Visiting Reggie Clemons on Missouri's Death Row

Reggie Clemons, U.S. Death Penalty, death row, capital punishment, death penalty abolition

Vera Clemons, Reggie Clemons' mother, and AI activist Meredith outside of Potosi Correctional Center in Missouri

On a recent Friday morning, I paid a visit to Reggie Clemons. I wanted to learn who this convicted accomplice to a double murder, condemned prisoner and human being is. I made the journey to Potosi Correctional Center with Vera, Reggie’s mother, and Meredith, a St. Louis Amnesty leader.

Outside a large concrete fortress in the middle of nowhere, prison workers stood taking a smoke break as we pulled into the parking lot. Walking toward the entrance, we passed the beginning of a long fence with endless loops of razor wire from the ground up, electrified for good measure. I stopped at the electrocution warning sign on the fence and took some moments to prepare myself for the intense, regimented environment of every death row.

A professional and pleasant female guard wearing a ton of makeup and a Glock pistol on her belt greeted us and checked us in. Vera was steps ahead of us. I suspect she could do this visit sleepwalking, having come here countless times for two decades. She fed dollar bills into a machine to add quarters to her prison-approved, clear zip-top bag. We followed her through a series of gates controlled by armed guards down cinder block hallways until we found ourselves in the visitors’ room. We signed our names once more and were assigned to a table. Several prisoners were seated at tables around us, some playing cards with their visitors.

Some minutes later, Reggie entered the room, pushing a wheelchair to help a fellow prisoner meet his visitor. He greeted us warmly with a hug and sat down, almost forgetting to embrace his mother, Vera. She popped up as soon as we all sat down and took the next step in her prison ritual. She asked Reggie what he’d like from the vending machines and they laughed, almost able to telepathically communicate his order of spicy junk food.

Meredith and I started talking with Reggie very naturally, joking about how he and his mother willfully mispronounce “jalapeno” and how endearing Vera is in autopilot mode. We spoke about his admirable parents, deeply compassionate and caring people who pastor a church in St. Louis. Reggie shared the challenges he faces trying to live out their values in an environment where confrontation is commonplace and survival is the goal. The swastika tattoo on top of another prisoner’s shaved head in the visiting room gave us a glimpse of Reggie’s daily life.

Reggie spoke about a wide range of subjects, demonstrating a truly active and inventive mind. He talked about redesigning helicopters for the military to make soldiers less vulnerable to enemy fire. He had ideas for how businesses could make capitalism more ethical and humane for workers. We learned about weird food concoctions he has made from the limited number of ingredients he can buy from the prison store. And he talked about wanting to start a charity for death row inmates to help raise funds for life-affirming projects, like planting trees and preserving habitats.

I was struck by how young he looks for forty and what a waste our prisons are for those who are very much alive and could contribute something positive to society, including those they have harmed. Instead, our system is focused on warehousing individuals, and killing some, in a political context where “rehabilitation” is a meaningless word used only by the so-called naïve.

Leaving the prison, I thought about the Kerry sisters who were so young when they perished in the Mississippi River twenty-one years ago. They were full of promise and ideals, and their horrible deaths created a wound that can never fully heal for those who loved them. Reggie was convicted for playing a role in their deaths, Although he maintains he had nothing to do with it and has no idea what happened to them. Given the many issues of unfairness that riddle his case and the 140 death row exonerations in the U.S., I find his claim impossible to ignore.

Guilty or innocent, meeting Reggie Clemons, a living, breathing person, sharpened my belief that taking a human being’s life to rectify the taking of other human beings’ lives is too simple an equation for such an irreplaceable loss–and too inherently contradictory a moral proposition. My brief experience visiting another maximum security prison also confirmed my understanding that prison is kind of purgatory.

Given the very limited number of choices prisoners can make for themselves, the penalties for crossing the innumerable rules, and the slow death incarceration inflicts upon a person’s future and dreams, prison truly is punishment. But unlike the death penalty, incarceration does not deepen the suffering caused by more death and compromise our societal value that killing is wrong.

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26 thoughts on “Visiting Reggie Clemons on Missouri's Death Row

  1. This was a touching and important piece and I thank our AIUSA DP abolition staff for sharing it with us State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinators.

