ethel’s words

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THE DEATH OF JESSE GARCÍA

Jesse M. García, 1941-2008, gave up the ghost at age 67 in the Arizona State Prison, a boarded-out prisoner of the State of Utah for fifty-two years, beginning at age fifteen.

The hatred that sent this black-haired boy to prison had darkened the very skies of Salt Lake Valley, so intense was its miasma. The hostility was based on about ten-percent accuracy, the rest so distorted as to be false, all in the deep shadows of racism. Accurate was incestuous rape (commoner than you think and as bad) of a five-year-old niece whose home he shared. (His sister had rescued him from homelessness.)

Rape, even without additional injury, is a horrible crime, a violation that lives with its victim forever. Yet, rape is the least reported of crimes, and incestuous rape the least reported among them. Only insiders know and few are honest. For that crime, Jesse, a juvenile, was incarcerated in the Utah State Penitentiary.

Soon after, Jesse was charged with destroying evidence of an in-prison murder (in which he played no part). He was sentenced to death, along with the murderer, while an equally-involved 16-year-old Anglo was sentenced to life. Jesse was saved by protest that reached abroad and that exhausted the vitality of Phil L. Hansen, the attorney who saved him with help of hundreds, including Dr. Paul Wyler.

After a few years, Jesse was boarded out to Arizona’s enormous prison system/industry. There he endured and spiritually prevailed--survived Solitary Confinement and other more subtle, less demanding tortures of prison life. Perhaps he found a freedom through intellectual perceptions; his own life became his Sun: he endured darkness of The Hole, treasuring life-with-pain more than the peace of death. He was proud of the psychological strength he attributed to his Mexican heritage. More than once he saved his self-esteem knowing the price was the horror of The Hole.

Now he is dead, and you survivors (if any) who clamored for his death will not rejoice to know that he defeated you, defeated your raging desires for revenge and punishment, defeated The System. He made a life inside prison; he read hundreds of books; he advised and protected youngsters thrust into the terrifying hostilities of prison. In his later years, he was called “Gramps”.

So now, at last, I have thought about the death of Jesse Garcia. At last, I acknowledge that death. May his ashes bless and nourish the Earth, and the Earth bless his cremains.

Siempre tu amiga,
Ethel C. Hale

Post note: Hale is my birth name. I am the spouse of Paul Wharton. The Utah prison, long ago, required that I use my spouse’s name. Paul also was “on Jesse’s list” and visited him in Utah’s prison. Paul read and signed every letter I drafted to Jesse.