Thursday, May 3, 2012

Shirley Dicks know all too well, A Mother's Torment

My guest today is Shirley Dicks, a very interesting lady who has been deeply touched by personal loss, but has managed to grow from the pain and continue writing.  I asked Shirley to be here today via an interview, so I could have her share some of her experiences with you.
Shirley, thank you so much for being here today.  Since I’m a little familiar with your background and what you’ve been through, I hope you don’t mind if I ask some pretty personal questions.  If you feel uncomfortable answering any of them, please just state “no comment.”   My heart goes out to you, and you’ve certainly become a hero in my eyes.   So, here we go.
I’m aware that you made the talk show rounds a while back, hoping to garner help for your falsely imprisoned son by promoting sales from the book, They’re Going to Kill My Son, you’d written about his case.  I know you mentioned Jerry Springer (prior to his craziness), Geraldo, Sally Jessie, and Rolanda.  Can you tell us how you got their attention and if you accomplished what you set out to do?

Thank you Ginger for having me today.  I began writing when my oldest son Jeffrey was sentenced to die for a crime he didn't commit and one that the prosecutor and judge knew he did not commit.  I had a letter that a minister in Nashville sent to Jeff, telling him that Donald Strouth, the guilty party, had told him Jeff took no part in the crime. But he (WHO) would not testify in court, said it was privileged information, and that my son would die unless he got a good attorney.  

I couldn't afford an attorney, so my son turned himself in without getting legal counsel and foolishly believed that telling the truth would suffice.  He admitted to being in Donald Strouth's company without knowledge of what was going on inside the store where the crime took place.  By the time his friend came out, the deed was done.  By not having an attorney, my son put himself in jeopardy and quickly learned that telling the truth to the authorities doesn't always work in one's favor.  A good attorney costs anywhere from one hundred thousand to a million dollars just to 'take on' the case, so hoping to raise some money, I wrote our story, They're Going to Kill My Son, and New Horizon Press published it. 

My trust was tested when I discovered that New Horizon cheated me by selling five hundred copies to True Crime Book Club and paying me absolutely nothing.  Although in non-fiction, you can use true names and circumstances, the publisher saw fit to change the names of the judge and prosecutor, and also left out some very pertinent information...all without my approval.

Twenty years later, they still have the rights to that book because a move studio took the movie-making option, but since there wasn't an ending, the producers backed out.  For all these years, New Horizon has featured my book on their website but never sent me a dime.  They claim no books have sold, but I find that very hard to believe.

The first talk show to contact me was The Jerry Springer Show, and I figured I could get a famous attorney to take the case by going on.  I was scared to death, facing all those people in the audience, but told my story.  I thought I'd sell a lot of the books, but that didn't happen.  Then I went on Rolonda and she was great.  My youngest son who was twenty at that time and also spoke out against the death penalty WENT with me and she spoke to him as well.  The audience was great which not many people were.  The death penalty was a hot issue with people not really caring about anyone being innocent, thinking all are guilty.  Since DNA, over a hundred and forty men have been freed from death row, found innocent.  Proven innocent, but still the stain is on the family of anyone on the row. My attempts to garner a competent attorney didn't pan out, and my son ended up with a public defender.  The bottom line:  none of of talk show appearances helped me accomplish what I'd hoped.

Unlike, Casey Anthony, who had a great defense team when the majority of the public considered her guilty, I couldn't find even ONE willing to take on our case.  The, Sally Jesse, Geraldo, and Maury called and booked me, but nothing came of those appearances either.

 The Shirley Show in Canada was one of the worst experiences I had.  The producers lied about who was going to appear along with me, as well as the content.  I believed Shirley was presenting a show where half the time would be dedicated to those against the death penalty and the other half to those pro, but that wasn't the case. 

