Roger McGowen is an Afro-American prisoner from broncs of Houston, who has been locked up in Texas since 1987 for a crime he did not commit. He has been claiming his innocence for 31 years with an immense strength of resilience, never giving up in the face of a complex justice system. Roger McGowen remained locked up for 25 years on death row, where he survived.
Roger McGowen is a man with an uncommon smile, blessed with a profound tranquility, which can be questioned, in regard to total contrast to the terrible conditions of detention in the Huntsville unit. He recounts his experience in two books, written in collaboration with Pierre Pradervand, which retrace the epistolary exchanges between these two men.
The confinement in a dangerous prison world has opened the doors Roger's genuine inner freedom. Today, he is helping to change the conditions of imprisonment by helping prisoners move from a culture of hate towards others gangs and the prison guards, to a culture of peace and love. He is gradually giving the prisoners back their dignity.
Thanks to independent support committees, most of the financial assistance for expensive legal fees was provided. This led to a new trial in 2013, after which Roger McGowen was released from death row and transfered to the Huntsville Long Term Prison where he currently resides. Death row and Roger's long-term detention unit are places of such brutality that many prisoners fall into madness.
Roger McGowen is taking action to change prison conditions for the poorest prisoners. It provides them with a financial endowment that not only allows them to organize visits from their families and better legal aide, but also reunions between prisoners to emprove living together so peaces prevails over daily conflicts.
Roger was born on December 23rd 1963 on Ward 5, in one of Houston's ghettos. It is a dilapidated neighborhood where 62% of the population lives below the poverty line.
Roger is the seventh of ten children from different fathers. His parents divorced while he was still a child. He is very attached to his mother and grandmother. They had a profound impact on his spirituality. They taught him the value of life and encouraged him on the path of wisdom. They taught him that becoming wise does not come with age but with experience.
At 22, he was manager of a neighborhood restaurant. He gradually became independent and became a father.
One day, his mother had a stroke. She was hospitalized and fell into a coma for several days. She came round for a brief moment while Roger was at her bedside praying. She spoke to him and said "Roger, take care of your brother" then fell back into a coma.
For Roger, there was no doubt, at whatever cost, he would take care of his big brother, Charles, whom he admired so much. They had been very close since childhood. He said "We were very close, I would try to follow him with my friends, but when he saw me, he would take me home."
One morning in April, someone knocked on the door of the apartment. Roger got up and opens the door and to his suprise the Police put him under arrest. He discovered that his brother and cousin, who asked him the day before to borrow his car, committed a hold-up in a bar. A witness noted the number plates. But, more importantly, during this robbery, the owner of the bar was killed. Convinced that the murderer is his brother, Roger is accused to protect him. He believes the evidence is sufficient to prove his innocence at trial. But things did not go as planned. His trial was tainted by serious irregularities: refusal of the lawyer to take into account some testimonies that would inocent Roger, false testimonies, bribery of witnesses …
At the age of 24, in May, Roger is sentenced to death by the County Court of Harris County in Houston, Texas.
Shortly after his incarceration, Roger learnt of the death of his brother in a hold up. Roger thought that by taking the responsability for the crime of his brother, he would help him change and get back on track. His sacrifice was in vain.
Incarcerated in a 6m2 cell on death row, Roger discovers the difficult conditions of those sentenced to death. Detainees are locked up 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They only have one hour of walking a day. They often only have a meal of 2 or 3 cold sandwiches. They do not shower very often and regularly their cells are searched and everything they own is destroyed. The prisoners are isolated from each other and shout all day to talk to each other or scream because they go crazy. Death row is an irratioal place.
After a period of revolt, Roger writes: "The difficulties of life can be transformed in two ways: they can make us bitter, petty and hard or make us wiser, more loving and more caring". He will make prison a real path of inner transformation.
After 9 years on death row, a date of execution was pronounced for Roger. With the help of Roger's Friends and the lawyer Charles Taylor, a Habeas Corpus is filed to block this decision. Death is omnipresent in Roger's life. He accompanies more than 150 prisoners in their execution. Indeed, recognized by other prisoners as a person of exception to the point that they call him "The Rock", he is asked by those who will be executed to accompany them in their last days. In his letters, Roger confides that, in this world where death holds an important place, prayer plays a leading role in his life. Whether it is a secular prayer to life, to Providence, to God, it does not matter. Prayer brings him patience in a very unrealistic universe.
