[Marxism] Remembering My Mother’s Obsession

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Feb 2 09:59:01 MST 2014

(Everything that Trotskyist red diaper baby Said Sayrafiezadeh writes 
makes my flesh crawl.)

NY Times
Private Lives January 29, 2014, 9:30 pm
Remembering My Mother’s Obsession

Of all the troubling events from my childhood, one of the most enduring 
remains the afternoon I visited a prisoner serving a life sentence for 
murder. It was 1978 and I was 9 years old, escorted to Western 
Penitentiary in Pittsburgh by my mother, who, compelled by a lifelong 
objective of raising her son’s awareness of injustice in the world, no 
doubt considered this to be a well-suited occasion.

The injustice, in this particular instance, was the framing of a 
21-year-old black man named Stanton Story for the killing of a white 
Pittsburgh police officer. At the time of our visit, three years had 
passed since Mr. Story’s trial, in which, despite having apparently been 
in North Carolina on the day of the shooting, he was found guilty by an 
all-white jury and sentenced to die in the electric chair. Almost three 
years later, however, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted Mr. Story a 
new trial (on the grounds that prejudicial evidence had been introduced 
at the first one) and, having recently declared the death penalty 
unconstitutional, set aside his death sentence. It was during the run-up 
to this second trial that the Socialist Workers Party, of which my 
mother was a dedicated member, began advocating on Mr. Story’s behalf.

My mother’s substantial commitment, bordering on mania, had made Mr. 
Story the predominant subject of our household for months. I was acutely 
aware of the effort she had been expending, at all hours, on meetings, 
rallies, protests. “Do you dream of freedom?” she had written in one of 
her many letters to Mr. Story. Then, for fear that the guards would 
suspect this question to be a coded invitation to attempt escape, she 
had frantically whited it out.

What I recall about that afternoon visit, several hours long, is mostly 
a feeling of dismay. Mr. Story was so pleasant, so courteous, diffident 
even, that the prospect of his spending the rest of his life in prison 
was not something I could fathom. I was also bored. The conversation 
between my mother and Mr. Story, which I was expected to sit through 
silently, revolved mainly around the particulars of a forthcoming 
carwash that would raise funds for his legal team. The visit ended 
abruptly with his being led away, but before the door closed behind him, 
he turned to wave a melancholy goodbye to my mother, who, standing 
beside me, gripping my hand, was cursing the guards under her breath and 
sobbing uncontrollably.

At the new trial, Mr. Story was again found guilty by an all-white jury, 
and since the death penalty had been reinstated, sentenced a second time 
to the electric chair — a sentence that on appeal would once more be 
reduced to life in prison. My mother, mercifully, spared me the details, 
informing me only that he had “lost.” What are we going to do now, I 
remember asking, because surely, given Mr. Story’s innocence, and given 
my mother’s unflagging determination, there was always something more to 
be done. But no, my mother said, this was it, there was nothing else we 
could do. So after that, we never mentioned his name again.

But I never forgot him. Over the years, that final image of Mr. Story, 
looking back at us, would pop into my head at the most inopportune 
moments. Here I am playing basketball, I would think, and Stanton Story 
is still in prison. Here I am sitting on my new couch from Crate and 
Barrel, and Stanton Story is still in prison. Thus my mother’s goal to 
raise my awareness of injustice in the world had been achieved. Achieved 
so effectively, in fact, that 30 years after that visit it occurred to 
me that I could contact Mr. Story, perhaps hear his account of the 
injustice done to him and, as with other wrongful convictions, help free 
him. If this sounds like a childish thought, that’s because it is.
Tatsuro Kiuchi

After a series of unsuccessful phone calls and Internet searches, I 
finally learned that Mr. Story was now incarcerated at a supermax prison 
50 miles south of Pittsburgh. In addition, I found a Twitter account, 
ostensibly set up for Mr. Story, listing a few unsettling tweets, 

“Dear Mr. Story,” I wrote, “I’m not sure if you’ll remember me, but 
years ago I came to visit you one afternoon with my mother …”

One week later came a reply. No, he did not remember me. He remembered 
my mother, though, “a very good and dear friend,” whom he thought of 
often. He still had a photograph in his cell of the two of them, taken 
at one of her many visits. His grammar was occasionally off, but all 
things considered he wrote with elegance and optimism. “I guess you can 
say that I’m constantly trying to make the best out of a bad situation” 
was a refrain he would repeat in nearly every letter to me. He was still 
hoping for a new trial. He thought the prospects were good. We made 
plans for me to visit. He was excited to get started, to tell me his 
story. “I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself,” he wrote.