 The audience booed me when told I'd been fighting for my son's life, then cheered a mother who wanted her son to die in the electric chair because he was guilty.  I had a whopping five minutes to tell Jeff's story, before Shirley moved on to interviewing a family who had lost a loved one to murder.  After hearing their heart-wrenching tale, no one cared about someone on death row, guilty or innocent. 

Finally I was contacted by the BBC who came and did a documentary on my life which they played over seas.  But at the end of the day, I didn't get help for my son.

  Does A Mother’s Torment contain most of the elements of your life story?

  After writing other books on the death penalty issue and telling my son's story, I rewrote our story, bringing it up to date, correcting the grammar and adding plenty of photos.  In this four-hundred-page book, you'll find all the truth, and testimony from both trials.  IF the boys had been tried together, the jurors would have heard all the truth...that Jeff was not guilty, but the powers that be separated the trials. 

The book features  actual transcripts from both trials to show how testimony was changed from Strouths trial to Jeff's.  How the prosecutor himself changed the way the man was killed, to bringing in Strouth's bloodied jeans saying they were Jeff's, and even though our attorney made them retract their statement, jurors believe what they first hear.  In the book, I point out how, when they were lying on the stand, I screamed out and was put in  jail for ten days. 

As I said, I used all the real names, and told everything, including the things I did to try and save my son's life... from a planned jailbreak, to writing hot checks to pay attorney fees, selling my home and going on the run for a year until I turned myself in.  I'd adopted Jeff's daughter, as his wife did not want her.  My life changed in ways I can't adequately describe.

People still look down on me for the things I did while trying to  save Jeff, but I'd do everything all over again if I thought my son would still be here.  I was fortunate I got probation for my crimes and was able to move to Tennessee to be closer to Jeff.   I share everything in my story... losing a baby in my eighth month of pregnancy, traveling to the west, then to Canada and finally back to the south in that year.  Not a life for the faint of heart, and trust me, it's taken a toll.

Sister Helen
Over the years I've met and interviewed many famous people.  Mike Farrell of Mash was one of my favorite, as well as Sister Helen Prejean and in Congregation of the condemned, I interviewed some of them, as well as in other books.

 I’ve read A Mother’s Torment, and was deeply moved by the story.  I can't imagine how you handled the stress.  What helped you cope at the time?
It was hard, and many times I wanted to take a bottle of pills to end it all but I had to be there for Jeff, to fight until the end for him.  My youngest son began going with me to speak out each year.  He'd gotten married and had two small children.   Then I ministered to the guys on TN death row and got to know them all one by one.  In the beginning, I was there five days a week, spending the entire day. I learned  I that not everyone on death row was evil, but found the good part of them.  Hard for some people to believe, and, trust me, I heard lots of nasty remarks when I participated on some radio talk shows.  I never responded to the cruel words, although it took strength.  I simply finished my interviews because I had a son whose life depended on me.

I began speaking  at  schools, warning  kids about the choices they make.  One of the books I wrote is, The Choice Is Yours, along with a video I had filmed on TN death row.  Since I had a ministry for the death row inmates, the warden allowed me to bring a camcorder in to film five of our guys.  I used the video to speak at the Journey of Hope, each year.

The Journey Of Hope is two weeks spent speaking out against the death penalty along with murder victim's families, death row family members, those who were on death row and found innocent and abolitionists. We stayed at campgrounds across the state, with one or two speakers going to schools, colleges, and radio shows.   At night, in camp, we'd eat and discuss what we each did during the day and report on any progress we'd made in changing people's viewpoints on life versus death.  Each year we visited a different state.

The first one was in Indiana, and I met Sister Helen Prejean, who later authored  Dead Man Walking. When I met her and we spoke out against the violence, she hadn't published her book or become famous.  A wonderful lady, and even after the movie, she was just as sweet to everyone she met as before.   I also met Randal Dale Adams of The Thin Blue Line, who came within thirteen hours of being executed and found innocent.  He'd go on the Journeys with us a few of the years.  We had from fifty to a hundred people each year, camping out at campgrounds, some speakers, some there to help us and be there when we're speaking as someone we can look at when the going gets tough.

