VIRGINIA RAYMOND: Since you have those photographs, I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about each of those photographs, and then Sabina will try and
film the photographs. We might need to ask you if we can scan them later, but if you can talk about each of the photographs—each of the ones that you have, and maybe show them also to the
BURNETT CLAY: First, I put Keith in a vault. And it was about a year later the vault had [inaudible]. And it was about a year later, I had his headstone
special made in Houston, where they could put the picture on and all of that.
CLAY: And I have a lifetime warranty on his headstone for the simple reason that he has the picture in there and it's granite. So if anything chip, or if the
picture fade or anything, they replace the whole thing. So it was about a year after that, the headstone was installed.
CLAY: And therefore after it was installed, about two weeks after it was installed, I gave a big dinner for the memorial service of the headstone being
installed. And it was so many people, we all had dinner, and then we went up to the cemetery, everybody.
CLAY: And we had prayer, and whatever—whoever want to speak about anything concerning Keith, and the planting of his stone, we did that. Now that was a
beautiful service. So with Johnny, I had told him—he said, "Don't do all of that." I had told him what I would do.
CLAY: And that was to do his request that he would be cremated, and I told him that I'm gonna get you a headstone because I don't think nobody should be in
the cemetery and has no name—because you probably wouldn't know what's your people anyway after a certain length of time.
CLAY: So I told him I was gonna have him a headstone, and I was gonna put his ashes. He asked me what was I gonna do with them. I said, I'm gonna bury right
beside your brother, my son. And that pleased him, I think that's why Johnny was so happy.
CLAY: So I had the headstone, I went and ordered the headstone, and they came and installed it the day before we had the memorial service, because I wanted
the headstone there for the memorial service so we could take pictures.
CLAY: And that's what they done. So I went and purchased his headstone, even though they were expensive, but I did what I told him I was gonna do, because
you know what, in this life everybody should have a word. A word is your bond. So I did just what I told him that I was gonna do.
CLAY: It was a lot of work, I had to do a lot of things, I had to do the ashes and I went picked them up. There was nights I had a nightmare, knowing his
ashes were there at my house, and I couldn't sleep. It's not supposed to be [inaudible] 'cause I need to sleep.
CLAY: But it was just my mind thinking about—he was out there on the porch, and there was someone as I would go out there, I said, Good morning Johnny, how
are you? You know? He right there at the house. That was strange.
CLAY: Anyway, after the memorial service that we had, all of the people—National Geographic—we fixed them at my house. And when it was over they all came to
my house to eat. That was the Saturday before Resurrection Sunday when we had the memorial service. And then we all went to church. And National Geographic filmed our whole church service. And
it was absolutely wonderful. It was beautiful.
RAYMOND: What's the church that you go to?
BURNETT CLAY: The name of it is Magnolia Church of God and Christ, right there where I live.
RAYMOND: And was the minister there? I don't know how to say that word.
BURNETT CLAY: Let me see. This was for my children's service. This is the church, his service was held, was there.
RAYMOND: Were they at the same place?
BURNETT CLAY: No. They're different churches.
RAYMOND: Oh, okay.
HELEN PHILLIPS: Different pastors.
BURNETT CLAY: Mm-hmm. Different pastors.
RAYMOND: Here's Johnny Johnson's that you showed me.
BURNETT CLAY: (points to text) That's the name of the cemetery. Magnolia Springs Cemetery. That's right where I live, I live like three minutes from there.
Oh, they didn't put it on there. Okay, on this here, "expressions," that mean everybody who wanna talk.
CLAY: And the deposit of remains was Reverend [inaudible]. And the Prayer was done by my Pastor, which is Reverend Jeffrey Adam. That prayer was done by him.
And everybody wanted expressions; we all talked. And then the deposit of the remains, we all went up to the cemetery, and that's when Reverend [inaudible] did deposit of the remains.
HELEN PHILLIPS: Reverend Jeffrey Adam.
BURNETT CLAY: Yeah, I told ‘em my pastor was Reverend Jeffrey Adam. He did the prayer.
RAYMOND : Now your pastor, is he the one who ordained you?
BURNETT CLAY: Oh no, darling, you see no, the Lord ordained me. He's not there no more. That church is not existing. Now that's where—you see that little
box? That's his remains. No Reverend Jeffrey Adams is my pastor because [inaudible] is not there anymore.
BURNETT CLAY: That preacher.
RAYMOND: But [Inaudible] is the one who ordained you.
BURNETT CLAY: Yes ma'am. I got my ordination papers. Yes ma'am, he the one.
RAYMOND: And I don't know what ordination in your church involves. How does that —
BURNETT CLAY: You have to be qualified. You see, I have always been a big part of the church. On the Finance Committee, President of the Mission's Society,
and all of that. And then, they take you through the teaching of what it means to minister. And you go through that and then they ordained me.
RAYMOND: That's quite an accomplishment.
HELEN PHILLIPS: Yes it is.
BURNETT CLAY: Oh yes it is. Yes it is.
RAYMOND: You must be very proud.
BURNETT CLAY: Like my pastor, he told me, he said, "You could have been ordained a long time ago," because I go to churches and speak. In fact next Sunday
night, tomorrow, I got to speak at a church next Sunday.
RAYMOND: What church will you speak at?
BURNETT CLAY: Spring Hill Baptist Church, the cemetery. It's—the church's right across from the cemetery. And the theme would be "Women Doing the Will of
God." I have a lot of input.
HELEN PHILLIPS: We all, we all—
BURNETT CLAY: No, what I'm saying—I have the experience, since I have became a minister at the prison. And also therefore I have a whole lot to say doing
God's will, because God says his will, no man shall perish, but all will come to repent. So therefore, when you—God's word has been established in you, then you can produce it to others.