  2. I want to thank AIUSA for taking on so many human right issues including Reggie Clemons in Missouri. I've been blessed to be a Volunteer Chaplain in MO for 17 plus years and never have my faith been challenged in prison ministry. I am the Spiritual Advisor to death row inmate Reggie Clemons who in my opinion is innocent. I know it take a lot to rest my decision on a death row inmate, but after spending 6 1/2 years as Reggie's Spiritual Advisor and assisting Vera his mother advocating on death penalty legislation have caused me to see Jesus Christ death and resurrection with a different mindset when it come to lethal injection.

    I've witnessed many cases in error, but never in the history of Missouri justice system in my time as Chaplain have I ever witnessed a botched case such as Reggie Clemons. Potosi is explained exactly like it's description with lots of horror stories. Potosi have become a lifeless dungeon for most death row and lifer inmates waiting to die. Reggie is a human being who not only deserve due process, but the world need to know he's intelligent and a self published author of "Poetic Reflections" a book of inspirational poetry can be found on http://www.amazon.com website.

    To read more about Reggie Clemons case and updates go to his personal blog http://www.freereggieclemonsnow.blog.com

    In Solidarity,
    Rev. Madeline Coburn
    Prison Chaplain|Spiritual Advisor

  3. I want to thank AIUSA for taking on so many human right issues including Reggie Clemons in Missouri. I've been blessed to be a Volunteer Chaplain in MO for 17 plus years and never have my faith been challenged in prison ministry. I am the Spiritual Advisor to death row inmate Reggie Clemons who in my opinion is innocent. I know it take a lot to rest my decision on a death row inmate, but after spending 6 1/2 years as Reggie's Spiritual Advisor and assisting Vera his mother advocating on death penalty legislation have caused me to see Jesus Christ death and resurrection with a different mindset when it come to lethal injection.

    I've witnessed many cases in error, but never in the history of Missouri justice system in my time as Chaplain have I ever witnessed a botched case such as Reggie Clemons. Potosi is explained exactly like it's description with lots of horror stories. Potosi have become a lifeless dungeon for most death row and lifer inmates waiting to die. Reggie is a human being who not only deserve due process, but the world need to know he's intelligent and a self published author of "Poetic Reflections" a book of inspirational poetry can be found on http://www.amazon.com website.

    To read more about Reggie Clemons case and updates go to his personal blog http://www.freereggieclemonsnow.blog.com

    In Solidarity,
    Rev. Madeline Coburn
    Prison Chaplain|Spiritual Advisor

  4. This was a touching and important piece and I thank our AIUSA DP abolition staff for sharing it with us State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinators.

  5. I want to thank AIUSA for taking on so many human right issues including Reggie Clemons in Missouri. I’ve been blessed to be a Volunteer Chaplain in MO for 17 plus years and never have my faith been challenged in prison ministry. I am the Spiritual Advisor to death row inmate Reggie Clemons who in my opinion is innocent. I know it take a lot to rest my decision on a death row inmate, but after spending 6 1/2 years as Reggie’s Spiritual Advisor and assisting Vera his mother advocating on death penalty legislation have caused me to see Jesus Christ death and resurrection with a different mindset when it come to lethal injection.

    I’ve witnessed many cases in error, but never in the history of Missouri justice system in my time as Chaplain have I ever witnessed a botched case such as Reggie Clemons. Potosi is explained exactly like it’s description with lots of horror stories. Potosi have become a lifeless dungeon for most death row and lifer inmates waiting to die. Reggie is a human being who not only deserve due process, but the world need to know he’s intelligent and a self published author of “Poetic Reflections” a book of inspirational poetry can be found on http://www.amazon.com website.

    To read more about Reggie Clemons case and updates go to his personal blog http://www.freereggieclemonsnow.blog.com

    In Solidarity,
    Rev. Madeline Coburn
    Prison Chaplain|Spiritual Advisor

  6. This was a very touching blog; I feel that no one should decide when a person dies. As I read this blog I felt very touched by it because the people in there couldn’t be innocent and very smart but can’t do anything about it.

  7. This was a very touching blog; I feel that no one should decide when a person dies. As I read this blog I felt very touched by it because the people in there couldn’t be innocent and very smart but can’t do anything about it.

  8. This was a very touching blog; I feel that no one should decide when a person dies. As I read this blog I felt very touched by it because the people in there could be innocent and very smart but can’t do anything about it.

