September 2004 : Meeting Mark for the first time

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SECOND BLOG IN THE SERIES

On October 28 2016  my film EYE FOR AN EYE  the story of my relationship with serial Killer Mark Stroman  ( who was executed in 2011) is finally arriving on the big screen.  The film ,released  in several cities in the US and Canada  tells the amazing  story of Revenge, Change and forgiveness . It is a film that carries such a poignant message in the times of hate, division ,Islamophobia  that live in. In the coming weeks  I will publish a series  of blogs detailing  the history of my relationship with Mark , the first serial killer I met and over the years grew to call  my friend.

To learn more about the film and news about the upcoming release  please go to our Facebook page

https://www.facebook.com/aneyeforaneye.film/

Mark Stroman2

I have just arrived at the gates. Media Day is Wednesday and I waited with two print journalists at the gates of the Allan B. Polunksy Unit just outside of Livingston, Texas – population 5335.

The instructions were very clear in the attachment to the email I got from the Media Department of TDCJ : Shorts/cutoffs, open -toed shoes, tank tops , t-shirts , fishnet shirts, see through fabrics …are forbidden, Men  must wear long pants…Nothing may be  given or taken from an offender by the media.

I drove on a country road passing some trailer homes and what looked like a dilapidated evangelical church. Suddenly, out of the woods emerged the prison complex surrounded by barbed wire fences. It wasn’t until years later I figured out where Mark’s pod on Death Row was: a concrete complex of buildings with tiny narrow windows like eye slits.

I go through all these tiny details because the fact that I recall them almost 12 years later is evidence of how tense I was – paying attention to each detail – now engraved in my memory forever.

It was the first time I had interviewed anyone on Death Row. After visiting Mark’s victims, I imagined Mark Stroman as a monster – a cold, calculated, racist, serial killer.

We drove over 2 hours from Houston’s airport. A road I would come to know well in the next few years. The cameraman was driving as I was consumed with self-doubt. Why the hell did I need to interview Mark Stroman – a man who had destroyed so many lives?

A few months earlier, I had spent a week or so interviewing Mark’s victims, trying to figure out if the story of Texas’ first hate crime following 9/11 was strong enough to build an entire film around. I’d promised myself that I would review all the footage and see if I felt like exploring deeper.

On a previous trip to Dallas, just before catching a late night flight to NY, I had met Alka Patel and that interview not only changed my thinking about this story, it changed my life by leading me to the gates of Polunksy Unit, and to Mark Stroman. Alka’s husband Vadusev Patel was Mark’s second victim.

It was Vadusev’s murder that put Mark on Death Row. In the security camera’s tape that was retrieved from the scene of the crime (a gas station and a convenient store in Dallas), you can see Mark Stroman storming into the store, shooting Mr. Patel while asking him to open the cash register. The irony, of course, is that Mark shot Mr. Patel while asking him for the money. Patel was unable to open any cash register, but it was enough for the Jury to convict him of Capital Murder – a murder committed in the commission of another crime. Murder alone does not qualify for the Death Penalty. Capital Murder does. It was Assistant District Attorney Greg Davis decision not to charge Mark for his earlier attacks, where money was not taken, but instead used the security camera tape to convince the Jury that Mark did not act out of hate, but out of pure greed – it was just another robbery gone wrong.

I spent couple of hours in Alka ‘s store waiting for her to take few minutes break so I could ask her few questions. Since her husband’s death, Alka has been working from 6am until 10 pm seven days a week with only the help of her parents who had travelled from India to be with her. Her only break was in the afternoon picking up her kids from school.

What do you think of the man who did this to you?” I asked, “do you hate him?” With tears in her eyes she revealed that she could not hate him. “He is a human too,” she said.

I was stunned. I did not expect this answer and her pained look convinced me that she had thought it through before I came. No, she could not muster the hate inside.

Right there in that tiny convenient store I decided that the film ought to look at hate and forgiveness – and yes, I was going to pursue it. But to tell that story I needed to hear Mark’s side. Where was his hate coming from?

I wrote to him but he declined to be interviewed, because he said he was in the process of an appeal.

I thought my film was over before it began. How could I make a film about hate and forgiveness without Mark Stroman.

Six months later, he wrote again and it was that letter that brought me this grey morning in 2004 to the gates of Polunksy Unit waiting with two other local reporters for the TDJC ‘s spokesperson to come and escort us into the bowels of the prison where I assumed Mark Stroman was waiting.

To be continued…

 

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