“Trouble is part of your life, and if you don’t share it, you don’t give the person who loves you enough chance to love you enough.” –Dinah Shore.
1. Life is not easy for anyone. Life is especially not easy for me. Two weeks ago, I received the news via jpay email that my oldest brother, Antonio Garcia Jojola, had been killed in a senseless act of violence. Antonio, who we all knew as “Tony” was sixty-six years old when he lost his life. In the past twenty-three years that I have been on Texas death row, I have lost my mother and father, and now three brothers. This news shocked me and rocked me to my core. I could not believe it, could not wrap my mind around the fact that my beloved brother was gone. I had been waiting on the Texas prison system to issue us securus computer tablet so I could finally talk to Tony on a daily basis and reconnect with my brother, sharing as much of life with him as I could. Life was hard for my brother and this made it difficult for him to be in my life on a daily basis. I understood and was excited about talking to him on the phone all the time, and now he is gone.
2. It is hard to make sense of the loss of a beloved family member when you are on Texas death row. Because you are incarcerated you are not present when your loved one passes away. You do not see this, you are not at the burial you do not take part in the memorial service honoring their life. They are just gone, like a light that has went out in the world. That is what I have been dealing with inside this solitary confinement cell and it has not been easy. I have lost most of my immediate family in the two decades that I have been on Texas death row, how do you make sense of that? I have been doing my best and have friends and supporters who have reached out to let me know they are with me in my hour of need, love me, and care for me more than ever which has helped greatly. My issue is this – I am so good at making this, “death row experience” look easy, that I sometimes fool myself. I tell everyone that I am fine and I got this, but the truth of the matter is that I am not fine, and I’m hanging on by a thread.
3. On Friday, October 8, 2022, my friend and amazing classical composer and musician, Eric Genuis come back to the faith based program pod to perform again. Eric and his group were here at 9am, and they played for the other side of the pod. I could hear the music and while I waited on them to come to our side and perform for us, my mind drifted back to my troubles. I have precious few photos of my brother Antonio and Juan Elia Jojola, both of who passed away in 2022, and have gathered them into one envelope to have on hand. While waiting, I was looking at my brother’s photos and allowing my mind to go back and reminisce on the good old days spent with them.
4. About noontime, the field ministers and Eric began to bring the sound equipment for the show to our side of the pod and set up. I’m in a different cell now, I have a “front row seat” to the performances, so I pulled my makeshift chair to the cell door and quietly watched the preparations. I still had my brothers on my mind, and the losses that I have experienced I quietly mediated and prayed for my loved ones and waited for the show. A short while later Solley, one of our field ministers, stopped by my cell and told me that Eric had said that he wanted to come talk to me and would do that after the show. That made me feel good. Eric is such a kind compassionate person, he has so much going on in his life, but makes time for people like me because he wants to. Not long after that Troup, our other field minister suggested we sing a song for the musicians while they setting up was completed. We agreed, and I let the brother know that we’d been requested to sing. We sang our gospel version of the old Christian hymn, “Blessed Assurance”. As we sang I noticed that two of the group were different musicians. My attention went to one lady who had a long dark hair braid running down her back, and how we really had her attention when we sung. Shortly after it was time for the performance.
“It’s so good to be back! I am a composer and performer who goes around the world playing for the incarcerated because I want to share beauty in the form of excellent music because beauty uplifts the human condition.”–Eric Genuis.
5. The new musicians were Valerie Height, soprano Anna Mayo, along with cellist Brendan Phelps, and of course Eric. Valerie was the one with the braid, and because she stood to play I watched her through the entire performance. I could see her in motion and she was amazing. I was spell bound by her play and how she could make her violin speak. I could see the emotions on her face as she created this wonderfully beautiful music, was mesmerized by the speed in which she moved her bow across the strings of her instrument. As she played, the music lifted me so high and then would bring me back down low Some of the songs they played were close to fifteen minutes long. I was in awe how each musician new exactly what to play and when to stop to allow a cello or soprano solo, or when to perfectly jump back into the stream of music like Valerie did again and again. I cannot do justice in my attempt to describe the beauty of the music they created. For me, there are not enough words to express that kind of beauty it must be experienced.
6. When the group played, “Panes Angellicus” [Angel’s Bread], it was incredible. At one point during the performance Valerie stopped playing the violin with her bow and played it with her fingers, it was unbelievable! Until that point, this was my favorite song of the performance because the words were written in a poem eight hundred years ago, and Eric completed the music they play only a few years ago.
7. Then they played, “Here I Am”, a love song Eric wrote for his daughter. as Eric introduced the song, Solley set up a microphone in front of Valerie and I wonder why? As Eric began to play the piano I learned why, Valerie stepped up to the microphone and she began to sing. Up until this point I had been able to control my emotions, but as she began to sing, her voice was so beautiful the tears began to flow. As I listened to Valerie sing like an angel, I forced myself to keep my eyes open so I could experience it and remember this once in a lifetime performance that was happening right in front of me. When she stopped singing and began to play her violin I focused on her, all of the music was amazing, but I tuned into her play and thought of my brothers while she made this heart breakingly beautiful music. After hearing Valerie sing, then play, “Here I Am” was the most beautiful song they performed for us. In a word, it was divine. As Valerie played, it was as if every incredible note of music she created cut into the grief and sadness that I was surr- ounded by, and with every stroke of her bow she lifted me out of that terrible dark place. She was the sun and she shined her light into the dark corner that I was stuck in and burned all that ugliness away. I cannot tell you how it happened, all I know is it did happen. Valerie’s light come into my little world and with her angel’s voice and violin she chased the darkness away. It was a moment in my life that I never forget.
8. After their performance, I was able to thank them for their kindness and the precious gift of the show at my cell door. It was only for a minute or two, but I did my best to thank them and I got to speak with Valerie, and I told her that she was not fair! She could play the violin like she did, and sing like that? She was not fair! We all laughed, and when I said that I watched her the entire performance, that I could not keep my eyes off of her, Eric said that I had a ten-thousand dollar seat to the show front row seats!
9. The next day I woke up still riding the wave of beauty-spirituality-positive energy that Eric and company had left me with, replaying their performance in my mind and in a flash I knew what they were, especially Valerie! They are all “heaven leavers!” Because they have the kingdom of God within them, everywhere they go, they leave a piece of heaven behin It is rare to have such wonderful heaven leavers like this come into my little world and share their gifts and light with me. Eric, Valerie, Anna and Brenden are such a blessing to us all.
10. I am still not over losing my brother, but I now have a once in a lifetime memory to wrap them both in. The memory of Valerie cutting me out of that place of pain with her light and music, and everytime I think of it I smile and feel joy and peace flood into my entire being. Thank you Eric, Valerie, Anna and Brendan too!
LOVE PEACE HOPE FRIENDSHIP AND BEAUTY TOO!
Charles D. Flores No:999299
Texas death row October 12, 2022.
To access Eric Genuis’ music go to this link