Posts Tagged ‘Death Row’

Craig Derrickson Marvel

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

In my last post I referred to the passing a year ago of my friend Craig Marvel. Craig had said he wanted to put a face on Death Row. I posted this eulogy last year on my blog which got eaten by evil cyber-gremilns. Here it is again to put that face on Death Row.
Craig Derrickson Marvel
“The Flower Man of Death Row”

I once heard it said that each child has a hole in his heart in the shape of his father. Craig was born August 13, 1947. His Mother, Eunice Correa, gave him her name. Little Craig Anthony Correa never met his father and knew precious little about him. He knew that his name was Walter Marvel. He was from Maryland. His heritage was Mohawk from the St. Regis Indian Reservation in Akwesasne, New York. When Craig was old enough he took Walter’s middle and last name calling himself Craig Derrickson Marvel. Craig and Eunice lived together until she met and married John. Whatever hopes and expectations little Craig had for a father were shattered in the abuse he suffered at John’s hands. Instead of the kindness and love he had anticipated he was treated with physical and emotional abuse. John’s work took the family to Oklahoma. Craig moved back and forth between Eunice and relatives in MA. When Craig became big enough to fight back John had him put in a reform school for Indian boys in Oklahoma. There Craig learned how to run long and hard to stay ahead of the bigger boys intent on hurting him. In short Craig did not ever know kindness from men. He learned to dodge, run and strike back when he could.

When Craig was 16 he went back to MA permanently. In 1966 at age 17 Craig married the love of his life, Gay Cabrini. Craig learned building trades and worked all up and down the east coast while Gay cared for their growing family. Craig began drinking and was often unkind to Gay. Returning from one of his long work absences he found she had taken her belongings and their four small children and left. Craig found solace in the bottle as he drifted west landing eventually in Colorado where he fell in with what can only be termed bad company.

Craig had never used drugs much, just liquor. His new companions began pushing pills to him which he washed down with whiskey. He told me he didn’t know what he was high on when they went to Utah to take care of a man who had snitched on a gang leader. When Craig awoke in a jail cell he hopped that the foggy memory of the last night’s activities was a bad dream….a very bad dream. It was not and Craig along with his fall buddies were sentenced to death. I never have heard Craig try to side step or sugar coat his offense. He was deep;y remorseful and accepted full responsibility for this act of brutal violence he had not planned.

On death row in Draper, Utah Craig was an angry and tough young man. He shared the block with the likes of Gary Gillmore and Ted Bundy. Three times he had a date set to face the firing squad in the late seventies after the death penalty was brought back.

During this time Craig met Elmer Knowles. Elmer was a professional gardner who volunteered his time as a chaplain to the hardest of Utah’s imprisoned offenders. He and his companion Bishop Gertz patiently encouraged the men on death row to make what they could of the time they had left. He didn’t care what their crimes were he only asked them to look inside and see what God saw. He asked them to read the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Elmer brought Craig seeds and dixie cups with soil in them. He taught him how to care for life in its simplest forms. Later Craig was allowed to work on the flower beds outside once a week. This was such a great thing, to be able to walk under the sky and be out doors for those few hours each week. Elmer and Craig built green houses and gardens to beautify the prison grounds and to teach Craig about who he was. In 1979 the Salt Lake Tribune published a feature article about Craig and his fellow inmate Paul Brown titled “The Flower Men of Death Row”.
Caring for tomatoes.

Elmer had lost his only son to cancer at age 26. Craig had never known his father. Elmer took Craig into that place in his heart where his son had lived. Craig began to trust Elmer and let him into the place in his heart that had never had an occupant. This wonderful symbioses developed slowly and tenderly over the next two decades until Elmer’s death in 2000.
Craig told me about the time he was in a holding cell with less than twenty four hours left before he would face the executioners. Elmer had told him to pray. He bowed himself and told God he was ready to die. He had earned that. He was sorry for the life he had taken and was ready to pay the price. He told his Creator that if He had any other purpose for him on this earth then it was in His hands. The execution didn’t take place. Later Craig’s sentence was commuted to life in prison. He served that sentence paroling on March 7, 2006.

