A Saint on Death Row
Thomas Cahill
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Buy *A Saint on Death Row: The Story of Dominique Green* by Thomas Cahill online

A Saint on Death Row: The Story of Dominique Green
Thomas Cahill
Nan A. Talese
160 pages
March 2009
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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This is a short book (144 pages including a reference chapter), a small book (pocket-sized), written in straightforward language. Anyone will be able to understand it, and apart from some complex legal issues, most everyone who reads it will be touched by it. Bestselling author Thomas Cahill (five volumes of the Hinges of History series) wrote it because he could write, because it was the contribution he could make to celebrate the life of Dominique Green, a young man whom he came greatly to respect.

Green was the oldest child of a drug-addicted father and an insane and sadistic mother. He grew up in Houston, Texas, in an atmosphere of poverty, crime and abuse. The neighborhood he inhabited and the state of his origin were early markers against any hope of worldly success. As an African American ghetto kid in Texas, Dominique was not going to have an easy ride. His mother abused him (once holding his hand over a flame because he didn’t write something down quickly enough for her) and was no less brutal to his younger siblings, towards whom Dominique was unusually protective from an early age. He was raped by a priest, an event which was acknowledged but went unpunished, and later when he lived in a children’s home, he was sexually abused by the staff who singled him out because he never had any visitors and would therefore be alone and vulnerable on visitor’s day.

Still, Dominique showed both boldness and kindness in trying to stand up to his cruel mother and take care of his younger brother, and self-preservation by finding ways to get by, mostly illegal, in order to stay away from the home. By bad associations, at age 18 he was part of a robbery that ended in a fatal shooting, and by bad luck and some racist machinations, he was the only one to be charged with the murder, which he said he had not committed. His court-appointed lawyers were incompetent, to put it mildly; his mother was allowed to testify against him despite her many diagnoses of mental illness, and the psychologist who was supposed to testify on his behalf held the belief that black people were more prone to violence and more likely to commit criminal acts. The Texas legal system was skewed against African American and other non-white criminals, and the death penalty was enforced without qualm, reinforcing the racial bias of the laws.

Dominique lived many years on Death Row, mostly in solitary confinement, which included never being touched by anyone, even visitors, the only break from cell time being an occasional one-hour trip to a barred cage “outside” for nominal “exercise.” Over the years, Dominique distinguished himself by trying to organize his fellow inmates – he instigated a football pool and eventually got the prisoners to compose a book of their writings. He sought attention from outsiders who might have power to hear about his case and launch a serious appeal of his sentence. Though he was ultimately unsuccessful in the appeal, he found many friends and supporters from all over the world and garnered the spotlight that won him a visit from his hero, Archbishop Desmond Tutu - and Cahill’s book, begun in the last couple years of Dominique’s short life.

Clearly a gifted writer, Dominique could have been somebody, given a chance, somebody whose name would be known for something more positive than being a doomed prisoner exhibiting rare virtues of generosity and self-sacrifice. His flawed life and death by lethal injection serve as a testimony to the harshness of the criminal justice system (especially in Texas) and the inhumane techniques of incarceration that subjugate and degrade all those who operate within it. Dominique’s shining example of a rehabilitated life, indeed a rebirth within a living death, will surely stand as silent witness against the continued employment of the death penalty.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Barbara Bamberger Scott, 2009

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