HELEN PHILLIPS: And we were all brought up in church. My dad was a great teacher. All ten of us, so we all were involved in church. I teach Sunday School,
ladies' Sunday School class—
BURNETT CLAY: I teach Sunday School.
HELEN PHILLIPS: Mission, Bible study on Wednesday nights. So we all were just brought up in church, and so we just have a lot to say because we were taught
it at a early age. And then we study a lot, and we just have a lot to say.
RAYMOND: Do others of your siblings minister also?
BURNETT CLAY: Are you kidding?
HELEN PHILLIPS: Oh yes, my baby sister—
BURNETT CLAY: I have two ministers in the family. Well, my baby sister, she's a minister. She's going forth.
HELEN PHILLIPS: And my older brother he's a great teacher. And then I have a brother that's a minister—two brothers that's a minister—
BURNETT CLAY: All of us are teachers. I'm a teacher. I teach Sunday School, I teach mission. I attribute it to our parents.
RAYMOND: Would you tell us about your—I'm sorry, did I interrupt you?
HELEN PHILLIPS: No, no.
RAYMOND: Would you tell us about your whole family. Your sisters, and tell us about your siblings, who everybody is?
BURNETT CLAY: Okay. (points towards Phillips). She's the oldest. She's eighty-one.
RAYMOND: You are not!
PHILLIPS: March thirty-first, I was eighty-one years old.
BURNETT CLAY: She's eighty-one years old, my sister here.
RAYMOND: I was thinking sixty.
HELEN PHILLIPS: No, no, no.
BURNETT CLAY: Then I have a brother. He's seventy-nine.
RAYMOND: What's his name?
BURNETT CLAY: His name is N.C. Barnett, we're the Barnett family.
HELEN PHILLIPS: Barnett is my maiden name.
BURNETT CLAY: Then I have a sister behind my oldest brother, she died. She was eleven years old. She died March the twenty-first, in forty-two. And then I'm
HELEN PHILLIPS: Her name was Annette.
BURNETT CLAY: Her name was Annette and then I'm Burnett, I was next to her. I will be seventy-six, the Lord bless, the twenty-first, which is next Thursday
CLAY: Then I have a brother who is two years behind me, his name is Wilbert T. Barnett. He is on the program because he's taking us to—he's a teacher, too.
And then I have one behind him, his name is Ester Lee Barnett. He's a dynamic preacher.
RAYMOND: I don't know what that means.
BURNETT CLAY: Dynamic?
RAYMOND: Oh, dynamic.
BURNETT CLAY: Yes, he is so engrossed and heavy in God's word. And then behind him, I have a brother in California, his name is Oscar Lee. He'll be seventy
on May the seventh. And then I have a brother, his name is Moselle. He's a minister. He made sixty-eight in January.
RAYMOND: Is he in Texas?
BURNETT CLAY: He lives right next door to me. See after I left Baytown, I moved back to the country. I retired. After I lost my husband, I retired and I came
back to the country—
HELEN PHILLIPS: The hometown.
BURNETT CLAY: —where I was raised and he lives in the house that we was all raised in, Moselle do. And then I have a brother, his name is Norman Barnett. Now
he is a master of music. God anointed him. He is a master, he teach music, he read music, he'll do music and he is a Sunday School teacher.
CLAY: Then I have a sister, her name is Catarina Adams. She is age sixty five on the twelfth of April. Her husband is a pastor, and her son is my pastor.
Isn't that something? And then I have my baby sister Inez, she live in Atlanta. And she made sixty-four on the twenty-nineth of March.
HELEN PHILLIPS: She's a minister.
BURNETT CLAY: She's a minister.
HELEN PHILLIPS: And Betty.
BURNETT CLAY: And Betty, you'll have to tell her age. That's a picture of her and Johnny.
RAYMOND: Oh, can you see that? This is a beautiful picture.
BURNETT CLAY: You can have it.
RAYMOND: Really? Thank you. Do you know when this picture was taken?
BURNETT CLAY: Yes Ma'am, it was three days before the execution.
HELEN PHILLIPS: I don't have one of me.
BURNETT CLAY: I'm going to look around at the house somewhere.
RAYMOND: He does look happy.
BURNETT CLAY: Oh, he was ecstatic.
RAYMOND: He looks happy to be with you.
HELEN PHILLIPS: I think we spoiled him.
BURNETT CLAY: He were, he said he were.
RAYMOND: You have mentioned a couple times how there have been a lot of people at your seventy-fifth birthday and at these different memorial services. You
have a big family, but who are these people who are coming around supporting you? Family? Neighbors?
HELEN PHILLIPS: Church people.
RAYMOND: Who are they?
BURNETT CLAY: Supporting me how dear?
RAYMOND: Well I mean just came to the memorial services?
BURNETT CLAY: It was my church family. My brother was there. I have two brothers in Baytown and one in Woodsville and he was there. And my pastor were there,
and two other ministers was there. And all of the staff that's over the cemetery are deacons at the church I'm going to speak at next week. And her husband was there (motions to Helen
Phillips), and National Geographic was there. They filmed the whole cemetery, and it's big.
RAYMOND: Are other people in your family buried in that same cemetery?
BURNETT CLAY: All my people. Mother, daddy, aunts, sisters, my mother got twins that was buried there, she had two sets of twins, each set was girl and boy.
My oldest brother's daughter have twins, girl and boy. My oldest daughter has twins, girl and boy.
RAYMOND: Wow, that's a lot. So how long has your family been in that area, right in that town?
BURNETT CLAY: Oh my parents were born there. My dad would be a hundred and two now and my mother would be ninety-nine. They were born there. They were born
in the community where we live.
HELEN PHILLIPS: But they died early, my dad was sixty-seven and my mom was sixty-five. They've been gone a long time.
