SETTING: The lobby of the Administrative Building of Texas’ Death Row. A leather couch sits in the middle of the lobby. In front of the couch is a small coffee table with neat stacks of magazines spread about. In the background, to the left, is a receptionist’s desk, where a RECEPTIONIST sits typing and working quietly. Behind her, on the wall, are various framed certificates and awards. Also on the wall, is a large wooden sign that reads: TEXAS DEATH ROW: ADMINISTRATIVE BUILDING.
MARGARET SANCHEZ, a small brown-haired woman in her fifties and dressed in a formal black dress, sits on the far right end of the couch. A small leather purse sits on her lap. While one of her hands rests atop this purse, the other is holding a handkerchief which she is burying her face into, crying softly. JOSEFINA LONGORIA, dressed in similar attire, enters the lobby, accompanied by a large GUARD, who escorts her to the couch.
Guard: Right here, Ms. Longoria. (Josefina, looking nervous, takes a seat on the far left end of the couch.) I will be back to escort you when the time comes, ma’am. (Guard exits.)
(A few moments pass in silence and Margaret begins to cry a bit louder. Josefina, who is also in her fifties and holds a purse similar to Margaret’s, is casting nervous looks at Margaret. Josefina’s bottom lip begins to tremble and she pulls a handkerchief from her own purse and dabs at her eyes with it.)
Margaret: (Catching sight of Josefina for the first time. She blows her nose loudly into her handkerchief and looks at Josefina) Excuse me, ma’am—I’m sorry but—are—are you here to witness an . . . (chokes back tears) an . . . um . . . (Covers mouth with hanky, stifling back tears)
Josefina: (Wiping eyes) Yes. Yes, dear. I’m here for . . . for the same reason. (Pauses, wiping at eyes) It’s extremely difficult, isn’t it?
Margaret: (Nodding, wiping at eyes) The most difficult thing in the world. Oh, my heart aches as never before. My poor baby boy! (Cries loudly)
Josefina: Oh, dear! (Stifling tears) Mine was also my baby boy! (Grabs her purse and moves to the end of the couch where Margaret is sitting and places her arm around her) Please do not cry, my dear lady. I know it is difficult but we must remain strong.
Margaret: (Wiping eyes, regaining her composure) I’m sorry, ma’am. Indeed, you are a strong woman. (Smiles weakly and offers hand to Josefina) Margaret. Margaret Sanchez, ma’am, pleased to meet you.
Josefina: (Shaking Margaret’s hand) Josefina Longoria. Nice to meet you, Margaret, although, I’m sorry it had to be under these awful circumstances.
Margaret: Terrible circumstances they are. (Pauses) You know, they say the Lord works in mysterious ways, although why He’d want to take my baby away from me is beyond me. (Sniffles)
Josefina: Oh, Margaret! So many nights I’ve lay awake with the samethoughts running through my head. But we must keep our faith and not blame ourselves. That is the key to keeping our sanity.
Margaret: I suppose you’re right, dear. (Rummages through purse and pulls out a stack of photos and hands one to Josefina) This is my boy, Josefina. “Bumper”, we call him. He was only three months old in that photo. Isn’t he beautiful? (Dabs at eyes with hanky)
Josefina: Absolutely gorgeous! The most. beautiful baby I’ve ever seen in my life! Oh, such a sweet smile and the prettiest eyes ever!
Margaret: Such a good baby he was, too. Always smiling and playing a well-behaved baby, indeed. And girl crazy, too! Oh, I remember many an occasion when we’d be in the shopping mall out in public and some young girl would come up to say hi to the baby or to play with him and he would just go bonkers! Putting on his best smile and that adorable laugh of his. Those girls would melt like butter over my sweet Bumper.
Josefina: (Smiling) And who could blame them?! Such a beautiful child! (Pauses) “Bumper”? Such an interesting name. Do you mind if I ask how he came to have that name?
Margaret: (Smiles and hands Josefina another picture from her stack) This is Bumper in his walker. But that walker may as well have been a bulldozer, Josefina! Oh, that boy would back that walker up to the wall and take off like a rocket! Gathering speed and crashing into whatever unlucky object would be in front of him! Sometimes he’d crash so hard my heart would do flips in my chest! But he never seemed to hurt himself, he’d just bounce up and down happily in his walker, back it up and do it all over again. And so we began to call him “Bumper”.
Josefina: (Smiling) He must have been a handful!
Margaret: Oh, he eventually settled down a bit. Here. (Hands Josefina another photo) This is him when he started kindergarten. He’s smiling in that picture but oh, how he cried that first day when I had to leave him at school alone!