During the seventies and for most of the eighties Craig was not an easy keeper. Elmer’s entreaties to look inward and find his own beauty took root slowly and the angry young man gave way to the wise, kind and gentle sage I met in Gunnison in the nineties. Craig was respected and loved by many, inmates and staff alike, so much so that when the Central Utah Correctional Facility was opened in Gunnison Craig was requested by the warden to come there. This was hard for Craig because his beloved Elmer and the gardens were in Draper. When I met him I couldn’t understand his insistence that I go up to Murray and meet this old invalid guy named Elmer. I didn’t ever make the effort and go see Craig’s dying friend, something I will always regret. By the time I began to understand who Elmer was he had long since moved on to the gardens of the Lord.

When you have a young colt to break for pulling you put him in with an older animal who knows the way and can walk by him as he learns to work in the harness. That is what Craig did. I watched him mentor a string of young men both cell mates and others, letting them into that place in his heart that Elmer had given him. Craig new all about being young, angry, confused and in pain. He also knew how to walk with God, how to turn away from anger and the hard work of self knowledge. He was a peacemaker and a teacher.
Craig after release from prison with his pipe.
Craig didn’t go to church much in prison. He looked to his father’s heritage for spiritual direction. Church was difficult for him there. Many of the inmates who went there were guilty of hurting children, something that cut to his deepest pain. In the sweat lodge he found balm for those hurts. To sit with the fire and make smoke that rose up like his prayers to the heavens connected him to creation and Creator. His prayers often took on deepest meaning when his hands were in the soil. He believed in the Christ and asked me a week or so after his parole if I thought my church would accept him for baptism. I told him that would be between him, the Lord and a little old man in Salt Lake City. Now it is just between Craig and the Lord. We talked about the Mohawk legend I learned while working as a missionary to the Mohawk at the Six Nations Indian Reserve near Brantford, Ontario. In the story a young woman, the daughter of the chief, becomes pregnant without the help of a man. Her son, Degahnewedah, lived perfectly and taught the people the Great Law of Peace. This law, later borrowed from the People of the Longhouse, became the foundation upon which the US Constitution was based. Degahnewedah had a forerunner who prepared the way for him. His name wad Hiawatha. When the Teacher of Peace left he promised to return. He floated away in a stone canoe. Before going he stuck His tomahawk in a white birch tree. He said to check the tree every spring. When it was time the tree would bleed red from the wound he had given it. Craig’s Mohawk ancestors knew the Christ a long time before the coming of Christian missionaries.

Craig’s first steak dinner after 31 years in the joint.

After Craig’s parole he came to Spring City to live. He said he didn’t want to go to the big city where he would be subjected to temptations. He wanted to live quietly in a small place where he could make a living for himself and try to give back. I’ll never forget the evening last March when I drove him into the yard of his little cabin. The sun was setting and a gang of red winged black birds were heralding the coming spring. As the stars began to appear he looked around and wept at his first sunset in thirty one years. He said he felt like something that was just hatching out of an egg.
The little house on the edge of the millenium.
Craig working at Peel Furniture in Mount Pleasant.

People in Spring City and the surrounding area responded to Craig the way I had hopped they would. It seemed that everyone who met him was drawn to him. His genuine love, gentle spirit and gratitude won people away from whatever prejudice they may have had about capital offenders. Craig had told me he wanted to put a face on death row. He wanted people to know that they are God’s children too, that if He would send and angel like Elmer “the moose” Knowles to minister to them that they must be worth something. He was able to do that.

