Wishes For Brother Gamso

When he told me, I was shocked and deeply saddened. He told me that it wasn’t a secret, on the one hand, but it wasn’t the sort of personal news he wanted to broadcast, and so I accepted his decision and, aside from expressing my wishes directly to him, kept my yap shut. This was his life and his choice whether to announce it, not mine. But now, Jeff Gamso has done two things. He’s written his first blawg post in a while and, in it, he went public.

A bit over two months ago, I was taken to the emergency room.  I had nearly collapsed in the kitchen of a church where I was chopping ham, helping folks from a church in a richer parish prepare a free meal for the area’s residents.  The consensus was that I should go to the emergency room.

Triage.  Tests.  “Your hemoglobin is dangerously low.”  Admitted to the hospital.  Five units of blood over the next 24 hours or so.  More time, more tests.  Taken from this suburban branch of the hospital to the main campus.  More time, more tests.  Nearly discharged – but now, “Off to the cancer center.  You have acute myeloid leukemia.”

Gamso had cancer. It’s not unusual. People get cancer. But this was brother Gamso. He’s no kid and as we age, bad things happen to our bodies and so it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Indeed, other dear friends from the blawgosphere have found their bodies at war with their minds, some far younger with their wholes lives ahead of them, children to rear, spouses to love and people to help. But young or old, it’s still a shock.

The chemotherapy worked.  I was in complete remission.  The trick now is to keep it that way, to prevent a recurrence.  Which is why, on this Thursday night, I am once again in the cancer center, where I’ve been now since Monday night – getting more chemo.  Sigh.

I expect to be discharged Saturday afternoon.  Home again, home again, jiggity jig.  And then, a few weeks later, back once more.  And once more.  And once more. Sigh.

But as I said, I am incredibly lucky.

It’s become trendy to wear one’s misery as a badge of honor. Imagine how many “likes,” how many “thoughts and prayers” Jeffrey could garner on twitter, if only he was on twitter. He’s not. He never has been. And even if he had, he would have done it all wrong. He’s “incredibly lucky.”

So why now? Why tonight from this desk in this cancer ward?  For reasons I don’t exactly understand – and perhaps I should have waited until I do, but well, I didn’t – it has to do with the murder tonight of 58-year-old Nicholas Sutton by the good people of the State of Tennessee.

Gamso goes into some of the story behind Sutton, and behind the state of executions in the State of Tennessee. The night he wrote this post, and told of his cancer, Sutton was executed.

And so it is that Nicholas Sutton, killer of four, saved the lives of three corrections officers while he was on death row.  And so it is that an unusual collection of folks urged the governor and the courts to commute his death sentence. And so it is that the governor and the courts said no.

And Nicholas Sutton was murdered tonight, killed in the name of the good people of Tennessee, not by lethal injection which he figured would be too painful, but by the electric chair, which we know is likely to be horrifically painful.  But his choice.

Jeffrey Gamso, sitting in his hospital room, signing a paper to allow a doc to pump chemo into him because “if he didn’t, he would die,” decided that it was a matter of life and death to write a blawg post, using himself as the foil of choice in juxtaposition to the killing of Nicholas Sutton.

As I  said, I’m incredibly lucky.

Not so much Nicholas Sutton.  He got to decide whether to die on the gurney or in the chair.

I got to decide whether to die at all.

Gamso didn’t instagram his chemo. He didn’t twit his misery. He didn’t start a GoFundMe to extract the milk of human kindness. He typed on his computer as he sat there, knowing what he faced, to remind us of what the State of Tennessee was about to do, and did, to Sutton.

Nicholas Sutton.  May he rest in peace.

Amen. And Jeffrey Gamso. Get well soon, brother. We still need you.

13 thoughts on “Wishes For Brother Gamso


    law enforcement always comes down to the question of justice vs mercy. If we all got our just rewards, we would be in deep trouble. If I were a Catholic I would have quite a list each week just about the thoughts I have about people I disagree with politically. The death penalty is barbaric and belongs in the era of cutting off hands for theft.

      1. TOM JOHNSON

        I didn’t mean to sound crass and my sympathies to your friend, but until we have a year without a jury decision being appealed, I think giving the power of life and death should be left to God.

  2. Richard Kopf

    Jeff is the type of lawyer that I wanted to be but lacked the courage to emulate. From far away, but with the Toledo Blade still in my distant mind, I think of Jeff now with great respect and fondness. And for what it is worth, I second Scott’s “Get well soon, brother. We still need you.”

    All the best.


  3. Fubar

    I can only add this to what others have said already: Keep fighting. Do the full post-remission treatment.

    We are lucky you are here.

    We need you. Law and justice need you.

  4. Skink

    Jeff feels like shit, as that’s chemo. But he thinks of the harmed other guy. Take a lesson others: that’s a godamned lawyer.

  5. B. McLeod

    None of us really get to decide not to die at all. We can try to have some influence to put off the time, and maybe certain causes, but sooner or later, something, or maybe someone, will be or end.

    So it was, too, for Mr. Sutton. He did what he could to pursue clemency and appeals, but it didn’t work out. As far as it goes, in the end, he had lived his latter years as an inmate about as well as anyone who is an inmate can. Within the correctional facility environment, fellow inmates and staff respected him, thought well of him, and wanted to do what they could to help him. If there is an afterlife, that ought to be worth something, and if there isn’t an afterlife, it was still worth something. There are more than a few people out on the streets who don’t have as much, and some of them never will.

    The case was unusual in that, if you subscribe to the notion that a person can be redeemed from terrible crimes, Mr. Sutton might have had a fair claim to have achieved that. In the balance, he may have saved as many lives as he took, and, at least as the corrections staff saw it, he made the prison a better and safer place.

    Maybe the courts should have saved Mr. Sutton. Surely stays have been known to issue in cases without one-tenth as good a reason. Maybe the Governor of Tennessee should have saved Mr. Sutton. It didn’t happen, but that isn’t “murder,” because it’s never “murder” when the state pulls the switch, even if it later comes out that a completely innocent person rode the lightning. There is no real doubt that Mr. Sutton did the killing for which he was sentenced, and no real doubt that the sentence was lawful when it was passed. The governor, for his part, reviewed the case transcript and so had a different blend of information than what we all have from simply reading media articles. Possibly it was something he saw there that caused him to decide not to intervene.

    Of course, it could still be that in the years to come, some judge or judges, or a former Governor of Tennessee, will sometimes have those wakeful moments, in the small hours before dawn, when it will come to them that, on a day, they might ought to have done something different for Nicholas Sutton. It won’t matter, because they won’t be able to go back and do it differently, so if it bothers them, it will have to bother them. I am glad that the final decisions of such things do not fall to me.

  6. CLS

    I was lucky some time ago to pick Gamso’s brain on the subject of the death penalty. Our talk completely changed the way I view capital punishment. Sometime in the very distant future (we hope), his last words will probably be “At least I got to go out the natural way, not like (insert death row prisoner here), who’s getting the needle in three days.” Or something to that effect.

    He is a true criminal defense lawyer. I can’t think of better words honoring him.

    Jeff, get your ass healthy brother. You’re not done raising hell on this planet yet.

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