Thursday, February 20, 2020


           It is a bit after 10 at night.  I am sitting at the desk in my room in a cancer ward.  I am incredibly lucky. 
            A bit over two months ago, I was taken to the emergency room.  I had nearly collapsed in the kitchen of a church where I was chopping ham, helping folks from a church in a richer parish prepare a free meal for the area’s residents.  The consensus was that I should go to the emergency room. 
            Triage.  Tests.  “Your hemoglobin is dangerously low.”  Admitted to the hospital.  Five units of blood over the next 24 hours or so.  More time, more tests.  Taken from this suburban branch of the hospital to the main campus.  More time, more tests.  Nearly discharged – but now, “Off to the cancer center.  You have acute myeloid leukemia.”
            I am confined, in total, for a month: mid-December to mid-January.  The chemotherapy worked.  I was in complete remission.  The trick now is to keep it that way, to prevent a recurrence.  Which is why, on this Thursday night, I am once again in the cancer center, where I’ve been now since Monday night – getting more chemo.  Sigh.
I expect to be discharged Saturday afternoon.  Home again, home again, jiggity jig.  And then, a few weeks later, back once more.  And once more.  And once more. Sigh.
But as I said, I am incredibly lucky. 
* * * * *
            I’ve resisted writing this, not because any of it is a secret.  The tale is widely known among friends, colleagues, family, some not-quite-strangers.  And whoever those folks might have told.  My wife and I have lists of people to whom we send e-mail updates every few weeks if there’s something new to report. 
            But a blast out to the Googleverse?  To the Blawgoshpere?  I’ve been resistant.  It’s too personal.  Too much about me for me to want to share it with the world. 
            So why now? Why tonight from this desk in this cancer ward?  For reasons I don’t exactly understand – and perhaps I should have waited until I do, but well, I didn’t – it has to do with the murder tonight of 58-year-old NicholasSutton by the good people of the State of Tennessee.

             Sutton’d been on death row for just under 34 years.  Sent there for the killing of Carl Estep while serving a life sentences for three other killings.  In 1979, when he was 19, Sutton murdered his grandmother.  Two years later he entered guilty pleas to two second degree murders.  That history isn’t pretty, but most of them aren’t.  Despite the 167 exonerations of those who’d been sentenced to die, and despite the virtual certainty that some of the 1516 men and women we’ve killed since 1977 have been factually innocent, the truth is that most did kill, some more than once, some in horrific ways. 
            And yet. 
            Look, if you’ve read much of this blog before, you know that the folks who end up on death row are, with the rarest of exceptions, severely damaged.  They have backgrounds that would curl your toenails.  They have serious mental illness.  They're intellectually disabled.  And you know that, like Nicholas Sutton, the folks we kill have been on death row for years, often decades.  The men and women we kill are no longer the ones we sentenced to die.  
          And so it is that Nicholas Sutton, killer of four, saved the lives of three corrections officers while he was on death row.  And so it is that an unusual collection of folks urged the governor and the courts to commute his death sentence. And so it is that the governor and the courts said no.  
          And Nicholas Sutton was murdered tonight, killed in the name of the good people of Tennessee, not by lethal injection which he figured would be too painful, but by the electric chair, which we know is likely to be horrifically painful.  But his choice.
* * * * * 
            As I  said, I'm incredibly lucky. 
          Not so much Nicholas Sutton.  He got to decide whether to die on the gurney or in the chair.  
           I got to decide whether to die at all.  (A doctor told me, after reading me all the potential risks that I did not have to sign the informed consent that would allow them to give me chemotherapy, "but if you don't sign, you'll die."  I signed.)
* * * * *
          Nicholas Sutton.  May he rest in peace.


  1. Wondered where you went for so long. Sorry about the diagnosis. Keep fighting.

  2. Wondered where you went for so long. Sorry about the diagnosis. Keep fighting.

  3. Jeff, sorry to learn of this. I hope the chemo isn't to painful or unpleasant. All I can do is pray and hope for the best, of which you can be assured. Best to you and yours otherwise as well.

  4. So, so sorry about your health issues Jeff. This is one of the strongest post you ever wrote... Wishing you the best for the future!

  5. Thank you both, for the thoughts and the kind words.

  6. I'm sorry to hear you have been unwell but happy to hear about the remission.

    I should have done this much sooner but wanted to take this opportunity to say how much what you do and what you write moves me. I find it hard to explain, because I don't really believe in a higher power, but the dispensation of grace, especially by people who have no reason to, or perhaps every reason not to, is the closest to godliness I think you can get

    Thank you for your writing and for what you do, which shows such grace it regularly brings me to tears.

  7. Wow! Talk about stamina! Sending gratitude for your voice and prayers of comfort and healing for you and your family!