Josefina: Oh, dear! I imagine every mother goes through that awful experience!
Margaret: And an awful experience it was, Josefina. It just broke my heart to have to leave him there that day. Of course, his crying didn‘t make it any easier. Put he eventually came to love school as you can tell by this huge smile on his face. (Hands Josefina another photo)
Josefina: How adorable! Whydoes he have that cowboy hat on his head?
Margaret: He was part of a school play, my dear. And such a wonderful job he did. He only had a small part but the audience loved hm. I remember sitting there beaming—absolutely beaming—the proudest parent in the world!
Josefina: (Dabbing at eyes with hanky) Oh, I know what you mean, Margaret. Lord knows I’ve had my moments as well.
Margaret: Here is another one. (Handing Josefina another photo) Here he was a fourth grader. That trophy he is holding was a second place trophy he won in the school spelling bee. I was so proud of him, though he was very upset with himself for misspelling the word ‘bikini’. And this one (Hands Josefina another picture) is from the seventh grade. I remember because that was the year he began playing school football as you can see by his uniform there. Such a big boy he grew to be.
Josefina: And a very handsome boy at that. I bet he had plenty of girls chasing him, didn’t he?
Margaret: Did he ever! (Rolls her eyes) Yes, now that you remind me, seventh grade was also the year I would catch him on the phone at all hours of the night. Oh, Josefina, (Whispering conspiratorially) one night, I picked up the phone and—oh, I swear I wasn’t trying to be nosey—but Bumper was using the phone in the living room and I didn’t know and I overheard him talking to some girl on the phone and—oh, my—I knew right there and then that my baby boy was going to be a sweet-talking devil with the ladies!
Josefina: (Smiling) Well, I hope he didn’t bring you too much grief with his adventures with the girls. Surely, an angel like this knew how to treat a girl right!
Margaret: (Laughs) Oh yes! (Hands Josefina another photo) This photo here is from one of his high school dances. He was in the tenth grade at that time and by then he had met that young girl who is in the photo with him. Her name is Melanie and they were the best of high school sweethearts. The way my Bumper would act around that girl told me everything I needed to know! My son had fallen in love! Andwhat a gentleman he was with her, too. I remember he’d leave the house an hour early each morning so that he could walk to her house and then walk with her to school, carrying her books for her. (Pauses) Oh! And the time when he went door to door in our neighborhood, mowing lawns and lookin’ for any kind of work he could find just to earn enough money to buy her that beautiful old necklace that he bought her for her 16th birthday. What a sweetheart he was. (Hands Josefina another photo) Here is a picture from his high school graduation. Such a bittersweet memory that is. I was so proud of him—he was the first one in our family to actually graduate from high school—but it was also the time that he left home and went to go live on his own. (Pauses) He didn’t make the best decisions with his life. (Dabs at eyes with hanky) My poor baby. I love him so much. (Josefina hands her the photos back and she places them back in her purse.)
Josefina: Tell me, my dear, Margaret, do you carry those pictures with you often?
Margaret: Oh, I know it may seem a bit silly but—well, I—yes, I take them with me everywhere, Josefina. They remind me of the happier days.
Josefina: It isn’t silly at all, my dear! To be truthful—well—I, too, carry pictures of my son with me wherever I go, Margaret. It is nothing to be ashamed of. Like you said, they are to remind us of the happier days.
Margaret: (Wipes eyes with hanky) You also carry pictures of your son with you? Do you have them at this moment? May I—may I meet him?
Josefina: (Glancing down at her purse, looking a bit bashful) Well, I—I suppose I can share them with you.
Margaret: Oh, dear! If it is too painful for you, I understand completely, Josefina.
Josefina: No. No, I—I want to share them with you, Margaret. (Opens purse and pulls out a stack of photos) This (Hands photo to Margaret) is the very first picture we ever took of my beloved Sammy. He was but three hours old in that photo.
Margaret: Oh, Josefina! What an angel he is! A little hairy angel, I might say! (Laughs)
Josefina: (Laughing) Yes, we would often joke that Sammywas born with more hair on his head than his father and grandfather combined!
Margaret: (Laughing) Oh, he is a doll!
Josefina: (Handing Margaret another photo) This here is our first family photo. Sammy was six months old at the time. That is his bigsister there next to me. Her name is Rene. She has grown to be a fine young lady and now lives in North Carolina with her husband. She’s brought me two wonderful granddaughters. That is my husband, Mario, on the right. He passed away just last year. Bless his soul; he was such a wonderful man.
