Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Joshua Bishop

On Monday, the State of Georgia was going to execute Kelly Gissendaner, the only woman on the state's death row.  Her execution was postponed because of apparent problems with the drug cocktail that performs the deed. Also, it seems there is a temporary halt on all executions until the pharmaceutical issues have been sorted out. This year so far, Georgia has already executed two people: Andrew Brannen and Warren Lee Hill, in January.

Thanks to my friends, Gary & Diana, I have come to know Joshua Bishop, another inmate on the state's death row. We've exchanged a brief correspondence -- the lapse in which is entirely my fault. Joshua committed a horrible crime, back in 1994, when he was 19, and was sentenced in 1996. Over the years, he became friends with Gary & Diana. This friendship drew him to Christ, and to the Catholic Church. When he was 23, he was baptized by the late Archbishop Donoghue, in the prison in Jackson. Gary & Diana became his godparents, in absentia. An article in the Georgia Bulletin talks about this friendship between them. In that article, Joshua writes:
“The family of the church has saved me,” Bishop wrote. “Every day is not a picnic, but I try every day to live my Christian faith by doing something positive with my life left. Society with the death penalty say(s) we are unredeemable. But the change in me is to say no matter what they say I must still offer my life up to give back anything I can that will be positive to those I hurt and those that live around me.” 
“The family of the church has saved me. If it’s not a ‘family’ it’s not true or real. But the Catholic church that I am a member of is so, so real because I have the love of family—God’s love, God’s family, and on death row, seeing friends executed, you need that love of family that God provides,” he wrote.
Last year, Fr. Augustin Fogarty, one of my fellow Atlanta priests, died. Fr. Fogarty had for years ministered to prisoners, including those on death row, and Joshua. The Georgia Bulletin published a heartfelt testimony to this friendship. Reading it once more brings tears to my eyes again.
But he was a stern man too at times. He was open to things, but the traditions he held in high esteem. The Body and Blood of Christ—that, he said, was in essence our belief. God gave to us life so we take in his gift of Body and Blood. 
I used to fear dying, but Father Austin told me to fear only the things left undone. Take care of your heart, love others, and have your spirit clean from any hate or anger for the laws of man. 
Sometimes we would talk about how mad this place made us, and Father Austin would agree that the death penalty was wrong in his light Irish speech, nearly hidden behind his neat white mustache. 
Father Austin was our father. Lots of us did not have a father to teach us things about treating our fellowman with love and respect. 
Father Austin loved us. He would tell us each one. “I love you, Joshua.” “I love you, Lenny.” “I love you, Warren.” He’d tell each of us that man only has power over our bodies. But God has power over the men who prepare us for execution. So we should show love to them and let God speak to them through our actions. I never felt a negative thing or word from him.
Now word comes from his lawyers that time is running out for Joshua. It is possible that the State will execute him as early as the end of this month.

If you are reading this, and are moved by this, drop him a line, a card or a letter. Remember, visiting the imprisoned is one of the corporal works of mercy. Pray for him, for his family. Pray for Leverett Lewis Morrison, the man he murdered in 1994, and his family and loved ones. Pray for an end to the death penalty in our country.

Joshua Bishop, 865709
GDCP - G1-31
PO Box 3877
Jackson, GA  30233

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