Earlier this year, Robin and Ronald Radford, assisted by Elly and Pierre Pradervand, create the International Support Group (ISG) and call on lawyer Anthony Houghton. Together, they initiated proceedings to allow a new trial and the reversal of Roger's death sentence.
Following the decision of a Texas judge to suspend Roger's death sentence in 2008, Harris County Attorney appealed the judgment. On 2 occasions, the federal court upholds the judge's decision and the prosecutor brings the case to the Supreme Court in Washington. The Supreme Court grants the judge's decision that Roger should not have been sentenced to death and thus offers the right to a new trial of his sentence.
As the state of Texas had no further evidence, they were obliged to grant Roger a new trial. Roger is transferred to Harris County Prison in Houston and leaves death row where he had been detained for 25 years.
During all the years of detention, Roger developed his own form of faith. Strongly rooted in his Christian upbringing, Roger's faith was foolproof. "Yes, what a sweet joy to know that God is in your life," he writes. It allows him to believe in the impossible and to keep hope, even in the midst of the most grievous bullying. Of course, man has his part to bear and Roger says "sometimes the test is not meant to help us find strength in our faith in God but to find strength in ourselves because we ask him to do things that we could do ourselves. "
That year, Roger was transferred to Wynne Unit Prison in Huntsville, Texas to serve his new sentence.
Since being incarcerated in the Long Term Ward in Huntsville, Roger has been involved in assisting other prisoners following the discovery of the extreme poverty within the prison. In a private correspondence, he writes: "When I arrived in Huntsville at Wynne Penitentiary, I had no expectation, especially from death row, I had no expectation except to do the best that I could respect the guards and prisoners ... I had cellmates who did not know how to wash or clean their cell, I had cellmates who could not read and write. I had cellmates whom I had to show how to do the washing or how to put lotion on their skin. This will seem crazy to you, as it seemed to me crazy the first time ... then one day, I stopped asking myself how all this was possible and I decided to devote myself to doing everything to change this state of mind myself when I encountered it. "
Roger decided to focus on helping the poorest prisoners. To serve others, to give, to him has become a new response to the sadness and anger that can sometimes posesse him..
Documentary by Nicolas Pallay filmed in 2012. In 60 mins, this film traces the life of Roger McGowen up until the revision of his sentence. (Full Version)
Today Roger McGowen helps prisoners in three areas :
This is a meal that the prisoners share together on the last Friday of each month. Thanks to this sharing of food, fraternity and friendship gradually the violence within the prison is being replaced. These spreads take place on 7 blocks of the prison and involved nearly 700 prisoners in 2019.
Helping prisoners for primary needs such as food, hygiene products, clothing ... And providing secondary assistance to buy various items such as a typewriter, materials to fabric leather objects, plastic arts, organize visits for families of prisoners, ...
These are 60 prisoners who now have pen pals. We enable pens, paper, envelopes and stamps to be bought, so that these exchages can be made as simple as possible.
Why is Roger McGowen in prison ?
Roger McGowen and his worldwide support.
Roger McGowens actions within prison.
To discover Roger McGowen's story, you can read the book "Messages of life on death row" which traces the exchanges between Roger McGowen and Pierre Pradervand over the last 16 years of correspondence.
A unique and moving testimony of sincerity and profound truth.
"The only prisoners are those who are chained by the limits of their minds"
Ronald Radford is a key person in the relationship we have with Roger McGowen. He is in contact with him daily. He is incharge of all the support committees at international level to ensure that our help reaches Roger.
Beyond this help, Ronald is also an emeritus flamenco guitar player. In 2018, we collaborated with the organization of eight concerts in France and Switzerland. These concerts made it possible to make Roger's story more widely known and to gain more support thanks to the presence of members of the association Roses Rouges Sur le Bitume (Red Roses On The Tar!)