The Hug
by B.R. Aronoff

August 5, 1997... The guards stood like tin soldiers. Each one had different dents, different stances, different glances, different places where the paint was scratched off to leave bare the base material, different fears and different dreams... different differences! The righteous left were there standing and moving their own tin soldier ways; with their own methods of being different... and the same.

Up on the roof facing the stage stood the surveillance crew with yet another set of rules for them to stand, Look, pretend not to look and listen for the correct phrase or emphasis to support their distorted assumptions.

The miserably disrespectful right didn't get there in time. Their banners of hate and revenge reflected upon us all. THe majority of those present were not there to look at that side of themselves. It was to be a vigil in support of Thomas Thompson who was to have died in six hours but a virtual miracle, by California Judicial standards of clemency, occurred. He was given a reprieve at least until October when the courts reconvened. It was better than nothing. The guards snatched his last meal away from him and ate it themselves.

The media all had the look of disappointment on their heavily ready faces. After all, with no execution there's no stories; no interviews with a teary-eyed friend. All their equipment lining both sides of the street for a half mile leading up to the prison looked like big out of place toys. The "No Parking" signs stretched for miles. The authorities seemed to want to make it as uninviting as possible to the vigilants. But Tom had countless friends who would have crossed the Alps to be there.

For the few who visit and know the condemned, the involvement becomes a lifestyle. Most of the time it is a jubilation to play a part. Other times it becomes too real. Too many horrifying lessons are learned by naive people who grow old overnight. The unexpected becomes the unknown. A loved one has lost the fight. He is dead. You are not. But you can still feel his presence; smell his prison smell; feel his strong arms. Rage!
"BUT HE WAS SO ALIVE!"

For several weeks after an execution, the visiting room at San Quentin reacts like one body; a body healing from a devastating operation. He isn't there anymore. he'll never return.

There were countless friendships in that room from all possible walks of life. They are gone.
That chair over there; that's where they sat... his girlfriend and him... right there. I wonder if that youngster realizes who used to sit right there. they'd laugh a lot. She'd cry sometimes. It was a tough struggle for both of them. But you knew by watching them they both thought it was worth every second.

There were four of those tragic "operations" which killed so much more of us than we care to admit. Hopefully, number five was canceled for good. There was even a good chance Tom would soon go free. If only he would be granted a new trial.

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On August 7th, I was to go inside and visit a friend on Death Row. Tom called him "Mr. Personality". Neither of them spoke to each other. In any other location in the prison these two men might chance to meet bloodshed would be a certainty. In the visiting rooms, however, there was one golden rule amongst the prisoners. NO SHIT IN THE VISITING ROOM!!! In the last thirteen years there were two incidents. One involved a lawyer being stabbed repeatedly with a sharpened toothbrush by his disgruntled client. The other incident involved a prisoner and his wife having a brawl. The inmate who would jeopardize visiting privileges for the others would face an almost certain death.

As a result of Tom's utter disgust for the guy I'd visit, we'd exchange pleasantries before "Mr. Personality" would enter the room. Some times it would take almost an hour;; other times, five or ten minutes.

While standing in the sallyport by the plexi-glass and expanded steel entryway I was able to look inside the visiting room and see who might be down today. Being involved with the condemned all these years has afforded me many friendships within the confines of the rules an regs of an oppressed and oppressive system. There was no Bob D. with his girlfriend, Kim. Little JAy was talking animatedly to Kitty. He was beginning to paint again. After his appeal was denied, the brilliant art he was producing had no meaning for him. The Night Stalker was sitting in his regular seat next to his wife, Doreen. He had just been released from solitary confinement where he had spent the last eleven years without any significant human contact. there were several new arrivals on the row sitting and trying not to show their wide-eyedness. Some of the condemned looked as if they were barely out of high school. It was over for them almost before it began. It must be tough being a Judge sometimes. One prisoner was sitting towards the back. Just as the lock on the door crashed open with a hideous metallic sound to signal my entry, our eyes met. It was Tom. He was already making body motions which signaled his happiness to see me and to come over.

The ecstasy of that moment shall remaining my heart forever. It was Tom. He made it through. Although he looked as if he hadn't slept for two weeks, his aura of relief was powerful. Rita had no problem smiling from ear to ear. She was clutching onto her man as if he were the Christmas gift she'd always dreamed of having. For the first time both Tom and I ignored the prejudice of me being a "them" and he being an "us". We were two men glad to be in each others company. We stared for a second or so and then embraced. It was Tom. The operation was canceled. It was the hug of a lifetime.
"Love is all there is..."

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Note: On July 14, 1998, Tom Thompson was executed under grave suspicion of being innocent. Crucial evidence was ignored. If that evidence can be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to be true, it will signal the beginning of the end for the death camps throughout the land of the free.

Long live Tom Thompson...


By B.R. Aronoff
P.O. Box 227
Sebastopol, Ca. 95472
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