What Would Doug Gissendaner Say?

I am consumed with thoughts of my friend, Kelly.

Kelly is a woman who participated in a horrible crime. But I never knew the person who was capable of being complicit in such a heinous act.

Struggle Sisters
Author Kara Tragesser and the Struggle Sisters at the vigil before Kelly Gissendaner was scheduled to be executed on March 2. The execution ultimately did not take place, despite Kelly being moved to a holding cell looking into the death chamber, because the Department of Correction stated the poisons used for executions had “turned cloudy.”

My friend is a gentle minister to Christ’s love. The woman who participated in the murder of her husband, Doug Gissendaner, died long and out of that death there was a remarkable transformation for Kelly, a transformation that testifies to the power of redemption that is available to all of us.

Even though the old Kelly Gissendaner ceased to exist many years ago, my friend Kelly still faces execution for the crimes of her former self.

Despite years of being tortured, caged and cuffed as if she were still — or ever was — a monster, Kelly transformed against even the laws of nature. I think of the Tupac poem, “the rose that grew from concrete.” That is what my friend did. She found transformation, she bloomed in a place where there is no sunshine, no love, no nurture — no one except the very real God in whom she placed all of her trust.

I am consumed with thoughts of my friend Kelly and I think about the parents of her victim, a mother and father who lost their son. It’s so tragic a loss I can’t quite fathom it because my sorrow grows by the second as I try to imagine the pain they endure. I lost my children when I was incarcerated and I know the most painful event a parent can endure is to lose her children. And, I know that Doug’s parents’ pain is so much more and so much deeper than was mine, because ultimately my children were safe and cared for while we were separated.

As I am consumed with thoughts of my friend Kelly, I think about Doug and Kelly’s children — smart, loving young people who are a legacy of the love that led their parents to marry twice. The day our children are born, a fear is born within us, a fear of anything harming our beloved babies. The day our children are born, a protector is born within us, a protector who vows to guard our beloved babies against evils and injustice in this world. Doug’s daughter called him hero. What a tragic loss to Doug and Kelly’s children –the murder of their father, a death penalty for their mother, and the shield of their parents’ protections bursting into a lost, confused explosion of hurt and anger.

As I am consumed with thoughts of my friend Kelly, I think about the story of a parent’s love as recounted in 1 Kings 3:16-28. In the story, two women are claiming to be the mother of the same baby. They take their dispute before King Solomon. King Solomon asks that a sword be brought to him and he says that he will cut the baby in half and each woman can have half. The real mother of the child loses any desire for revenge and immediately tells the king to give the whole, living baby to the other woman. This is the story of a parent’s love, love that will find forgiveness for the most heinous of offenses if seeking retribution causes harm to your child.

I have heard Doug described as a kind, strong, and generous man. I never had the opportunity to meet Doug, but as I am consumed with thoughts of my friend Kelly, I think about him and imagine what he — the ultimate victim of Kelly’s crime — might say 18 years later. As I am consumed with thoughts of my friend Kelly, I have searched deep within myself for the answer to what Doug would say in light of his wife’s pending execution. I searched deep within myself and turned over and over my love for my own children in thinking about what Doug would say. I believe Doug would say, “Please don’t kill Kelly and harm my children further.”

To read more about Kelly Gissendaner and the Struggle Sisters, click here.


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