist named Marie McFadden Deans. This book also represents a promise that I made in the fall of 2008, when I pledged to Marie that I would help her write her memoir. When that promise was made, my original intent was to serve as Marie’s co-author and research assistant. Yet Marie’s declining health and premature death from lung cancer in April of 2011 made it impossible for us to complete the task. So I honored my promise to...

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1. The Murder of Penny Deans

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pp. 9-20

When Marie gave a public speech about the death penalty, she would often tell the story of the murder of her mother-in-law, Evelyn “Penny” Deans. The story of Penny’s brutal slaying represented why Marie got involved in death penalty work. It also highlighted why Marie thought that the death penalty was ineffective and morally offensive. “My mother-in-law’s killing was the crucial element, the key that motivated me to get into this work . . . I don’t want to see anyone ignored or thrown away by society, whether they’re the victims or the murderers.”1...

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2. The Birth of an Abolitionist

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pp. 21-45

Marie’s personal papers contain little information about her childhood. At first glance, this seems like an odd oversight given the highly detailed descriptions of her professional life that Marie left behind. Given the abuse and trauma she experienced at the hands of her parents, it is not surprising that Marie avoided discussing her early years. To most people, Marie only referred cryptically to a childhood filled with abuse and fear....

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3. Marie and the Men of the South Carolina Death Row

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pp. 46-69

As Marie recovered from the murder of Penny Deans and the loss of her oldest son, she struggled to find a way to get involved in the fight for social justice. Marie had joined a letter-writing campaign to free Ukrainian author Valentine Moroz from a Soviet prison. In 1973, Marie read an article stating that Amnesty International (AI) was involved in a similar campaign. She wrote Amnesty International for information about its activities, and the materials that she received opened her eyes to the worldwide practice of imprisoning political activists. “I began to become aware...

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4. Transitions

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pp. 70-79

The year 1982 was a turning point in Marie’s personal life and professional career. It would see Marie suffer physical injuries that would leave her in pain for the rest of her life. And the year would end with Marie preparing to leave her beloved South Carolina to move to Virginia. The move would strain already tense familial bonds between Marie, her parents, and her oldest son, and it would signal the end of her marriage to her third husband....

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5. The Virginia Coalition on Jails and Prisons

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pp. 80-110

When Marie moved to Richmond, Virginia, in January of 1983, she did not fully realize the enormity of the task before her. “I spent the first few months trying to find out who was on death row, who their attorneys were (if they had attorneys), where their cases were in the courts, and trying to raise money.” Moreover, Marie discovered that groups traditionally opposed to the death penalty were not willing to come to her aid. Some church organizations thought that Marie would interfere with their own fundraising operations, and the local ACLU and AI chapters feared that...

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6. Marie and Russ

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pp. 111-128

For most of her time working in the death house, Marie had Russ Ford at her side. A native of Richmond, Virginia, Russ was the son of a brick mason who was raised in the Baptist Church. He attended Averett College and then Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, before he began working at the Virginia State Penitentiary in 1984. Russ soon rose to the position of senior pastor, and his responsibilities included counseling the men of death row and the death house. “I didn’t choose death row. I arrived there,” Russ once explained to a newspaper...

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7. Inside the Vortex of Evil

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pp. 129-142

In our rambling conversations around Marie’s wooden kitchen table, Marie and I talked in depth about a wide range of issues involving capital punishment. The death house, however, was not typically one of those topics. Whenever the conversation edged close to the death house, the normally talkative Marie fell silent as the shadows of what she called the “vortex of evil” drew near.
While Marie could speak in generalities about being in the death house (how many men she visited, how the death house was configured, the rodents, and the...

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8. Standing Watch in the Death House

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pp. 143-161

Marie wrote sparingly about standing watch with thirty-four men in South Carolina and Virginia. Perhaps it was because she could not find the words. “There is nothing to describe the horror, the sense of soul-filth, you feel when you come out of there,” Marie said. “There is nothing to describe the irony, the stupidity, the bizarreness of being in the death house.”1 Moreover, Marie wrote that she did not want her book “to be mired in [my] death watches,” since “to write a litany of death watches would make them banal.” Marie did, however, want to focus on a few death...

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9. Marie and Joe

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pp. 162-185

Of all the relationships between Marie and the men of death row, none is more remarkable than the enduring bond between Marie and Joe Giarratano. As discussed in Chapter 4, Marie first met Joe during a fact-finding mission to Virginia’s death row on behalf of Amnesty International USA. Joe had written over thirty different death penalty and civil rights organizations, begging them to convince a former police officer on death row named Frank Coppola to resume his appeals. The head of the Southern Coalition on Jails and Prisons, Reverend Joseph Ingle,...

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10. The Fight to Save Joe Giarratano

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pp. 186-206

Marie may have won the battle to save Joe’s soul, but the fight to save his life was only beginning. And Joe himself was still coming to grips with his abusive childhood as well as his apparent role in a double homicide. Marie wrote that Joe seemed “much more relaxed and generally in good spirits” after he decided to resume his appeals, but the other men on the row told Marie that Joe was hyperactive and often “cried out in his sleep.” “In answer to my inquiries,” Marie wrote, “Joe told me he was having nightmares, but he couldn’t remember what they were about.”...

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11. The Death of the Coalition

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pp. 207-233

In the early 1990s, Marie’s energies were primarily focused on saving the lives of two Virginia death row inmates: Roger Keith Coleman and Earl Washington Jr. The men were convicted in separate and unrelated cases for the rape and murder of nineteen-year-old women, and the lawyers handling their appeals were convinced of their clients’ factual innocence. Both Roger and Earl would find themselves facing execution dates without lawyers, and they would desperately turn to Marie to help stay their executions. Over the course of a decade, Marie would experience the...

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12. The Final Years Alone

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pp. 234-244

The last decade of Marie’s life was filled with sadness, illness, and unfulfilled goals. With the exception of working on Joe Giarratano’s clemency petition, her death penalty work was essentially finished, and the name “Marie Deans” meant little to the newest generation of attorneys, activists, and abolitionists. Isolated in her small Charlottesville townhouse, doing transcription and editing work in order to pay her bills, Marie felt like the world had forgotten her....

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Afterword by Joseph Ingle

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pp. 245-248

After Marie Deans’s memorial service in Charlottesville, Virginia, Todd Peppers shared with me the work Marie had been doing on her memoir. I encouraged him to pick up the threads Marie left and complete the tapestry of her life. This book is an admirable job of telling Marie’s story, and I am grateful he and Maggie Anderson completed the task.
In 1982, the Southern Coalition on Jails and Prisons (SCJP), an organization working to abolish the death penalty and promote prison reform, decided to...

Timeline of Major Events

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pp. 249-250

The Men of the Row

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pp. 251-252

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The Runaway

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pp. 253-260

“The Runaway” is an unpublished story Marie wrote in the 1970s. Because of the undeniable fact that it is based on Marie’s relationship with her mother, we have decided to include it. Of course, some of the details in the story are fictitious. Nevertheless, we believe that it provides a window into the anger and pain that Marie felt toward Hettie....

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The Gift

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pp. 261-268

“The Gift” is another unpublished story Marie wrote in the 1970s. Again, it is loosely autobiographical and provides additional insights into how Marie was impacted by the loss of her oldest son and the birth of her youngest....

Notes

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pp. 269-280

Index

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pp. 281-288