  9. Better to let 100 guilty men free than let one innocent man suffer.

    Benjamin Franklin

  10. This was a very touching blog; I feel that no one should decide when a person dies. As I read this blog I felt very touched by it because the people in there could be innocent and very smart but can’t do anything about it.

  11. Better to let 100 guilty men free than let one innocent man suffer.

    Benjamin Franklin

  12. Very touching, but try being the staff that was assaulted by him and many other offenders each and every day

  13. Very touching, but try being the staff that was assaulted by him and many other offenders each and every day

  14. this is for Co. he has never assaulted any one there and for u to say this is pure garbage and u know it.your just trying to taint him as a person.

  15. this is for Co. he has never assaulted any one there and for u to say this is pure garbage and u know it.your just trying to taint him as a person.

  16. Christians are going tor remind Jesus' Death , as tomorrow Good Friday is. This
    happend thousands years ago. Unfortunately nowadays there are lots of people
    who are sentenced to Death, tortured, I always think of them when Good Friday comes.

  17. Christians are going tor remind Jesus’ Death , as tomorrow Good Friday is. This
    happend thousands years ago. Unfortunately nowadays there are lots of people
    who are sentenced to Death, tortured, I always think of them when Good Friday comes.

  18. Death penalty can never be justified.

    To do it "in the name of God" is even worse, because it is abusive to God (like he wouldn't be powerful enough to do dirty work, but would need humans to help him).

    Death penalty is not even a matter of what somebody has done, except for in the eyes of a victim's family. They are the only group of people who by emotions have reasons to demand "an eye for an eye", but we consider a blood revenge society as being uncivilized.

    To cause somebody's death is bad. It is not acceptable, but you can understand why it happens when people are crazy, angry, afraid, horny, greedy or by other instinctual but unacceptable reasons.
    But I can't even understand how people without such behavioral defects, elected or chosen by merits, can sit and in cold blood decide that another person must die.
    That is even worse in my opinion, because they do this without being affected by dysfunctions, believing that they have a MANDATE to do so.

    So how can somebody issue a mandate, without himself having it?
    It is already established that a common citizen does not have a mandate to kill, even for revenge.
    As a consequence of that, citizens can't give a such mandate to politicians or to public servants, because nobody had it from start.

    Americans are sometimes a bit strange. You don't trust your politicians, because you see that you are cheated all the time. But you trust them to decide which citizens are allowed to live, and which citizens must die!

    This is why we foreigners say:
    USA may be the world's largest democracy, and they may have the largest number of cars and washing machines. But USA is not yet civilized.

  19. Death penalty can never be justified.

    To do it “in the name of God” is even worse, because it is abusive to God (like he wouldn’t be powerful enough to do dirty work, but would need humans to help him).

    Death penalty is not even a matter of what somebody has done, except for in the eyes of a victim’s family. They are the only group of people who by emotions have reasons to demand “an eye for an eye”, but we consider a blood revenge society as being uncivilized.

    To cause somebody’s death is bad. It is not acceptable, but you can understand why it happens when people are crazy, angry, afraid, horny, greedy or by other instinctual but unacceptable reasons.
    But I can’t even understand how people without such behavioral defects, elected or chosen by merits, can sit and in cold blood decide that another person must die.
    That is even worse in my opinion, because they do this without being affected by dysfunctions, believing that they have a MANDATE to do so.

    So how can somebody issue a mandate, without himself having it?
    It is already established that a common citizen does not have a mandate to kill, even for revenge.
    As a consequence of that, citizens can’t give a such mandate to politicians or to public servants, because nobody had it from start.

    Americans are sometimes a bit strange. You don’t trust your politicians, because you see that you are cheated all the time. But you trust them to decide which citizens are allowed to live, and which citizens must die!

    This is why we foreigners say:
    USA may be the world’s largest democracy, and they may have the largest number of cars and washing machines. But USA is not yet civilized.

  20. The fairness or otherwise of the death penalty can be debated forever. However, when athinking, breathing, livibng indiviudual decides by his own wilful action to terminate the lives of others, the question of propotional punishment does arise. In this particular case Reggie seems to have been involved in the killing of 2 young women and there needs to be justice from the victims pointt of view. Just because the victims are dead and the criminal or perpetrator is alive can be say with Christ, Let the dead bury their dead.