When Gay wrote Craig stating her intention to come out to Utah and visit for Craig’s 59th birthday he came to me expressing his fears. He said he just didn’t know if he was ready for that. He had sent Gay divorce papers in 1979 telling her he did not want her tied down, married to a dead man. Gay had been living in Sandy where she could see Craig and take the kids in to him. She went back to New Bedford but never signed or filed the papers. I was eating dinner in a restaurant in Mount Pleasant when Craig and Gay walked in fresh from the airport in Salt Lake. I’ll never forget the sight of the two of them together beaming like newly weds. Craig was a little awkward, not knowing quite how to act. Gay was graceful and radiant. Their week together was all they had hoped for. Craig took Gay to see the mountains in the little truck he had purchased with help of a couple of friends. They couldn’t have had a better time.
Four days before Gay’s arrival Craig came to my house early to get me for a breakfast date we had made. This is what I wrote in my journal that day.
“There was a knock at my door early this morning. In the doorway I was a dark silhouette. At first I thought it was a black man. As my eyes adjusted I recognized Craig. We had agreed to go out for breakfast that morning before we poured cement at Lee’s mother’s house. Craig’s first words were that he had some bad news for me. He said ‘I have cancer. It is all over my insides.’ It is the sort of news that my brain overrides with numbness so I can function in the moment. He explained how he had spent seven and a half hours at the hospital the day before having all manner of tests run. There is a large mass on his liver.
We drove to Horseshoe Mountain Restaurant and had breakfast talking about Craig’s disease. I still couldn’t bring myself into emotional connection with what I was hearing. We picked up twenty bags of sackrete and spent the rest of the morning mixing and pouring a slab around my wife’s mother’s spa. Craig said he was tired and went home to rest. I finished the (the day’s pottery work) and drove home. In the driveway the fact of Craig’s mortality caught up with me and I let it wash over me. My (Indian friends have told me that) tears are the rains sent from God to wash away our pain.
Craig is looking down the West Road. Death and renewal converge on the West Road. It is the direction on the Medicine Wheel that is denoted by the color black…the man in the silhouette………Craig said to me this evening as we watched the sun set together ‘I have already faced death. I know I can do it again. My life has come full circle. It will be OK.’”
Before his death Craig was able to travel home to New Bedford to reconnect with his children and spend Christmas with Gay. It was a bittersweet reunion. He saw grandchildren for the first time and children he had not seen in twenty six years. One of his daughters wrote me this e-mail:
“”Words could not express what this holiday season has meant. It has been like being a part of a miracle. God has answered my prayers…… Christmas today felt unreal….. to see the joy in my father’s eyes is priceless. I got to bring my dad to my church yesterday for Christmas Eve and it (was a joyful) experience for both of us.”

Some might say that Craig’s life was a tragedy. I will argue that his life is a triumph, proof that no soul is unworthy of God’s love and our best effort to reach them. Craig experienced a mighty change. One of his fellow inmates at Gunnison said to me once that the saddest thing in the world is not the violence, disease or abuse that happens but when any person goes through life not knowing who they are. Craig pursued that self knowledge and obtained it. Had he lived longer I don’t doubt that he would have followed his Master into the waters of baptism. He lived as evidence that Jesus’ blood was not shed in vain. I want to lend my voice to Craig’s in testifying that He lives and loves me to the end.

Finally I want to pay tribute to the two people who loved Craig and were there for him to the end. They are his wife Gay and Elmer. Without them I don’t know if we would be here memorializing our friend. They exemplify the love and patience that Craig came to reflect to all of us.

I want to close with another quote. It is from one of the young men Craig mentored at the prison in Gunnison. They had been cell mates. These words are from a card he wrote to Craig at their parting when Craig was paroled.

“Well Its time to say goodbye, but not for the last time. (I’ve) come to know that you’ve helped a lot of people especially one that has had some difficult times and had nowhere to turn……in some strange way the Universe brought us together to meet and become friends…to learn from each other and know that light comes from the darkest of places. Now it is your turn to roam and meet new people and help or just make their day a little more pleasant. We made a good team and I won’t forget what you’ve taught me. So until that one day comes keep on being yourself.”
Metakuye Oyasin

There was a funeral service held for Craig in Spring City at the LDS Meting House in January last year. This was the altar set up for his ashes.
Later when the snow had melted Craig’s earthly remains were laid to rest in a little clearing in the mountains here he I had gone many times to make smoke and pray.