I was born in 1994, after he went on death row. I went regularly with my family to visit him in prison, before I could speak and before I could comprehend what prisons and executions meant. As I got older, I started asking my mother tough questions about her brother.
She wanted me to have a relationship with Troy; after all, he was my uncle. But she also wanted to protect me from the harsh reality of his situation. She explained why he was on death row and how the government wanted to put him to sleep, the way they do with dogs that can't be adopted. I asked, "But Troy didn't kill anybody, so why do they want to kill him?" She had a hard time explaining why, because she had the same question.
2011 was a very hard year for my family. I lost my grandmother just after Troy's final appeal was lost and before his last execution date was set. The death penalty takes a toll on everyone within its reach.
My mother [Martina Correia] suffered a lot in her battle to save Troy's life, but she didn't let it show. She was battling for her own life, too. Around a decade ago, she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and given six months to live. She asked God to let her live long enough to raise me and to clear my uncle's name.
She made it another 10 years after that prayer. She did everything possible to proclaim the innocence of my uncle and stop his execution. And I was just about to finish high school when she passed.
People wonder why I didn't crack after a year like that. There was nothing normal or easy about it, and my emotions have come at me at strange times like a ton of bricks. The best I can explain is that my mother raised me well, my family has stuck together and we have held firm in our faith in God.
My mother was always a fighter, and so was my uncle Troy. For many years my mother spoke out for Troy, to deaf ears. It was weird to see almost a thousand people in Atlanta stand with my family at the state Capitol, glued to her words, as we rallied to stop Troy's execution. We were fortunate to have the help of organizations like Amnesty International and the NAACP to pull together hundreds of thousands of people to support our cause, which was about Troy but was also about truth, justice and human rights.
People are asking me what my family wants these days. We still want to clear Troy's name. He was innocent and his execution was wrong — this shouldn't just fade away. We also want to help other families in similar situations. No one should ever go through what we did.
And we know that the only way to make sure the innocent aren't executed is to replace the death penalty with better solutions. We don't need to rely on the death penalty to ensure public safety. We know that it doesn't deter violent crime. In fact, it costs a lot more even than life without parole. We are helping the campaign in California to encourage people to vote "yes" on Proposition 34, which would replace the death penalty with life without parole.
I hope that Californians will show my state, Georgia, what a better way looks like.
De'Jaun Davis-Correia is one of The Root's 2011 Young Futurists.
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