  21. The fairness or otherwise of the death penalty can be debated forever. However, when athinking, breathing, livibng indiviudual decides by his own wilful action to terminate the lives of others, the question of propotional punishment does arise. In this particular case Reggie seems to have been involved in the killing of 2 young women and there needs to be justice from the victims pointt of view. Just because the victims are dead and the criminal or perpetrator is alive can be say with Christ, Let the dead bury their dead.

  22. These reckless assumptions are made all the time.

    In an above comment, "Co" assumes that Reggie "assaults staff each and every day", obviously not knowing a grain about that. And should that not be true about Reggie, he adds "and by many other offenders", like if "other offenders" would justify the execution of Reggie.

    In his above comment, Virupaksha obviously thinks it is enough that Reggie SEEMS to have been involved, again disregarding all indications of the opposite. And again, that it means a mandate from Christ to kill in his name. What Christ are you talking about? The Christ I know of never gave a such mandate.

    Now there is also an obvious resistance from authorities to have procedures properly investigated. And when investigations are made, we even see Governors changing the members in commissions in order to get the Governor's desired results of investigations.

    Why is it so? Could it be so bad, like the prestige of a Governor (who is running for the President's Office) is more important than the life of an innocent?

    Well, it seems like you only have to accidentally be in the same block as a committed crime, to be executed as "an accessory".

    Where does that take the Governor himself, and all other involved in a faulty execution? Are they also "accessories" and should be executed?

    I guess they are, at least in the eyes of the executeds' families.

    Which in turn proves that civilization have not developed much in the last 1,000 years. At least not in USA, China and a number of other countries.

  23. These reckless assumptions are made all the time.

    In an above comment, “Co” assumes that Reggie “assaults staff each and every day”, obviously not knowing a grain about that. And should that not be true about Reggie, he adds “and by many other offenders”, like if “other offenders” would justify the execution of Reggie.

    In his above comment, Virupaksha obviously thinks it is enough that Reggie SEEMS to have been involved, again disregarding all indications of the opposite. And again, that it means a mandate from Christ to kill in his name. What Christ are you talking about? The Christ I know of never gave a such mandate.

    Now there is also an obvious resistance from authorities to have procedures properly investigated. And when investigations are made, we even see Governors changing the members in commissions in order to get the Governor’s desired results of investigations.

    Why is it so? Could it be so bad, like the prestige of a Governor (who is running for the President’s Office) is more important than the life of an innocent?

    Well, it seems like you only have to accidentally be in the same block as a committed crime, to be executed as “an accessory”.

    Where does that take the Governor himself, and all other involved in a faulty execution? Are they also “accessories” and should be executed?

    I guess they are, at least in the eyes of the executeds’ families.

    Which in turn proves that civilization have not developed much in the last 1,000 years. At least not in USA, China and a number of other countries.

  24. It never ceases to amaze me how so many people jump on the band wagon and cry for someone who they FEELwas wronged by the system.Who fail to remember that 2 sisters were raped ,sodomized,beaten,and thrown into the icy waters of the Mississippi to die! I believe that Mr.R.Clemons is guilty as were his co-defendants, but my beliefs are based on facts not assumptions and suppositions. I spent the better part of a year maintaining the care, custody, and control over Mr.R.Clemons,M.Gray,&R.Johnson. I was the 3rd floor supervisor at the jail where they were held as pre-trial detainee's. A unique feature of this floor was the law library which was a structure comprised of heavy fencing that seperated the prisoners from my desk apprx. 6Ft. away.This is the area where Mr.Clemons,Mr. Gray,&Mr.Johnson would meet to discuss their case.

  25. I personally overhaerd many of these discussions .Oneof these was burned into my memory .Mr. R.Johnson said"Weshould tell them we was'nt tryig to kill them we was just trying to clean all our jizz off of them!"they all burst into laughter over this.I felt sick. I know this does'nt hold up as evidence but just think of what kind of monster your crying for,maybe those tears should be shed for the real victims.2 little girls who were killed by these monsters!

  26. Living in country with no death penalty I was unaware America still carried it out but after reading a book by chance I became aware of Reginald Clemons and his co accused and decided to read up a bit more about their side of the story and was appalled to think someone was on death row for 20 years under such strange circumstances,so decided to join Amnesty to support Mr Clemons as I think he is truly an innocent man.Good luck to all trying to help.