You've mentioned you were offered a motion picture deal, showcasing your story.  What happened with that? 

They finally backed out when there was no ending to the story.  Sadly, in 1999  my son was killed because of medical neglect.  He died from a heart attack because prison officials took over an hour to get him  to the hospital.  I couldn't sue because someone on death row isn't considered human and their lives aren't worth anything according to the law and the public.  I tried to contact producers after Jeff's passing to see about the movie but never got any response so I'm not sure if anyone  got my letters or not.  I just found out that new Horizon Press sold my story to the German market yet I never got any advance from it, or royalties.  I know they had to have sold some books and this was years ago. I suppose it's time for another email to ask them what's going on.

I know, trying to garner attention for your son's case, you traveled around the entire country, speaking about the law and how people fall victim to our justice system.  Do you think you accomplished your purpose and would you do it again?

I didn't draw as much attention to my son's case as I hoped, even with the help of my youngest son Trevor speaking out with me.   Who cares about the death row inmate or his family?  Not many.  People jump to help someone like Casey Anthony who had mounds of evidence proving her guilt... the best attorneys, money and media coverage, but not a wonderful boy on TN death row who was never in trouble, and who everyone in prison loved because he helped them all, ministered to them and never spoke out against God for what had happened to him.  He even was nice to Strouth who refused to speak out at his trial and tell the truth.

I have shared my story to thousands of people and reached so many youths, but as far as getting any help, or selling enough books to get a good attorney to prove my son's innocence, I failed.
 Would I do it all again? Yes.  Even though I didn't save my own son, I touched the lives of so many kids I spoke to.  They promised they would be selective in the friends they hung with, avoid drugs and alcohol, and expressed shock that someone could lose their life simply for being in the company of another who actually committed a crime.   The felony murder rule applies if you are even in the car... you are just as guilty as the person who did the murder.  My youngest son Trevor was a great hit with the youngsters as he told about drugs and alcohol.  His story is on his website, called A Long Road Home.   So if I have saved some other mothers child, then I'd do it all again.

I believe in life without parole so if someone is innocent, they will be alive to prove it.  That's why all my first books are on crime and punishment.

Your younger son was greatly affected by the imprisonment of his brother.  What did you do to help him cope with the loss?  Can you share what happened to him? (Another tragedy in your life.)

My son Trevor was eleven when this all started and he loved his big brother.  Despondent and angry with the system who took Jeff away, Trev got involved in drugs and alcohol.   He began speaking out when he was in his twenties and thirties after getting off the drugs, but still did drink.  Somehow it was something he could not stop.   IN 2005 he was killed in a car crash in NH. Leaving behind two children.  You can find a tribute to Trevor HERE

 I thought my life was over and I didn't write again until this year. If not for my great grandchildren, I think I would have just gone to sleep and left this world.  It was my great grandson Jeffrey, named after a grandfather who never knew him, born a year after Jeff was killed that kept me going.  At first I thought my Jeff was reincarnated, but I know that's not so, however, Jeffrey is a wonderful boy, so much like his grandfather. 

Having a loved one on death row where you know the date he will be killed is the most horrible thing in the world.  To know the exact time and how they would strap them into the electric chair and burn them from the inside out never leaves your mind, not for one minute and you live day by day and hour by hour dreaming the nightmares of it happening.  Most families never visit their children on the row, just forget they exist and never tell anyone because they know people will hate them, talk about them and make their lives horrible.  

Trev was eleven when this happened and Marie, his daughter a baby but going to school everyone knew because I was out in the media and they were outcasts.  I felt guilt at that but knew I had to do everything I could to save him.   His short story is at    So writing about it in all my books to get the story out became something I did.  I was scorned because I'd gone against the law to raise the money attorneys wanted...but I kept going and will till I take my last breath.  I feel God is behind me, even though I did some things I shouldn't have.  He loved Jeff to take him Home before something worst could happen to him.

