A few weeks ago, I watched a documentary titled ‘an eye for an eye.’ Now, growing up in a Catholic school, I was very familiar with this line from the Old Testament which basically says that revenge or retaliation is an appropriate way to deal with an offence or a crime. In fact, an eye for an eye is only the first part of the phrase. It can be completed by adding ‘a tooth for a tooth’ at the end, which basically reinforces the same notion. The cover of the documentary is a photo of the Twin Towers, New York. So, my initial thoughts were that it was going to be some form of revenge in response to the 9/11 attacks. However, what was to come was a story of a man named Mark Stroman, from Dallas, TX, and how he managed to get himself put on death row. It is a remarkable story of forgiveness which really made me question my thoughts on the death penalty and whether people should get a chance for rehabilitation.
Mark Stroman, as a kid, lived with his grandparents, as his mother had issues with alcohol. When Stroman lived with his mother and his step-father, he was abused by his step-father, whom his sister claimed ‘hated Mark’ and would often thump him on the head for things as little as holding a fork wrong. Often, Mark would run away and was eventually put in a boys home where he claimed he witnessed things he shouldn’t have seen. Mark managed to get convicted for burglary, theft, robbery and credit card fraud. He identified as a white supremacist, with many tattoos supporting groups like the Nazis and the Ku-Klux Klan (KKK). During his lifetime, Mark married twice. At age 15, he married and had 3 children before having a divorce. Later on, he married again and had another daughter. However, his former boss said that he started to have marital issues which led his wife to leaving with their kid. At this stage in his life, he was described as being very depressed without a care for anything. During that period, 9/11 happened.
In response to 9/11, rage fired up in Mark. As a patriot, he said that it felt like a personal attack. He wanted to retaliate and make people from the Arab world feel what he had felt. During this period, he began to run people off of the roads if they looked Arab or Muslim. Apparently, at that time, lots of people were doing the same thing.
4 days after the 9/11 attacks, Stroman walked into a convenience store where a man named Waqar Hasan was working. Stroman asked for a burger at the deli, which caused Hasan to turn his back on Stroman. In doing this, Stroman shot him in the head. The next day, Hasan’s brother came in to find his brother dead on the floor with the burger still on the fryer.
Almost a week after this, Stroman walked into a gas station where Raisuddin (Rais) Bhuiyan was working. Thinking it was an armed robbery, Rais began to empty the cash register. However, Stroman was focused on Rais and continued to ask him what country he was from. Stroman went on to shoot 2 times before leaving the store. Rais managed to survive the attack.
On October the 4th, Stroman went to another gas station in Texas where Vasudev Patel worked. Stroman went on to murder Patel which was caught on video by a store security camera. Whilst Stroman initially demanded money from Patel, after seeing Patel reach for a gun behind the counter, he went on to shoot Patel then leaving, empty-handed.
Stroman’s victims were of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian descent.
Mark’s former boss was a regular customer at the gas station where Patel worked. When he had noticed that Patel had been fatally shot, and a description mirrored that of Mark’s, he was asked to identify Mark via the security footage. In doing this, Stroman was captured and on November 15th, was charged with capital murder. He was later found guilty and sentenced to death.
During this period, Stroman showed no remorse for what he had done. Rather, he said that he did it in “an act of war” with a mission to kill people of Middle Eastern descent. However, as years went on, giving him the time to reflect, with frequent visitors from journalists who challenged his views, he started to change. He said that by being exposed to things at an early age, from society and his step-father, he was on a path of hatred. Whilst being on death row, he sent frequent letters to a journalist, turned friend, which were expressed on a blog titled, ‘The Death Blog.’
In the meantime, Rais, Stroman’s second victim, began campaigning to save Stroman’s life. In having that experience, and surviving, he noticed just how precious life was. In addition to this, he preached how Islam is about peace and forgiveness. The families of the other two victims expressed the same feelings. They couldn’t bring themselves to hate Mark. Instead, they joined Rais in campaigning around the world. In doing this, he crossed paths with a human rights activist, who joined him. Rais was able to convince people, no matter their religion, race, sexuality or beliefs, to join in his campaign to give Mark a second chance. When Mark was told about Rais, he was speechless at his ability to forgive him.
Mark’s execution day was set for July 20th, 2011. In the lead up to this day, Rais had worked with many people to try and stop the execution. He was able to find a legal loophole which, if successful, would postpone Mark’s execution date. In Texas, there is a Victim’s Rights Act, which is part of the constitution, which allows victims to dialogue with the person who has caused harm to them. In allowing this, Mark’s execution would be postponed.
However, as the day came closer, hope began to fade as they lost the case. Mark’s execution day remained the same. Rais and his team, along with an anti-death penalty march outside the place of execution, continued to fight until the very end. However, Mark Stroman was executed on the 20th of July, 2011, by lethal injection.
Even though I lay on this gurney, seconds away from my death, I am at total peace. Jesus Christ be with me. Hate is going on in this world and it has to stop. Hate causes a lifetime of pain. I am still a proud American: Texas loud, Texas proud. God bless America, God bless everyone. Lets do this damn thing. I believe I am going to sleep now.Mark Stroman’s last words
Now, I believe that this story is a remarkable one of forgiveness and change. Unfortunately, Mark faced his execution, as planned, which really makes me question the death penalty. Throughout the years in prison, Mark was able to reflect a lot. He was able to admit that he had been a self-absorbed, hatred-filled individual before being in prison. However, with careful thought, he was able to change, which was expressed in his blog for the world to read.
By having an unfortunate childhood, and not growing up in a loving family who could teach him right from wrong, Mark was set on a path of hate. This idea really does bring in the question of nature versus nurture. Is it our genetics that cause our behaviour or is it our environment? If Mark grew up in a loving family, would he have ended up on death row still? Mark had to figure out morals for himself, which happened to come too late. He had an inability to control his emotions, like his step-father. Now, you may say that everyone felt rage from 9/11, but other people have more control over their emotions and a better understanding of right from wrong.
Now, I am not saying that Mark should have been free to go. I’m saying that he shouldn’t have had his life take away from him. Whilst the Bible does say ‘an eye for an eye,’ it also says ‘let those who have cast no sin throw the first stone’ (story of the adulterous woman), ‘do not murder’ (one of the 10 commandments) and ‘for if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you’ (Matthew 6:14-15). There are also many more. If America is a country truly based on Christianity, then why do they have the death penalty in 28 states? I am giving this argument because in the documentary, a district attorney quotes the Bible in order to justify the death penalty, without looking at the other side of the argument.
Now, this is a very controversial topic and I know that many people will have different opinions on it. So, I am going to put a mini questionnaire on my Instagram account (@politicsblog) so other people can let me know what they think, as I am very interested in the viewpoints of others. Otherwise, be sure to comment below.