BURNETT CLAY: And all of us is still here. You know God has shined his grace up on us. My baby sister, her next birthday she'll be sixty-five. Sixty-five on
up to eighty-one, that's a blessing.
RAYMOND: It really is. It really is. I'm just going to look for a minute. I have so many different things I want to—tell me a little about Hospitality House
because you mentioned being there, were you there twice?
BURNETT CLAY: Now you talk to my daughter, she would tell you about that.
HELEN PHILLIPS: I was there, the Hospitality House.
BURNETT CLAY: No, I'm talking about Keith.
HELEN PHILLIPS: Oh, she said Hospitality House.
RAYMOND: I'll ask Cynthia also.
BURNETT CLAY: But it was beautiful. It was nice because it was three chaplains there with us.
HELEN PHILLIPS: Chaplains.
BURNETT CLAY: Chaplains. And then there was the ladies that run the hospitality. It's simply gorgeous. It's a huge place to have people stay over night. They
have the facilities for sleeping, they have this big, huge living area, where it would house about twenty people if they just wanted to just sit around. And they have food if you want it. Its
really nice and they are very friendly.
RAYMOND: And you were there once or twice?
HELEN PHILLIPS: I was there once, I was there the whole time, we got there about two-thirty.
BURNETT CLAY: Yeah, we were downtown then they made a movie of us.
HELEN PHILLIPS: We went down there about two-thirty. And they make you welcome, they have a nice bathroom. It looks a little something like this, (gestures
to the room) a little bit. And they have—
BURNETT CLAY: We weren't there around two-thirty.
HELEN PHILLIPS: I said we got there about two-thirty.
BURNETT CLAY: We didn't go to the Hospitality House at two-thirty.
HELEN PHILLIPS: Around three?
BURNETT CLAY: No we didn't.
HELEN PHILLIPS: We didn't? Then what time?
BURNETT CLAY: We went downtown with Martin had fed us first—
HELEN PHILLIPS: I know baby, but we got there around one o'clock. We were at the Hospitality House around three o'clock.
BURNETT CLAY: No it was after three, it was really late, around three-thirty.
HELEN PHILLIPS: All right.
BURNETT CLAY: They made a movie downtown in Huntsville.
HELEN PHILLIPS: And they make you real comfortable, you could just sleep. There were plenty of couches you could just sit in. And they had food, if you
wanted coffee, you wanted juice, they had snacks, anything. They were real nice.
PHILLIPS: It was run by—I think it was three or four ladies, 'cause Joanna and I and Gretcher, Joanna's friend that's where we were, and my brother. Until we
went to the Walls, and the Walls was just a little bit over, where they did the executions. But we were there and it was real nice, the hospitality was real good.
RAYMOND: And you were there for Johnny Johnson's or for Keith's also?
HELEN PHILLIPS: No I didn't go for Keith's. I only went to visit Keith on the last day. She and I didn't go to the Wall.
BURNETT CLAY: It was his request that I didn't go.
HELEN PHILLIPS: So I didn't go, because it was his request.
BURNETT CLAY: My daughter, she is an ordained minister, and she was his spiritual adviser. She went.
HELEN PHILLIPS: Because we visited him that last day, but we didn't go to the Walls. Now Johnny's execution was the first I ever witnessed. It was
interesting. It was real interesting.
BURNETT CLAY: It wasn't sad because he was so ecstatic and happy, and that made us happy. He really was. It wasn't anything sad about it. He said, "I'm ready
to go see Jesus and my brother."
RAYMOND: I want to ask you a little more about Keith's trial and the legal stuff. Did you follow that?
BURNETT CLAY: Cynthia—I was at the courthouse, but they would not even allow—I don't know what happened. I could not even go in during court, but Cynthia
did. I think they even put her on the stand. But I didn't go into the courts during his trial.
RAYMOND: (to HELEN PHILLIPS): Were you around for the trials?
HELEN PHILLIPS: No I wasn't. She was, but I wasn't.
RAYMOND: What do you remember, not being in it, but what was that time like for you, that he was on trial?
BURNETT CLAY: I was at a low point because he was so loved and he knew he was. It was just like God gave me the son that I never had. I always wanted two
boys and two girls. I ended up with four girls.
HELEN PHILLIPS: And no boys.
BURNETT CLAY: And he was worried about how I was going to take it. But your love can overcome that. So we was always bonded. I prayed a lot and then I put it
in God's hands. It was all I could do. And then, when they took him away, I went to Huntsville to visit him. But it was nice to be in Livingston, because I didn't have to come across all that
water. They have a big bay that separates Livingston from Huntsville.
HELEN PHILLIPS: Oh yes.
BURNETT CLAY: So I never went to visit him, that wasn't okay, because to see him be so ecstatic, and so engrossed in God's word, and it just—you could see it
on his face. When we walk in, he would say, "Here are my two angels!" And I would ask him, I said, are you going to eat anything today? He said no, he had this little bottle. He said, "today,
we are going to feast on God's word."
HELEN PHILLIPS: He didn't eat anything.
BURNETT CLAY: So we'd sit there and we talked and we talked. And then he said to us, this is what he told us. I had sent him a hymn book. He said, "You know
I really can't sing," he said, "but I have a song. I'm going to sing it today." And I told him, I said, Oh baby it's what's in your heart. It's not the song, the tune, I said, but if it's in
your heart, then it's real.
CLAY: And he broke out on this song, "I know I've been changed." And he was sitting on the stool when he began to sing that song, and all the people there—we
were in the visiting area—all the people visiting their people. And he stood up and he sang that song "I know I've been changed, because the angels in heaven did sign my name," and he sung it.
Yes he did.
CLAY: And you know it always did make me feel good. He uplifted me as I would go to see him. I would go down there and encourage him, but he was encouraging
me. And that's why I take it as well as I did. Sure did.