 I know both of my boys are in my home with me, and before I die I want to clear Jeff's name, but the way our luck runs, I don't think that will happen.  However, I won't ever give up.   I will continue to write, to speak out when I can even though I use a wheel chair at times and my health is not great.  I find it hard to get my books in the media and no one seems to put on reviews on the books. 

 I'm writing some fiction now with my sister.  Perhaps there is more money in the fiction.  Would love to visit NH again in the different seasons and take photos.   I see some books on Amazon that have a lot of book reviews but not sure how other authors get them.  I've never had any luck in getting many reviews, and none on my newer ones.   that plus the fact of the subject matter on the non fiction books....  and  I don't go out to do book signings, getting too old at seventy one.  I guess and I find it embarrassing to do it.

Please take this opportunity to share with the readers anything you'd like them to know about you, your family, or your writing. 

I was born and raised in Concord, NH, and moved south due to my father's health back in the seventies.  I lived in Asheville, NC until Jeff got into trouble, then moved to TN where I still am today.  Most of my family is in Asheville, and I visit a couple of times a year, staying with my sister for a month of two.  I live a lonely life as I don't get out much, and my friends have all gone to heaven.  Writing keeps me busy, and it's something I love to do.  I wish my health was better so I could do more physical things, but as we grow older, it's a fact we face.  I read a lot, too.

After all you've been though, you've managed to keep writing.  Has it been cathartic?

I would say it has.   I'm alone with my dog, Shadow, and he keeps my company. I'm also learning Photography and doing stock photo.  When I was fifty nine I learned to ride a motorcycle and loved it.  When riding, I could forget for a little bit.  I'd ride it to the prison as well and the men there called me Motorcycle Mama.   

I love writing and taking photos.  Still have a ministry at the Jeff Dicks Medical Coalition,,  trying to get medical care for prisoners, something else that is very unpopular with the public.  So I keep busy working, writing and speaking out.  And of course my three great grandchildren keep my life  busy and fill me with happiness.   I feel  God wants me to speak out against the injustice in the world, same as Jeff was ministering to those on the row.

Care to share the titles and a little information on the books you have available now?  Don't forget to include links to where we can buy them.

My first three books titles are Death Row, From Vietnam To Hell and Victims.  McFarland Co published those and then they were out of print.  McFarland is bring them back this month on their website and also on

Death RowThe 34 chapters in this book are largely composed of interviews with the men on death row, with individuals fighting the death penalty, and with the families of the condemned. Several chapters also cover such topics as the execution of juveniles, mentally retarded individuals and Vietnam veterans, ineffective legal counsel and racist criminal justice systems, botched executions, and executions carried out despite the contrary wishes of prosecutors and victims’ families.  
VictimsThis thought-provoking collection of interviews provides an insight into the multifaceted issue of victims. Topics include personal accounts, support and survival, and voices for reform. Also discussed are organizations that provide assistance to victims.

From Vietnam To HellInterviews with Vietnam veterans and their family members explain as nothing else can the emotional consequences of wartime experiences. Many of these interviewees are now in prison as a result of the substance abuse or violence that characterizes PTSD.

The next two were They're Going To Kill My Son from New Horizon Press, who still have it on their website with no sales the past twenty years, so they say. 

The complete story,  A Mothers Torment, is up to date with real names and trial testimony from both trials at  and also on   The trailer is also on there.
A brave, anguished mother uses every means possible to save her young son from the electric chair after he is arrested, tried and convicted for a robbery he didn't see and a murder he didn't commit. Though the original case has been overturned, it is a battle which continues to this day.
"Shockingly brings home the best argument against capital punishment."
Library Journal \
"Convincing...Readers are likely to agree that Jeff's death sentence is not just."
Publishers Weekly 
*A Doubleday Mystery Book Club Selection
*Featured on Sally Jessy Raphael
*German rights sold to Wilhelm Heyne Verlag

The next two were sold to Prometheus Books called, Congregation of the Condemned about the death penalty and Young Blood which is youth crime.  They are also on and on their website.