Margaret: Oh, I’m sorry, Josefina.
Josefina: (Dabs eyes with hanky) Oh, my love lived a good long life and now he is in a better place. (Hands Margaret another photo) This is Sammy blowing out the candles on his birthday cake. He had turned five years old that day. Oh, I remember how he huffed and puffed and blew spittle all over the cake trying to blow those candles out. The whole family just sat there exchanging looks, not knowing whether or not we should eat the cake. But the huge smile and the happiness on that boy’s face . . . (Pauses) Not one of us was going to ruin that moment. We all ate our piece of cake, spittle and all.
Margaret: The innocence of a child is something sweet, isn’t it?
Josefina: Indeed, it is one of God’s fingerprints. (Hands Margaret another photo) Here Sammy was ten years old and that uniform he is wearing was from his very first little league baseball team. Oh, how he loved baseball more than anything when he was young. It took me a while to save up the money but I made sure I was going to get him signed up and how glad I am that I did. He was a pitcher, a very good one at that. He took his team to the state championship during only his second year! That was definitely one of those proud moments that you spoke of.
Margaret: He looks so tall! A very handsome young boy, too!
Josefina: Even at that young age, he was already taller than me! By the time he turned sixteen, he was the tallest person in our entire family! Anda handsome devil he was, indeed. My Sammy never didsettle down into a long term relationship but he had plenty of girls chasing after him, that’s for sure! (Pause) And, oh, Margaret, he had the sweetest voice you ever heard. (Hands Margaret another picture) This is Sammy when he was fifteen. Here he’d won first place in a U.I.L. competition he entered with his school choir. Sammy was extremely gifted vocally, Margaret. A very good singer.
Margaret: He looks like such a sweet young man.
Josefina: Oh, he was the perfect son. (Hands Margaret another photo) Here he was eighteen years old and fresh out of high school. He joined the Marines and we were so proud of him.
Margaret: Wow! He looks so sharp in that uniform. How long did he serve, Josefina?
Josefina: Four years, Margaret. He was stationed in California for two years and then transferred toGermany for two years before coming home to finish college. It’s kind of ironic, really; he majored in criminal justice.
Margaret: But—I don’t understand, Josefina. He sounds like such a wonderful man. What happened? Where did he go wrong?
Josefina: (Frowning) Go wrong? What do you mean, my dear?
(The Guard enters the lobby and both women turn their attention to him. He approaches Josefina.)
Guard: Ms. Longoria, it’stime, ma’am.
Josefina: Oh, my. (Nervously gathers the photos from Margaret and pats them into her purse) Well, my dear, Margaret, it was a pleasure to meet you. (Offers hand) Again, I’m sorry it had to be under these circumstances.
Margaret: (Taking Josefina’s hand) Oh, Josefina! May God be with you and strengthen you!
Josefina: Likewise, my dear! (Stands and is escorted out of the lobby the guard)
(As soon as the Guard and Josefina leave, CHAPLAIN RAY, a portly, well groomed elderly man enters and approaches Margaret, offering his hand.)
Chaplain Ray: Ms. Sanchez? (Offers hand)
Margaret: Yes, sir. (Shakes his hand lightly)
Chaplain Ray: Ms. Sanchez, I am Ray Smith but everyone just calls me Chaplain Ray. I am the unit chaplain. (Pauses) Ma’am, I know many people have advised you against witnessing this but you have insisted and so I will not attempt to dissuade you. As it is, the time has come, ma’am. Please come with me.
(Margaret gathers her purse and is escorted out the door by Chaplain Ray.)
SETTING: A death row holding cell. Inside the cell, BOBBY SANCHEZ, a stout, clean-shaven young man, stands with his arms hanging out of the bars, facing the audience. Outside the cell, a safe distance away, sits NATALIE NARGROVE, a young newspaper reporter with glasses and hair that is pulled into a tight bun. She sits in a chair with a pen and a tablet at hand and is taking notes throughout the conversation. A GUARD is posted a few feet away from the cell.
Bobby: An interesting question indeed, Ms. Hargrove. Natalie, was it? Well, yes, Natalie, a very good question. I must say I’ve never really given it much thought. Hmm. What would I say to the family of my victim if given the chance? (Thoughtfully) Well, I guess, first and foremost, I would offer my heartfelt apologies for this horrible thing that I have done; yes, that would be the first thing I would say. You must understand, Natalie, that there are no words in this world to express how sorry I am for what I have done and, so, I believe if I could . . . if I could, I would muster up the courage to ask them to forgive me. For though I have done an awful thing and am condemned to die for it, I would not have them say, “They have killed the monster who murdered my kin!” No! Rather, let them say, “Bobby Sanchez committed a very, grave mistake and he died with sorrow and regret in his heart for the terrible thing that he did.” For, no, Natalie, I am no monster! I am an ordinary man who did a very foolish thing.
