dave ainsworth
san francisco, CA

husband, father,
christian pastor,
human being

Too Little Too Late

"It's been a very strange day, Bryan. Really strange. Most people who feel fine don't get to think all day about this being their last day alive with certainty that they will be killed. It's different than being in Vietnam... much stranger."

He nodded at the officers who were milling about nervously. "It's been strange for them, too.

"All day long people have been asking me, 'What can I do to help you?' When I woke up this morning, they kept coming to me, 'Can we get you some breakfast?' At midday they came to me, 'Can we get you some lunch?' All day long, 'What can we do to help you?' This evening, 'What do you want for your meal, how can we help you?' 'Do you need stamps for your letters?' 'Do you want water?' 'Do you want coffee?' 'Can we get you the phone?' 'How can we help you?'

Herbert sighed and looked away.

"It's been so strange, Bryan. More people have asked me what they can do to help me in the last fourteen hours of my life than ever asked me in the years when I was coming up."


He looked at me, and his face twisted in confusion.

I gave Herbert one last long hug, but I was thinking about what he'd said. I thought of all the evidence that the court had never reviewed about his childhood. I was thinking about all of the trauma and difficulty that had followed him home from Vietnam. I couldn't help but ask myself, Where were these people when he really needed them? Where were all of these helpful people when Herbert was three and his mother died? Where were they when he was seven and trying to recover from physical abuse? Where were they when he was a young teen struggling with drugs and alcohol? Where were they when he returned from Vietnam traumatized and disabled?

I saw the cassette tape recorder that had been set up in the hallway and watched an officer bring over a tape. The sad strains of "The Old Rugged Cross" began to play as they pulled Herbert away from me.

-- from Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stephenson (pp. 89-90). Stephenson is a defense lawyer and public advocate for reform in the U.S. criminal justice system. This story records a conversation between Stephenson and Herbert Richardson, moments before he was executed for capital murder. 

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