Congregation of the Condemned From Publishers Weekly:

This is A GRIPPING READ. The words of death-row inmates on the subject of capital punishment jump off the page. Fear, hope, bitterness, regrets, love and the anguish of their last minutes are all here. The book is compiled by the mother of Tennessee death-row inmate Jeff Dicks. He's here too. So are other relatives of inmates and victims. Doctors, activists, lawyers, Edward Kennedy, Coretta Scott King, Mario Cuomo and Camille Gabriel, mother of a murder victim, also contribute essays. Among their persuasive conclusions: it is the poor who are executed, and some of them are innocent. "What good is the law if it can't protect the innocent from false imprisonment?" asks one inmate. This book makes one wonder.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc
Women In The Wind is about women who ride motorcycles and has a lot of great information about motorcycles and the women who ride.  It's on as ebook an print book, close to four hundred pages as well.  Its also on my website as print book.

Then I have A Long Journey Home, about the Journey of Hope and Murder victim families who have lost a loved one to murder and are against the death penalty.  The book covers chapters by those who lost a loved one, and families of death row inmates and others.  It is on my website as well as

Unjust Justice is another one with experts on the death penalty found at

The Choice Is Yours is about the inmates and how they found themselves on death row. It's for teens out there to know how easy it is to be in prison or on death row.  A Video by the same name taken on tn death row with inmates telling the kids not to find themselves where they are.

And There IS Life After Fifty about women fifty and older who are not waiting to die but are living life at it's fullest.   This is both ebook and print book.  Found at

My Fiction books are

Deadly A New Beginning  and Texas Tornado

  I’m aware you’ve had some publishing trials and tribulations through your whole ordeal.  What advice, if any, would you offer new authors?

I went with traditional publishing for the first seven books and then decided to publish my own with Mathews Books.  Then last month, I decided to try Amazon and have put the books I've self published  there hoping to make some money to keep me going.
I'd advise new authors to never give up.  Try the traditional publishers if you want, or self publish.  I see the future is in ebooks due to the way the country is going today.  Money is tight everywhere for most of us and some of the print books are out of reach.  Still it's nice to have a choice which amazon gives you.  And I'm sure you could do your own ebooks if you get enough traffic on your websites or blogs.  Make sure you edit your books good if you are self publishing.
My first book was about my son's case.  I kept the manuscript I wrote back then so many years ago.  I didn't know beans about writing, and had started the Murfreesboro Writers Club.  I wrote down the whole page, with no paragraphs, just one long writing.  I scanned in the many newspaper clippings on the trials and it was a terrible piece and I sent it out to every publishing company.  No one said anything mean about it although they could have as the writing looked like a six grader wrote it.  Through the writers club, I learned to write and each one was better.  I rewrote my story and it was the fourth one I sold.
I wouldn't give up and for anyone else who loves writing, I would say that.  Never ever give up.   I don't use big words, but the words I do use come from my heart.  Prometheus still has both of my books in print these many years later....and o course McFarland is redoing my three with them because the message is one people need to read about.  More violence is not the way to go.

That’s about all I can think of to ask you right now, Shirley, but I really want to thank you for being my guest and being candid about such painful memories.  You’re a terrific lady and I wish only the best for you.


Margaret Tanner said...

Oh Shirley what a dreadful time you have had of it. Had I gone through half of what you have I would have curled up in a corner and died years ago.You are a brave lady and I am sure it must be a comfort to you to know that you did everything possible to save your son, in fact you did more than what most people would have done.

Best wishes


Maryann Miller said...

What a story. You sure have had your challenges, Shirley. Keep on, keeping on.

Romance Reviews

The Romance Reviews

Manic Readers

Manic Readers

She Writes

Historical Fiction Books

Readers and Writers of Distinctive Fiction