RAYMOND: Sabina do you have any questions?
HINZ-FOLEY: Let's see here.
RAYMOND: You've been so generous, sharing—
BURNETT CLAY: She reminds me of Cathy.
RAYMOND: Who's Cathy?
BURNETT CLAY: One of the members of the [National] Geographic, she did what she's doing.
HINZ-FOLEY: I don't know. I was just curious to know about some of your experiences with the people you work with now. You mentioned working with thirteen
people, and going to visit them.
BURNETT CLAY: Yes, ma'am.
HINZ-FOLEY: What is your relationship like with all them?
BURNETT CLAY: Wonderful. They'd be glad to see Momma Clay come, and they write, "Momma Clay, it's time for you to come see us." Mm-hmm.
HINZ-FOLEY: What do you typically do when you go visit them?
BURNETT CLAY: Well we talk. I'm at—when have my ministering visits, that's all I have. I take my Bible with me. And then if there's anything they want to
know about God's word, I'll expound it to them, and if they want something to eat out of the snack bar, then they eat.
CLAY: And we just talk, and every one of them will open up to me why they are there. Sometimes it's just good to open up to people and not keep it bottled up
inside of you. So they began to tell me. I know this little Garcia, he said, "You know Momma Clay," he said, "I didn't shoot that man" saying "somebody else has done, that man said I did it,"
he said, "but I am innocent."
CLAY: I said, Well you know, and God know, and you know how to work with your conscience and work with God. And it's just a joy. You know they tell you about
their family and they tell you, "You know my parents don't come to see me because I messed up."
CLAY: I said, But love [inaudible] a mother to [inaudible]. Even Jesus loves us. We've got our faults, but love can overcome all things. And I just open up
and talk to them. Every one of them. One guy I go see, his name is John Adam, he a white guy. Man I enjoy talking to him because you can get a lot of experience from talking to them, just like
I talk to them. They just tell it like it is and it's just wonderful.
CLAY: One guy's been down there twenty-seven years. Why would they keep him there that long to go through the agony that they go through? That's not right.
And there were guys that were executed that was innocent. Yes ma'am. Sure have. One guy they executed they found out later he didn't do the crime.
CLAY: Just like one guy, his wife would come all the way from Arkansas, and she and I would sit out there in the area, and we would talk to each other. And
he was supposed to have raped a twelve-year-old girl, malicious, vicious, raped her.
CLAY: And you see, it's no justice in our system. It won't be no justice in our system until Jesus come. They kept him down there thirteen years. And
somebody in Atlanta got his D.N.A. and matched it with that. Come to find out the man didn't even do it. He was fifty-two-years old. I went down there the day they released him.
CLAY: He got his little stuff, and he sat, and he was [inaudible], he said, "I'm going to sell everything I got in Houston." He had homes and this and that,
he said, "I'm getting the H out of Houston. I don't never want to come back." And they went on to Arkansas together. I was so happy. You know it's hard being shut up for something you didn't
CLAY: You accused falsely. That's hard. Nobody have ever been able to overcome things in their life that they was falsely accused of, but Jesus. They accused
Him of lots of things he didn't do. They really didn't know who He was. But like He say, He came to do the will of His father.
CLAY: He didn't tell nobody who He really was, He didn't demonstrate His power, but oh when he got up, He declared that all power, heaven and earth, is in my
hand. He got that because he did the will of his father. So it's really hard to be down there for a crime you didn't commit. Some people lose their sanity, just because of the people—of the
system that they have [inaudible].
HELEN PHILLIPS: Do you remember this guy, this little Spanish guy. He was like nineteen and Ms. Wilcox was his spiritual advisor. And the little boy didn't
even commit the crime, and they didn't find that out until about, oh maybe a week after he was executed. They had a big write up about that, too.
BURNETT CLAY: Oh lord they did. And they killed a retarded man down in one of them mean hovels down there. That man touched my heart. I mean he was like a
lunatic. And after they did that, it was a big write-up in the paper, and it was a big debate over it, and now they got a whole new—they don't kill retarded people.
CLAY: I don't see how those people have down there—you have to have a hard heart to treat the people like they do, and then go and execute them. Have you
really thought how many times the man down there took peoples' lives down there. Where's he think he's going to spend eternity at? You know you think about all of those things. You really
HELEN PHILLIPS: And the Bible says, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." So if you don't want it done to you, don't do it to others.
BURNETT CLAY: And the system allow them to do that. See, because Jesus [inaudible] weren't supposed to take life and give life. That's been since the day of
Abe and Cain.
HELEN PHILLIPS: You don't take nothing that you can't give back. You can't take a life. You can't give it back because you didn't give it at first.
BURNETT CLAY: God didn't even kill him when he asked Cain, "Where's your brother?" He put him out and made him go out on his own. He didn't take his life. He
had the power to do it.
HELEN PHILLIPS: [inaudible]
HINZ-FOLEY: I was just curious, you mentioned having four daughters. Can you talk about your four daughters—
BURNETT CLAY: They just beautiful.
HINZ-FOLEY: and how they got along with Keith?
BURNETT CLAY: Oh that's who spoiled him.
HELEN PHILLIPS: They just spoiled him.
BURNETT CLAY: They spoiled him rotten.
HELEN PHILLIPS: And I think I did, too.
BURNETT CLAY: But they had a hard time especially Gwynn. She's my third daughter. And my baby daughter, Annette. They had a hard time accepting it. They
really did, but like I told them, I knew Keith. I knew what was in his heart.
CLAY: And they knew him, too, because every time they would go on vacation, wherever they went, when he was a little bitty old boy they would take him. He
was spoiled rotten, like Cynthia said. But it was hard for them. But they were surprised at Mama, because I don't even think I shed a good tear. I rejoice. I rejoice because I knew he was going
to a better place. That's what made my heart rejoice. Everybody was worried about me.