In the meantime, I began to research his case. One of the first websites 
that I came across, though, was a memorial for slain police officers, 
which had dedicated a page to Patrick Wallace, the officer who had 
allegedly been killed by Mr. Story. Up to this point, I had never given 
much thought to Mr. Wallace. In fact, I had never given any thought to 
him. It occurred to me as I read that not only did I know very little 
about Mr. Wallace, but I also knew very little about any of the details 
of the case.

I soon discovered some troubling things. I learned, for instance, that 
at his second trial, Mr. Story admitted he had lied about his alibi of 
being in North Carolina. He had been in Pittsburgh, at the scene of the 
shooting, but he insisted that it was his companion, a man named Richard 
Davis, who had fired the fatal shot. Moreover, I found that he had a 
long history with crime, beginning as a teenager. When he was 21, he was 
convicted on multiple counts of armed robbery and sent to Western 
Penitentiary. In prison, his behavior was so exemplary that he was 
granted a three-day furlough, but during those three days he robbed two 
banks and fled to North Carolina. A month later he returned to 
Pittsburgh, where he may or may not have shot and killed Patrick Wallace.

All of this I was just beginning to process as I made my way from New 
York City to Waynesburg, Penn., to visit Mr. Story.

I had made the mistake of skipping breakfast, partly out of poor 
planning, but mostly out of anxiety, so that by the time I arrived I was 
famished. He was waiting for me when I walked in, sitting patiently at a 
table in the visitor’s room. He had gray in his beard. He was 57 years 
old now.

We broke the ice by having a good laugh at the expense of the Socialist 
Workers Party, whose members, Mr. Story said, had disapproved when he 
told them that when he got out of prison he would buy a house. “We don’t 
believe in private property,” they had counseled. He spoke highly of my 
mother, however, and seemed to bear no ill will that she had fallen out 
of touch. For the next six hours we talked about his childhood, his life 
in prison, the improprieties in his two trials, the details of the crime.

I was plagued by a sinking feeling that even if he were innocent — which 
he might very well be — there would be no way to prove it. His 
conviction appeared to hinge largely on the testimony of Mr. Wallace’s 
partner, whose identifications of the two men at the scene were somewhat 
marred by ambiguities. No bullets had been found, which meant no gun 
could be connected to the crime. There seemed to be no hard evidence to 
prove either innocence or guilt. Still, he had been sentenced twice to 
the electric chair.

Unable to feed myself, I fed Mr. Story. Fish sandwiches and green tea 
from the vending machine. I was surprised at how high his spirits 
remained. He described how years ago he had been shackled and 
transferred across the country by bus. “I looked out the window the 
entire time,” he said. “It was the best week of my life.”

When our visit was over, we promised to keep in touch. We parted with 
hopes and expectations. I was aware that he was smiling at me when he 
went back to his cell.

But the hopes and expectations were soon replaced by the monumental task 
that lay before me, as it had once lain before my mother. I visited with 
members of his family, who offered little in the way of assistance. I 
contacted his old lawyers, who never returned my calls. I spoke with 
legal experts who agreed that Mr. Story had some legitimate arguments in 
his favor but said that countless men and women suffered from inadequate 
counsel and an unfair trial.

Meanwhile, Mr. Story and I wrote letters back and forth, going over the 
same thin material. I thought of letting my mother know that I had 
reconnected with Mr. Story, but as she was nearing 80 years old, I did 
not want her to have to contemplate those grave and ponderous issues of 
hopelessness and the passage of time.

A year passed. Our letters became shorter. We began to write mostly 
about the Steelers. The space between sending and receiving letters grew 
longer. How long can a correspondence like this go on? Not long. 
Eventually I took so many months to respond that he never wrote back. Or 
perhaps it was the other way around. Either way, it came as a relief.

Recently, while helping to organize some of my mother’s things, I found 
a large envelope that was labeled “Stanton Story Letters.” The envelope 
was thick, and I had the urge to open it and read what she had written 
to him — but I refrained. My mother had not been able to figure out how 
to keep up a correspondence with a man imprisoned for life. Thirty years 
later, neither could I.

Saïd Sayrafiezadeh is the author of the short-story collection “Brief 
Encounters With the Enemy” and the memoir “When Skateboards Will Be Free.”

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