News & Views » Cover

How to Survive an Execution

Nazareth House provides comfort and compassion for the families of NC death row inmates like Willie Brown



Page 3 of 5

"How do you ride a bike on a dirt road?" asked Glover's daughter Regina, a city girl who grew up in Stamford, CT, and now lives in Charlotte.

"You can ride a bike on a dirt road!" Glover answered indignantly.

"Oh, yeah, if that's all you've got," said Scott Bass, another country boy.

"It's hard to ride it on a gravel road," conceded Brockman, a Mississippi native.

"Yeah, and my father was a believer in boys having bicycles," Glover continued, hitting stride in her family memoir and sparking laughter from Sheila Stumph. "Bicycles -- and every Saturday, a haircut."

"Whoa!" exclaimed Stumph, who comes from a liberal Catholic activist family for whom haircuts were optional.

Glover continued: "He made sure that he took them out every Saturday morning, and if the grandsons were there, too, everybody went and got a haircut. But he believed in them boys having a bicycle. I think they were putting in their head that boys had to have transportation."

A week earlier, Glover had visited Willie at the prison. They reminisced about playing cowboys and Indians and using sticks as horses. Willie couldn't remember if Katie had been part of the games; he thought she was too feminine. She called herself a tomboy who was taller and just as tough as her brother.

"My brother was just like any other brother," Glover said.

After dinner, Glover and her family were soon on their way to the prison, and Scott Bass was sharing her message with two dozen other activists gathered for a 7:30pm prayer vigil at the NC State University Doggett Catholic Student Center near Central Prison. Among the mourners was Patrick O'Neill, a correspondent for the Triangle area alternative paper Independent Weekly. O'Neill had interviewed two of Glover's other siblings, Tony and Teresa, who planned to witness Brown's execution. They told O'Neill that Willie's conviction had devastated their mother, Essie May Brown. She died at 64, a few years after Willie went to death row.

"If Willie is killed tonight, the pain and suffering that his family suffers is going to be just the same as anyone else would suffer," said O'Neill.

Teresa Shepard, Regina Diane Glover and Katie Glover mourn the death of Teresa and Katie's brother Willie "Junior" Brown - JESSE DECONTO
  • jesse deconto
  • Teresa Shepard, Regina Diane Glover and Katie Glover mourn the death of Teresa and Katie's brother Willie "Junior" Brown

Midnight fell. Scott Bass was home from the vigil, which had marched from the Doggett Center to the prison with a police motorcycle escort. Willie Brown's brother Kenny and his fiancée, Cherry, and Willie's sister Dillia and her husband, Kendale, had come back to Nazareth House, too. They were snacking on leftover lasagna at a small table in the kitchen. Bass was chatting with Willie's brother-in-law Kendale, a big, talkative teddy bear with an easy laugh. Kendale had never met Willie and was turned away from the prison visiting area, nixing the last opportunity he would ever have. Bass and Kendale talked about growing up in eastern Carolina and playing pick-up basketball. The conversation lulled, and Kendale asked, "So, how long you been into this here?"

"Oh, well, we've only been in this house since the end of January, and we're still, as you can tell, in the process of fixing some things. But you wouldn't believe how much better it looks already; this ceiling by itself is a miracle," said Bass, pointing at the smooth, white wainscoting that had recently replaced a textured, stained surface patched with duct tape and vinyl siding.

Nazareth House was the result of a recent merger between two different hospitality houses. For the past few years, Bass and Mothershead had been hosting the homeless in their small house on the northern edge of downtown Raleigh. Eighteen months ago, Langley and Stumph had moved from a Catholic Worker house in Boston and opened the Raleigh Catholic Worker to serve death-row families in a rented bungalow near Central Prison. Nazareth House is 4,400 square feet -- bigger than the other two houses combined -- providing more space for more people.

The two couples had looked at the house in early 2005. When the price dropped to $200,000 in January, they made their move. Langley and Stumph had brought their donor network; Mothershead and Bass had paid for the gigantic granite house and brought some extra income from Bass' family-counseling practice. Since January, the two couples, with help from various church and activist groups, have thrown themselves almost full-time into preparing the 57-year-old house for guests, and Bass took Kendale's question as an opportunity to explain their motivation.

"For those of us that live here, it really seems like why we're supposed to be on the earth -- our calling, or whatever you want to call it," he said.

"I really admire that because I don't see a lot of this here," said Kendale.

"No, you don't," said Bass, honestly.

"You really don't," echoed Kendale.

"But you know," Bass continued, "sometimes when you start looking around, you start finding out -- when you start telling people what you're doing -- there's more of it than I would have dreamed."

Sheila Stumph giving a TV interview in front of the statehouse on April 20, pictured with her housemate Roberta Mothershead (center) and Roberta's husband, Scott Bass (left). - JESSE DECONTO
  • jesse deconto
  • Sheila Stumph giving a TV interview in front of the statehouse on April 20, pictured with her housemate Roberta Mothershead (center) and Roberta's husband, Scott Bass (left).


Add a comment