CLAY: My brother in California called, "Y' all take care, hon. Watch out [inaudible]." One of the sisters said they didn't think I was going to be able to
stand it. It probably was going to take me out, but it was just vice versa. And I have all these beautiful memories to cherish of him while he was down there.
CLAY: The attitude that he had and the character that he had—you never saw him sad. Every time you seen him, there was a glow on his face. Isn't that
RAYMOND: Was there anything that you would like people to know that you haven't yet said today, or things that we should've asked you that we didn't ask
BURNETT CLAY: Well, if you ask if we feel like there's something that would help us.
HELEN PHILLIPS: I think one of the things people would like to know is just if you have one visit, it will change everything. It's interesting. One visit to
see those guys, brought in there with their hands behind their back, and they put them in this little booth, and they have to sit there.
PHILLIPS: When they come back together—and it's just interesting. If you just do it one time, it'll make you want to go back because you can be some help.
And they'll tell you what they want to eat, like the salads and whatever.
RAYMOND: Excuse me. Here.
BURNETT CLAY: Oh, it's just that I had two back surgeries and my knee surgeries. I had two of them and it just (inaudible, Burnett Clay leaves).
RAYMOND: I'm sorry, I didn't want to cut you off.
HELEN PHILLIPS: It's okay. I'm fine. I'm fine. She's afraid of those.
RAYMOND: If people went to visit once, tell us again, because we started talking—
HELEN PHILLIPS: I tell my husband all the time, if you just go one time, you can see the need. A need that you can give, just to go there and kinda uplift
them, and just see their faces, and talk to them. We tell them about the Bible.
PHILLIPS: When they feel so like they're not loved, and you can tell them all day that Jesus love you if nobody else does. And then I tell them that Jesus
loves you if nobody else does, but he put us here to love one another. He put us here to do the things that he don't come down and do, because he works through the agency of men.
PHILLIPS: And that makes them feel better, if someone cares. Or, like through letters. And when you get ready to leave, and it's just so—they do this (hugs
herself), they call this hugging you, and they do that (blows kisses), and you do it back to them. It makes them feel good. It's just like I say, if you just go and visit one day and leave
somebody happy, then you can be happy.
PHILLIPS: My sister and I, when we leave there, we talk—we get home so quick, and then we talk about how uplifting it was. They'll ask you sometimes, they
said, "We want a salad, if you're able to get it." The things are so expensive. But if that's what they want, then you got to be prepared. A lot of times, my sister goes, and she's been
[inaudible], and I says, I'll feed them today.
PHILLIPS: You'll be prepared to give them what they want. You can put the money in there, but they take it out, and you can't touch the food. They take it
out and put it in a brown sack, and they go and put it in—you have one time to do it, so you have to get everything at one time, because they don't go back the second time.
PHILLIPS: So sometimes it makes you feel kind of sad. They want two drinks, because they hunger for things that they don't get.
PHILLIPS: The little inmate, Buck, he's just so greedy. He want two candy bars, he want two beef jerkies, and he want a salad, and he wants a granny apple,
and he wants a delicious apple. They just want this stuff, and they have two hours to eat it.
PHILLIPS: They can eat while you're visiting. So he just get everything that he think he want, and they can't carry it back. They have to eat it while
they're there. So they just eat and talk. It just makes you feel good. And if you can go one time and make somebody happy, it'll make you want to go back over and over and over again.
RAYMOND: Could you describe for someone who's never been, what's the process? You drive up to the Polunsky Unit. Tell us. Sort of describe to us what it's
like, from driving up.
HELEN PHILLIPS: Well, when you drive up, you have a security to go through. They make you pop your trunk, and they get your I.D., open your glove
compartment. It's really security, to make sure that you're okay. When you go in, that's in the parking lot—to get to the parking lot.
PHILLIPS: When you go in, there's a little room you go in, and you have to pull your jacket off, and your shoes off, and they have to search you and make
sure that you don't have anything on you.
PHILLIPS: And really now, it's really bad, 'cause you have to almost—one day we told Johnny—we laughed, we say it's good we came here with clothes on, 'cause
they almost stripped us. They make you pull your—they have women to go through—and your shoes, and everything.
PHILLIPS: And then after they search you, you go through they search you, then you go to the window and you tell them who you're going to visit. You have to
show your driver's license, and if you have anything criminal, you can't visit. You show your driver's license and tell them who you're going to visit, and then they give you a little necklace
to put on with the inmate's number and everything.
PHILLIPS: Then you go through another big gate. No, you go through a little gate, a little door that they open by electronics, and then you go through a big
gate. Then you have to walk maybe from here—
BURNETT CLAY: To get to the stairs?
HELEN PHILLIPS: No, to get where we visit at.
BURNETT CLAY: You didn't tell them about that big locked gate with all that barbed wire on it.
HELEN PHILLIPS: Yeah, they have a big locked gate with the barbed wire just doubled, doubled, doubled, doubled. I mean, tall, and they have to open that
gate. And then you have a piece to walk before you get in the building where you're going to visit.
PHILLIPS: Then when you get there, they have another door, electronic door. They open that, and you show who you're going to visit. Then you walk in, and
they have a warden sitting there. You have papers in your hand. They have a warden sitting there to verify who you're going to visit.
PHILLIPS: And then you go to the—they tell you what number booth, like twenty-three, twenty-seven, and you go sit to that booth until they notify the inmate
to come down. Sometimes it's fifteen minutes. We waited thirty minutes once for them to get them down. And then after they get down, you have two hours to visit. You go through the same
procedure going out.
RAYMOND: What's the room like that you visit in?
HELEN PHILLIPS: It's nice.