Natalie: Well, I must ask you, Bobby, if the situation were reversed and, God forbid, someone murdered a member of your family, would you be able to forgive them?
Bobby: (Thoughtfully) Hmm. I see your point. (A pause) It would be very difficult, indeed, and I cannot begin to imagine how I would feel in that situation. I only hope that God would give me the strength to forgive. (Pauses) I tell you, Natalie, I read an article in the newspaper some years ago in which a mother in that very situation wasbeing interviewed. Her sonhad been killed by another man who’d been sentenced to die and the reporter asked her if there was any thing she would like to say to her son’s killer. The woman replied with three simple words: I forgive you. I remember my eyes filling with tears as I read those words and I thought to myself, “What a strong woman she must be.” And so, Natalie, though I cannot say for sure that I would forgive, I say that I hope God would give me the strength to do so.
Natalie: Would you understand, then, if the family refused to forgive you?
Bobby: (Thoughtfully) I have taken from them a loved one and so I would certainly understand should they refuse to forgive me. (Pauses) Tell me, Natalie, has the family so refused to forgive me? Have you spoken with them?
Natalie: No, Bobby, I have not spoken with the victim’s family. It is purely a hypothetical question.
Bobby: Well—then, yes, I would understand if they were to refuse to forgive me, although, this would pain me greatly. Not merely for my sake, mind you, but for the sake of us all. For nine years I have been on death row, Natalie, and for nine years I have pondered everything under the sun. If only every man and woman could see life through the eyes of a man waiting to die. (Sighs) Yes, it would upset me to know that the victim’s family was exhibiting feelings of hate or unforgiveness and more so to know that it is I who have induced these feelings in them. For I realize now that only through forgiveness and love can Man mature and prosper. We should not continue to repay one barbaric act with another.
Natalie: Ah. So you say that the death penalty is a barbaric act? Do you not believe in the death penalty as a just means of punishment, then?
Bobby: Such a complicated topic it is. I understand the concept behind the death penalty and I cannot say that that form of reasoning is without logic; however, the system we use to implement such a punishment is, in my opinion, unreliable. Natalie, I have heard of men who have raped and murdered children! And have gotten off with life sentences because their particular jury felt they did not deserve to die. Then, a man as myself (who never intended to kill), attempts to rob another man, and in haste, panics and shoots him—in another jury’s opinion, he deserves to die. (A pause) That is not even including in our discussion those instances where innocent men have been sentenced to die. (A pause) No, Natalie, I do not agree with the death penalty as a just means of punishment.
Natalie: Would you say, then, that the other inmates you have met on death row do not deserve to be there? That they should be allowed to live?
Bobby: Again, it is such a complicated topic. Legally, we all deserve to be there. The law was the law before any of us arrived on death row and the law indicated that certain crimes were punishable by death. We committed those crimes so, in that sense, we cannot argue that we deserve to be there. But I tell you, Natalie, so many inmates on death row are just regular people like you, once you get to know them. Once you know their likes and dislikes, their hobbies, their favorite football teams. When they tell you about their first kiss or their first experience with a girl. (Sighs) But the one thing we all have in common is that we all made that one stupid, (pounds head with fist) boneheaded decision—for whatever reason, whatever excuse—to take a person’s life. (A pause) Granted, you do have your monsters on death row. Those who are so evil and so hateful that they pose a constant threat. But I believe the vast majority of us are extremely remorseful.
Natalie: Now, let me ask you this, Bobby. You are a man condemned to die and are only minutes away from your scheduled execution. Is there anyone you would like to address with a few words of advice? Maybe young gang members, maybe the judicial system, maybe society as a whole. Anyone?
Bobby: (Thoughtfully) Hmm. (A pause) I know this may sound a bit odd, Natalie, but if I could address anyone with a few final words of advice it would be young couples getting ready to start a family. I would beg of them not to have more children than they can afford, both financially and with their own time.
Natalie: I’m not sure I understand what you mean. Can you elaborate?
