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Fearsome power 

Lao Rubert knows the power of words well chosen. As Executive Director of the Durham-based Carolina Justice Center, she's spent years raising her voice in support of prison reform, economic justice, gun control and abolition of the death penalty. When the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty held its annual conference in the Triangle three weeks ago, members honored Rubert with a Community Service Award. In place of a traditional acceptance speech, she shared this poem she'd written:

Anyone who knows the condemned
knows this strange, impossible truth:
on the week, month, day
of death,
when the legal work is running out
or all done,
it's the condemned
who comforts the lawyer, preacher,
social worker, friend,
anyone who is losing the one
who is losing a life.
It's the one who was bull-whipped, handed off to strangers,
the child who slept in dumpsters,
who now comforts those
left standing.
The caretakers now cared for
by the condemned. If it's happened to you,
you know.
And when you wonder where
will you draw the energy, what
will you do the next time and the next and the
time after that?
I can tell you only this:
these deaths
the ones done eyes open
in the middle of the night
hustled from a locked cell
by a roomful of guards
these deaths,
bestow a power.
Use it.
Walk into it,
wrap yourself in that cloak of fire
that spirals around us here, now,
that sweeps the TV vans parked at the visitor's center,
the sidewalk, the guard's parking lot,
the hearse,
and the doors that glide open and shut for the teams of death.
Use it;
it will keep you standing,
student, teacher, lawyer,
friend,
rabbi, priest,
religious or not;
it will keep us standing
in Mecklenburg, in Durham, in Raleigh
in Chapel Hill and Watauga, in Thomasville
and Winston, in Wilmington, in Asheville
and Guilford;
it will keep us standing alone
and together,
at 2 a.m., at 6 p.m.
saying: we know,
we are standing, we are watching
and we are bound by a fearsome power
that these deaths
have bestowed
upon us.

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