BURNETT CLAY: Oh, it's huge.
HELEN PHILLPS: They have booths on each side, little booths on each side.
BURNETT CLAY: It's twice as long as this living room.
HELEN PHILLPS: On each side, and then you have a middle there, and then you have a place over here where the machines are, and the booth. You just go and
visit in whatever booth they tell you to go in. They bring the inmate out and that's where you visit. They have two chairs, and you do it by phone. There's mirrors.
BURNETT CLAY: See, they have a screen in the glass there, like see that was taken at the prison, that picture.
HELEN PHILLIPS: They have a screen—
BURNETT CLAY: Johnny's screened there in the booth.
HELEN PHILLIPS: He's inside of a booth.
BURNETT CLAY: And I'm on the outside, talking to him. They have two phones on the wall where you could talk to him.
RAYMOND: So with the phones, you can hear?
HELEN PHILLPS: Oh, yeah, you can hear. He has a phone, and you have a phone, and you can hear through the phones.
RAYMOND: And when you go, are there a lot of people visiting?
BURNETT CLAY: Sometimes.
HELEN PHILLIPS: Sometimes, it'll just be overcrowded.
BURNETT CLAY: There's some times it doesn't be many. I think people come according to their work schedule. You have people come all the way from West Texas,
anywhere. Anywhere they do executions, they have people from all around. And some of those people, they had to come a mighty, mighty long way. Some of them eight hours driving. They give them a
four-hour visit, when you got to come over three-hundred miles.
HELEN PHILLIPS: And it's interesting. You meet people from Paris, people overseas, and it's just interesting. And those people have a whole week to visit.
But they can go every day.
BURNETT CLAY: It is so many people that comes from overseas, United Kingdom, Paris, France, all over the world. Those people come down there and visit. I
have a lot of friends. I still stay in contact with them, that came from God knows, so many places.
HELEN PHILLIPS: These are the inmates' pen pals. Their pen pals.
BURNETT CLAY: They don't believe in the death penalty. They come—Rachel, and Anna—one time they came, I just took them into my home, they just sat down and
we just had a good time. You meet some really interesting people that care, people that's against the death penalty, and they voice their opinion. That's why they come, to let people know that
they're not for it.
RAYMOND: Could you tell us a little bit about the thirteen men? I don't want you to tell anything private that they would not want told, but the thirteen men
that you visit?
BURNETT CLAY: One of them is Cooper and one of them is Bridget, one Adam, one Eric, one Whittaker. I had it wrote down in my—all of the—
HELEN PHILLIPS: García.
BURNETT CLAY: García. I had all of their numbers and their name. They are open about what they done. But now little García said he didn't do it. And he look
like he's about sixteen or seventeen years old. He is the cutest little thing you ever seen.
HELEN PHILLIPS: He's so handsome.
BURNETT CLAY: He is so sweet. Yes, he is. They just open up to you. I mean John Adam, he said he was a gang member. He a hoodlum. He just told me all what he
was. And he was there in the prison, they still have gangs. When he first went there, he was part of the gang, he said, "But Momma Clay, I had to get that over. I had to give that up. That was
CLAY: I said, but that's why you're here, son. Because when you was out in the free world, you got caught up in the gang. They have a lot of things going on
in that prison. They have drugs. They have cellular phones that they escape in there. And if one somebody they catch that's still messed up, all of the guys have to pay the penalty. They lock
‘em down, and when you're on lock-down, you don't get no mail, they just lock ‘em down, put them in solitary.
CLAY: You remember the James Byrd statue in Jasper—well, that's where I live. And the two guys came, and that other guy, they're down on Death Row. He lost
his father last year; he died. I had a chance to see him. And there is not a spot on his body skin that you can see through the tattoos. He has them all over his face, all over his arms, all
over his whole body. He even got that white supremacy knots and all them different signs on him. It's ludicrous.
CLAY: But he stayed there in solitary a long, long time because they could not let him mix because they were afraid people was going to attack him. He's
still there, and his other little friend is still there. And Brewer, he's still there for this. I bet they gave him a life sentence, but that was something sad.
RAYMOND: You were living in Jasper when this happened?
BURNETT CLAY: That's where I'm living now. I'm about fifteen minutes from Jasper. I was living where I'm living now when that happened.
RAYMOND: Did you know Mr. Byrd?
BURNETT CLAY: I knew of him. They had three daughters—well, he had three daughters and a son. He did. Oh, but you should've seen the trail. Jesus. If you
could've seen that big old chains that they chained him with and drug him down the gravel road. Part of his arm fell off him, part of his body fell off of him, all down the road, pieces of his
body. It was horrible.
HELEN PHILLIPS: It was horrible.
BURNETT CLAY: That crime reached the whole world, because it was unbelievable. People has so much hate. Hate is destructive. Hate will destroy you and
others, too. And others. But, see, love conquers it all.
CLAY: Love has a drawing power. Love has an uplifting power, and love tends to make you happy. It's just not enough love in the hearts of the people
nowadays. If it was, it would be a better world and people would be better off.
CLAY: But like I tell them all the time, there would be no justice until Jesus come. Because a lot of people is accused unjustly, they treated unjustly, and
you got to stand before him and give an account of every deed that's done in your body. Every work that you have done. You've got to stand before him and give an account of it.
CLAY: And that's going to be a day of reckoning. It's going to be a sad day for a lot of people, but that's going to be a day of reckoning. You have to think
about that. You have to say to yourself, where do I want to spend eternity at? And it's not but two places, so it's your choice.
CLAY: And I'm so glad God gave us choices. 'Cause, see, I can't compel nobody to accept Him or nobody not to or what have you. It's your choice that you do
CLAY: But those guys on Death Row don't have a choice about anything: better conditions, better circumstances, being treated better. And I don't know why
they have that tendency to just mistreat those people. They are human beings just like you and I.