Bobby: Natalie, I’ve met many inmates who come from good families but because they were poor and the parents had to work so much just to stay afloat, as kids they were left alone so much and—well, extra time like that in a kid’s hands is, more often than not, detrimental. It leads to a habit of deceit and bad decision making. This is not to say that those parents do not love their children, but they are concentrating so much on financial survival that they lose focus of nurturing their children into good adults. To raise a good man or woman, one must spend time with them while they are children. Teach them, help them, spend money on them byenrolling them into sports programs or extracurricular activities. I think a lot of young couples lose sight of this.
Natalie: Was this the case in your situation?
Bobby: (Sighs) No. I cannot say it is. My situation is of the worst kind. I had a mother who loved me, who spent time and money on me and, somehow, I still managed a way to make bad decisions with my life.
(Enter LT. PHILLIPS, a tall man with lieutenant bars pinned to the collar of his officer’s uniform. He has in his hands one pair of handcuffs and one set of leg shackles. He is accompanied by three GUARDS.)
Lt. Phillips: (Approaching Natalie) Ms. Hargrove, I’m afraid it’s time ma’am. If you’ll just go with this officer here, (Gestures to one of the officers) he’ll escort you to the witness booth.
Natalie: (Gathers her things and prepares to leave with guard. She stops in front of Bobby’s cell.) Bobby, thank you for the interview. I am extremely sorry that your life must end this way. May God bless you.
Bobby: And you, as well. Thank you, Natalie.
(Natalie leaves with a Guard.)
Lt. Phillips: Okay, Mr. Sanchez, you know the drill. Turn around, place your hands behind your back, and dropto your knees.
(Bobby complies and one of the guards opens his cell door using key. Lt. Phillips handcuffs his hands behind his back and places the shackles on his legs, then, helps him to his feet. They exit the cell.)
Lt. Phillips: Well, son, have you learned anything throughout your years here?
Bobby: (Facing audience) Yes, sir. (Pause) I have learned terror. Absolute terror.
(Lt. Phillips, Bobby, and the Guards, exit.)
SETTING: The Texas Death Chamber. In the middle of the stage, is theexecution gurney, equipped with leg straps and arms straps. TV equipment and otherexecution equipment are present to the right, on a table by the wall. An over-exaggerated red button is also installed in this wall. In the background, is a large window looking into the witness booth where there are seating areas.
Josefina is already seated in this area as Natalie enters thewitness booth and takes a seat behind her. She takes out her pen and pad and begins writing. Margaret enters the booth accompanied by Chaplain Ray. Margaret is seated by Josefina and they cast each other uncertain looks.
Chaplain Ray: Ms. Sanchez, I must attend to some final matters. If you will please wait here, I will be back momentarily. (Exits)
Josefina: Margaret. What—what are you doing here?
Margaret: I was going to ask you the same thing, my dear? I’ve come to watch— (Grabs Josefina in a hug) oh, Josefina, they are going to kill my son. (Weeps)
Josefina: (Shocked) No, Margaret! It can’t be!
Margaret: Yes, dear. (Wiping eyes) But dear, what happened? Did you not come to see Sammy also?
Josefina: Margaret, dear, my Sammy has been dead for nine years.
Margaret: (Surprised) But . . . (Realization dawns) Oh, no, Josefina. You mean . . . Sammy is . . .
(Natalie is watching intently, writing furiously.)
Josefina: (Hugs Margaret tightly) Oh, my dear Margaret, why didn’t I remember that name? Sanchez. Bobby Sanchez is Bumper; why didn’t I see that?
Margaret: My Bumper killed Sammy. (Weeps) Oh, Josefina, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry!
Josefina: No, sweety; there’s no need to be sorry. It is not your fault. (Kisses Margaret’s forehead) Oh, Margaret, this is an act of God, don’t you see?
Margaret: What do you mean, Josefina?
Josefina: Us coming together the way we did is an act of God. For so many years I have been angry at your son. I can even say I have hated him. I was wanting revenge and thinking so negatively, Margaret. It never occurred to me to think of his family or his mother for that matter. (Still embracing Margaret, she hugs her tighter.) And you. You’ve come out of the sky like an angel from God and you have taught me a valuable lesson.
Margaret: What lesson is that, dear?
Josefina: (Thoughtfully) Well, I see now that in such situations as these, no one walks away satisfied. No one wins and everyone loses. It is such a sad thing and there are so many negative feelings involved. Only through love and forgiveness can we break that cycle of negativity, Margaret.
Margaret: What a strong woman you are, Josefina. Thank you, dear. Thank you for your love and forgiveness.
Josefina: It’s not always easy, Margaret but, yes, only through love and forgiveness can Good prevail.
(They embrace each other and the curtain closes.)