Behind the Song: Karla Faye

Karla Faye

(By Mary Gauthier and Crit Harmon) A little girl lost her world full of pain. He said it feels good so she gave him her vein. The dope made her numb and numb felt like free. Until she came down down down to a new misery

A junkie a whore living for the next high She'd lie cheat and steal she forgot how to cry. Wide awake for two weeks shooting heroin and speed, When she killed in cold cold blood all she felt was her need

CHORUS It's an eye for an eye, Now you're gonna die A tooth for a tooth, It's your moment of truth. There's no mercy here Your stay is denied You better pray pray pray There's Mercy in the sky.

Alone in her cell no dope in her veins The killer had become the little girl lost again She fell to her knees she prayed she would die On the cold cement floor she finally cried

And love came like the wind love whispered her name. Love reached through and held her and lifted her pain. 14 years on death row her faith deeper each day Her last words were "I love you all," Good-bye, Karla Faye.

Now it's an eye for an eye, And you're gonna die A tooth for a tooth, It's your moment of truth. There's no mercy here Your stay is denied You better pray pray pray There's Mercy in the sky

This is a song that explores homicide, redemption, vengeance, soul sickness and bureaucratic murder-- played out to their fullest in the life and death of Karla Faye Tucker, the Texas woman executed by lethal injection in 1998.

Prior to her execution, Karla’s plight received massive publicity around the world, probably because she was an attractive woman and a born-again Christian, who committed a crime that was horrific in its violence. Also because, at that point, the US had not executed a woman since Ethel Rosenberg, (in 1953), and Texas had not executed a woman since 1863.

Karla Fay Tucker was born to a drug-addicted prostitute and became one herself when she was very, very young. She was a doper by age 8, and a junkie on heroin before she hit her teens. Her mother regularly got high with her when she was a child, and her mother’s boyfriend showed her how to use the needle when she was 11 years old. She immediately became a needle freak. Her mother showed her the life of a prostitute, showed her the way to make money with her sex, teaching her that was the thing she had thats was of most value.

Her inevitable spiral to the bottom didn’t take long. By the time she was 23 she’d sunk to the depths. With her boyfriend at her side, she participated in a break-in and double murder, and in a drug induced state of junkie bravado, even bragged about it. She said she “got off on it.” It made for great newspaper copy, a pretty woman “getting off” on committing a double murder with her boyfriend.

In prison, Karla experienced sobriety for the first time in her life, and had a conversion experience within weeks of getting clean. She had a life changing spiritual awakening, and for the next decade moved deeper and deeper into her faith. She married the prison minister Reverend Dana Lane Brown (behind the glass, of course, they were not allowed to touch), and studied Christianity and the bible. She became a minister of sorts herself, to all she came in contact with. A moving and amazing account of Karla’s journey can be found in the writer Beverly Lowry’s Crossed Over, a beautifully written synopsis of her death row visits with Karla that spanned many years.

When it came time for Karla Faye Tucker’s execution, many world leaders pleaded with then-Governor George W. Bush for a stay, including such luminaries as the Pope, the Italian prime minister, the conservative speaker of the house Newt Gingrich, and the TV Evangelist Pat Robertson. It was not to be. Karla was executed Feb. 3, 1998, and there were literally hundreds of people outside the prison celebrating, some in pickup trucks, music blaring, fists pumping, windows down yelling, “Give her the juice!” Governor Bush even mocked her in an interview with Tucker Carlson after her death, having refused to intervene in her execution.

I was absolutely stunned.

I’d learned of Karla from television—she was all over the cable new shows: Larry King Live, Geraldo Rivera, Charles Grodin and so on. It was a riveting story, one of a supremely messed-up girl who’d gone straight in prison only to have to face the death chamber 14 years later. Though I’d not met her—her tragic story resonated with me. I remained glued to the TV, hoping against hope that there would be a way to save her.

I’d been sober about 8 years at that point, and was learning about how addiction destroys souls, how it pulls addicts down roads so dark that they/we become unrecognizable to ourselves and those who love us. It was at a time in my life when I was starting to deeply reflect who I became when I was in my own addiction. I was taking an inventory of my past actions, and I was also beginning to get a clear picture of who I was now that I’d been sober for a while.

I could clearly see that there are at least two very, very different people inside me, both of them real. The sober woman bears no resemblance to the active addict. I’d stayed sober long enough at this point to have the ability to see the profound dichotomy, and to also start to take true responsibility for what I’d done as an addict—and do my best to make amends and atone for it.

And the songs were coming. I was writing like crazy. I never wrote a single song until after I was sober for a few years.  Then, boom. The muse came knocking. I had become a vessel for something else, something better.

The writer in me was completely spellbound by the tragedy of Karla Faye Tucker as the clock ticked down the hours before her date with the death chamber.

I began to hope and pray there would be a commutation of her sentence to life in prison given the change in her after her spiritual awakening on death row, her spiritual conversion to sobriety and a life of service to the other prisoners. Watching her in the interviews and in the cable news videos of her in the prison community, I saw a gentle woman who was no longer the person who’d committed the murders. I could see the transformation in her, from the drug addicted soul-sick murderer whose mug shot was taken 14 years prior, that picture looked like a different person; a terrifying person. But that person was long gone. The person we saw on TV—she was not the person in the mug shot. There were at least two people inside Karla, too—the sober person, the person the creator made, and the sick addict who committed the crimes, who was capable of profound and horrifying darkness.

Here’s what I think, and here’s why I wrote this song: I believe that the Karla Faye Tucker who was executed by the State of Texas was not the murderer. That woman—the murderer—had been redeemed. Redeemed in such a way that I think the state of Texas literally killed the wrong person. The Karla that was executed was of benefit to the other women on death row. She helped them, counseled them, taught them what she’d learned in her study of the Bible, in her study of Christianity.  She was no longer filled with darkness, with hate. She was filled with light—she was filled with love. We did not rid the world of danger with her execution—all we did was commit another murder, a bureaucratic one, filled with vengeance. Redemption is not something the law allows, but it’s something the world’s religions allow. In fact, without redemption, what would be the point of religion?  But when the death penalty gets on a Texas roll, it’s virtually impossible to stop. Governor Bush had nothing to gain by asking the Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant her a stay, so he didn’t. And he went on to be elected president of the United States.

Karla’s last words were “I love you all.”

Karla Faye Tucker’s story is a story of redemption, despite the vindictive ending to her life. Karla had found her way home long before her execution. She found her way home before she was even sentenced. She’d found peace after spiritual conversion, that conversion that she’d experienced a few weeks into her incarceration and sobriety.  Karla’s is the story of the lowest of the lows, and the resilience of the human spirit to triumph, against all odds. As I play this song around the world, people are amazed by the life and death of Karla Faye Tucker.

And so am I.

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