RAYMOND: Well, do you have any ideas about—well, it's hard to fathom, but do you have any ideas about what it is in the system, or why we have the death
penalty in the first place and why people are treated the way they are in prison?
BURNETT CLAY: I think they've branded them as a criminal, and I think they treat them the way they think a criminal's supposed to be treated. And then a lot
of it has to do with these guys' attitude and their character and how they perceive and carry themselves while they're there.
CLAY: See, because some of them may act up and they may put them in lock-down, or they write them up and they have to go before the people, and whatever they
do to them, that's what they've got to abide by. But I've often said, Lord, and you know they're in a better place.
CLAY: It's a harsh death they give them, but death is death. A lot of them is better off not being there. But that's the time I told all those guys I go to
see, you still have a chance to live, even after you are executed.
HELEN PHILLIPS: Life after death.
BURNETT CLAY: I said, because you have a chance to accept Jesus, because in him is life. Even though you going, but you still have life. We out in the free
world, we don't know when our time is, but we got to make sure where we going to spend eternity at. And so you know I tell them that.
CLAY: I could understand some of them acting up because all of ‘em don't have the same mind, don't have the same character, they don't have the same nature
in them. I could understand that, twenty-four/seven in his little old cell with a—What did Johnny call his bed?
HELEN PHILLIPS: I don't know what he called his bed.
BURNETT CLAY: He said—
HELEN PHILLIPS: It's a dungeon.
BURNETT CLAY: He said it's a dungeon. And it's not a mattress about like that, and it's iron under the bottom. They'd get two hours a day rec., that's when
they would go to exercise and they let ‘em go, not all at once, a certain amount that they would take to rec. at a certain time. But to sit up in there day in and day out, twenty-four/seven,
except for two hours, you could lose your mind.
HELEN PHILLIPS: If you're not strong.
BURNETT CLAY: Your mind can be contaminated and you can think evil and you can beat up on yourself. You can hate yourself because you're the cause of
yourself being there. Now there's a lot. Some of those guys, they have been proven innocent, but a lot of the time it's been after they execute them.
CLAY: And what can one do when that occurred? Nothing. The damage been done. You can't go back and turn that clock of time, because that's it. It would
really touch anybody that have any love in their heart. It would really touch your heart to go down there and talk to one or two of these guys. That's why I can't give it up, because it's a
need. It's a great need there.
HELEN PHILLIPS: It's interesting.
BURNETT CLAY: It's a spiritual need, it's an encouraging need, it's a need to give them hope. It's a need to let them love themself and don't beat up on
theyself. Because sin is sin. That's what I have to tell them.
CLAY: And in the beginning with Cain and Abel, that was murder, I said, so you can't condemn yourself because that happened in the beginning after God
created our day, Adam and Eve and blessed them to have children. You can't give up on yourself. It's not the first time it happened.
HELEN PHILLIPS: And it's so unhuman when you have to—I want to say you have to wash your own sheets—
BURNETT CLAY: Uh-huh.
HELEN PHILLIPS: And you have to do that in the toilet, and you're there with the toilet with no top on it. You sleep there.
BURNETT CLAY: Everything.
HELEN PHILLIPS: Everything is in the one cell. And he said that he had a fan that, while he was at rec., he's dry his sheets. And sometimes he'd say that
they get—somebody mess up and they turn the air off and you just have to sweat. It's so hot. And then in the wintertime you be so cold. So it's just—it's awful. It's awful. And sometimes, just
like she say, when they're gone, the circumstances—it's better. It's better.
RAYMOND: You said Keith told you this? Or Johnny?
HELEN PHILLIPS: Johnny.
BURNETT CLAY: But you know really, laying our jokes aside, well they all said down there that he was an unusual inmate. They said they'd never had one down
there that [inaudible].
HELEN PHILLIPS: Keith never complained.
BURNETT CLAY: He never complained. He was always trying to build us up to accept that he were there. But he never complained about nothing. And every letter
that he ever wrote, he would put the time and the date. There were sometimes, two a.m. in the morning, he'd be writing letters. Sure would. Be writing letters. And every letter that he wrote
you, there was a sermon on it.
CLAY: Because we showered him with love. Keith never knew what it was to be without anything that he needed. When it come to his blanket, his fans, or his
clothes, because we kept money on his books.
CLAY: And it got so bad one time—you can't go to rec. if your shoes are out on the bottom, and Keith told me, he say, he asked me, he said, "I sent about
fifty dollars to buy some shoes," he said, "because he can't go to rec. they're going to give me—" so I did.
CLAY: And he told me, he said, what he wrote and told me, that's why I told Helen. You be very, very careful how you bring your children up. And if you gonna
bring them up in the Christian family, you make sure you walk the walk and talk the talk that you live by.
CLAY: There was a lady out there where we lived, she had eight children. Somebody killed the husband, and so a lot of the time they didn't have food. And I
would go to the store, I would go to my freezer, and Keith would help me, we'd take food down there to the house, and she's sick. One time they cut her light and gas out. Well I was working, I
always worked, and I gave her two checks.
CLAY: I say, You go to town," that woman got children, I said, "You have him—you tell them to turn the stove back on." And he wrote me a letter one day, he
said, "I never realized, Momma, how unselfish you were, when I see you do all these things for other people," and that learnt him something. He learnt from that.
CLAY: Because the whole time he was down there, if guys didn't have stamps, if they didn't have this, they didn't have that, he helped them with that. So I
said this to, said this, when you raising your children, you be very careful how you live and how you portray yourself. And he said he learnt that to not be selfish, he said, because you are an
CLAY: So a lot of the time when you do these things you don't even know how it's going to affect your children. So just always do the right thing. I miss
him, but he's in a better place. He's in a better place.
