Death Row Mamma
By Kathleen Sullivan
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Christopher: Umm…Karen? Karen Mansfield? Hi. My name is Christopher Jameson. I’m a grad student at BYU. Is it all right if I talk to you?
Karen: Sure. Why not? I’ve talked to everybody else, why not you?
Christopher: Well, Thank you Ms. Mansfield-
Karen: Karen. Please. I try not to use my last name anymore.
Christopher: Of course, I’m sorry, Karen. Ummm well, let’s see. I guess I’ll just get started. I’m writing an article about single parents and I’m trying to get different points of view. I thought yours might be useful. Karen?
Karen: Ya know, I sit here everyday and I’m surrounded by murderers and rapists and all these awful people that I can’t imagine being around. And you know what I think about? The only thing I can think about is my little girl. I mean, she’s out there and she has no idea what’s happening to her momma. How could she understand? She’s only nine. How could she know that I had to do something, or neither of us would be here today?
Christopher: So, does this mean you’re willing to tell me your story? That all I want. I want to know what it’s like for a mother to be on death row for the murder of her husband. I think you can provide an interesting-
Karen: My story? My story…that’s what they all want. They just want the story. Ya know, no one seemed to want to listen when I wanted to talk or when I was screaming for help, but now? Now I’m this award-winning story that everyone wants.
Christopher: No, it’s not like that-
Karen: I’m not like them. You know that? I’m not like the rest of the people here. Maybe I deserve to die. I don’t know. I was just protecting my little girl. That’s all. I was just protecting her from him. I mean he wasn’t her daddy. A daddy doesn’t act like that. A daddy doesn’t come home from work and throw his little girl down the stairs when she’s three cuz she won’t pick up her toys! A daddy doesn’t come home from the bar and beat his daughter’s mamma within an inch of her life cuz the house isn’t clean enough! A daddy doesn’t do that! You see? I had to do it. He would have killed us. He would have killed us both. So that’s why I’m here, but I’m not like them. I only did it for my little girl.
Christopher: Perhaps you’d like me to come back later?
Karen: No, I’m sorry. I…I guess it’s been a while since I’ve let things out ya know? People always come in to talk, but I never let them see me. Does that make sense?
Christopher: Yes. Yes ma’am it does. Ummm…does your daughter know where you are?
Karen: Yes. During the trials, we tried to explain the best we could everything that was happening to her. My mamma would bring her to see me on the weekends here and we’d talk. She didn’t really understand and she still doesn’t fully. She knows that I hurt Jimmy and that hurting people is bad. For a long time she thought I was bad for hurting her daddy. But at the same time, she knew Jimmy was not a good man. He hurt her and I tried to explain that that is why I did what I did. I think she’s beginning to understand that Jimmy was a horrible man and that things would have been much worse for her if I’d let him keep doing what he was doing.
Christopher: So your mother is raising Sarah?
Karen: Yes. Mamma has always supported me through all of this. Ya know, she tried to talk me out of marrying Jimmy. She said I could have lived with her when I got pregnant, but you know how dumb girls can be. I thought he was wonderful. He didn’t start hitting me till after we were married. But, yes, mamma is taking care of Sarah.
Christopher: Karen, you haven’t appealed your case in over a year. Are you going to keep trying? Do you still have hope that you’ll get out of here?
Karen: Hope? No. I wish I did. I used to, but that was when I first got in here. Some people here still have hope though. They think some appeal will change their sentence, but at this point, I think I’ll be in here an awful long time before anything happens. I won’t see my little girl have her first boyfriend, or go to the prom, or any of those other things a mamma’s supposed to be there for. Who knows what will happen down the road, but I’m only gonna make it worse by hoping right? I know, that’s a bad attitude. I need to keep my chin up and all that stuff. I know that’s what you’re going to say. It’s hard. It’s hard to have hope. I spent the first two years here hoping. Thinking that the next court date would get me out of here. And each time it didn’t happen, I’d lose it all over again. I decided I just couldn’t do it anymore. So now I don’t think about it. I saved my little girl, and that was the goal. And now there’s nothing left to do. So I just live, if you can call it that, from one day to the next, just waiting for it all to be over.
Christopher: You mean death?
Karen: Not necessarily. I mean anything that is going to get me out of here. This may sound strange to you, but I’ve made peace with it. If I die, I know that that is the consequence for saving my little girl, and yes I’d do it again if I had to. If I get out of here, then so be it, but I’ve accepted my actions and punishments as they come.
Christopher: Wow…what an amazing attitude. Karen, this wasn’t the plan, but would you mind if I came back again in a few weeks? I think I want to change the direction of my paper, and would love to focus on you. If the answer is no, I understand, but I really think I could get your story out there in a different light from the reporters.
Karen: Christopher, how about you come back, if you still want to after you’ve thought more about this. I’m willing to tell my story, but I’m not sure if people want the true story. You think about, and I’ll still be here when you decide