RAYMOND: You both have talked so strongly about what you get from visiting these men. Have you persuaded anybody else to start visiting also?
BURNETT CLAY: Yes ma'am. I tells my brothers. I tell the ministers, you ought to go down there to the prison.
HELEN PHILLIPS: Just one time.
BURNETT CLAY: You just go down there and see what's going on, and then you would have something to tell the people about.
RAYMOND: And has anybody gone? Has anybody taken your advice?
BURNETT CLAY: I have a cousin who went with me, and I have a brother that's gone down there. And I tells my sisters, because they can go with me. I would
enjoy the company. But since I have been going alone, I still enjoy the company, because the good Lord is with me.
RAYMOND: Well I'm sure the men appreciate both of you so very much. And we, well I and I know I'm speaking for Sabina, too, very much appreciate your
BURNETT CLAY: You know I'm surprised at myself. It really all got started with my son being there, and he began to talk about the guys he knew didn't have
nobody, family don't do this, and he said, "I'm going to have them—I'm going to give you their PIN numbers. You write ‘em."
CLAY: And they would put me on their visiting lists, at that time. And see you could just go and visit. And I began to visit those guys while she would visit
Keith. And I just—they just captured my heart. Just listening at them talk about how they're treated, talk about their parents don't come see ‘em and this and that and the other.
CLAY: And I said, how could a parent not love his child when he get in trouble? That's when your love is more stronger than ever because you want to let them
know even though you messed up, we mess up all the time with Jesus. We all mess up, but yet and still He still loves us. And that's the way we supposed to be by our children. It sure is.
RAYMOND: Well thank you. Thank you. Unconditional love is something—
BURNETT CLAY: That's it.
RAYMOND: to work for.
BURNETT CLAY: That's right.
HELEN PHILLIPS: And then to do something for someone you never knew, but you knew the need was there.
BURNETT CLAY: That's right.
HELEN PHILLIPS: And it's not who you know, who they are. If you can minister to the need, you do so.
BURNETT CLAY: That's right.
HELEN PHILLIPS: For me it's just forget about the self, and just think about somebody else because that's the only way you can do it. You can't do nothing
when self is in the way. You just forget about self and say, "This person need me and I'm going regardless." They need you.
BURNETT CLAY: That's the story of my life. Being there for others, I do what I can to help them.
HELEN PHILLIPS: That's right.
BURNETT CLAY: A lot of time you think you have to do a big thing, but a little thing is more appreciated than a big thing.
HELEN PHILLIPS: And those guys are so appreciative.
BURNETT CLAY: They are.
HELEN PHILLIPS: You get the letters, and they'll say thank you many times. I just—and sometime I got a letter from a Brother Buck the other day. He said,
"When you visit, I thought about it all—your visit, I just couldn't go to sleep, I thought about your visit." And they'd just be so happy to have something to feast off of.
BURNETT CLAY: That's right.
HELEN PHILLIPS: Instead of sitting up there feeling sorry for themselves. I don't have this—and Brother Buck, he was one that loved to eat. He loved to eat.
I called him Brother Buck because he called me his sister. His name is Dwayne Buck. He called me his big sister.
BURNETT CLAY: He called me Momma Clay. All of them do. And the lady that works there, she said, "How can you come down here and your son is gone?" I said
there's a greater need than ever, because my son is gone. There's a greater need for me to come down here and minister to them young guys. And I enjoyed it.
HELEN PHILLIPS: You just get so attached them.
BURNETT CLAY: You do.
HELEN PHILLIPS: You get so attached. They have big smiles on their face. And Johnny, when we'd visit Johnny and he'll go back and write a letter, a big
long letter, talking about your visit, your visit, your visit.
RAYMOND: Thank you so much. We're just about out of the second tape, so I just want to say thank you very, very much.
HELEN PHILLIPS: Well you're more than welcome.
BURNETT CLAY: It makes—it gives me joy to just even talk about it to you all, because it's so real within my heart, until it motivates me to keep going.
Have you ever been so motivated to something that you has to do it. There are times I get up in the morning, five o'clock, getting ready. Some mornings I don't feel like it. I said but In your
name, Jesus, I'm going. And I go, sure do.
RAYMOND: Great. Well thank you so very much.
BURNETT CLAY: You're more than welcome. This is a privilege and an honor.
RAYMOND: Thank you.
HINZ-FOLEY: Thank you. We appreciate it.
of "Interview with Ms. Burnett Clay and Ms. Helen Phillips"
Interview with Ms. Burnett Clay and Ms. Helen Phillips
Burnett Clay is the grandmother and adoptive mother of Keith Bernard Clay, who was sentenced to death in 1997 for a 1994 robbery and murder in Houston, Harris County, Texas. Helen Phillips is Burnett Clay's sister. In Video 1, Ms. Clay and Ms. Phillips discuss Keith Clay's background; his life and ministry on Texas' Death Row; and his execution and funeral in 2003. They also discuss their relationship with Johnny Ray Johnson, another inmate and friend of Keith Clay's, to whom they ministered. In Video 2, Ms. Clay and Ms. Phillips describe growing up in their Church; their religious ministry; and their visits to Death Row. This interview took place on May 16, 2009 in Austin, Travis County, Texas.
2 of 2
Burnett ClayRole: Narrator
Helen PhillipsRole: Narrator
Texas After Violence ProjectRole: Collaborator
Virginia Marie RaymondRole: Interviewer
Sabina Hinz-FoleyRole: Videographer
Maurice ChammahRole: Transcriber
Anna McCorquodaleRole: Transcriber
Mara BensonRole: Transcriber
Maurice ChammahRole: Proofreader
Kimberly Ambrosini-BaconRole: Proofreader
Texas After Violence Project
University of Texas Libraries
Type of Resource:
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