Arizona recently “refurbished” its gas chamber built in 1949 which has not been used since 1999. The plan is to execute prisoners with cyanide and other gases. This is the same gas combination (Zyklon B) used by the Nazis to murder more than one million men, women, and children during the Holocaust. Is this worthy of a democracy?
Lethal injection is the death of choice for Arizona prisons and the state has paid over $1.5 million on lethal injection drugs despite its Department of Corrections facing a budget crisis. Executions have been on hold in the state since the lethal injection execution of Joseph Wood was badly botched in 2014. Now the state plans to offer a choice . . . gas chamber or lethal injection.
Arizona last used its gas chamber for the execution of Walter LeGrand in 1999. At that time The Tucson Citizen reported “agonizing choking and gasping” during the execution. It took LeGrand eighteen minutes to die.
Frank Atwood and Clarence Dixon are the next people to be executed in Arizona and while their lawyers attempt to raise legal arguments the two men have a choice to contemplate. Which way will they choose to die if their appeals fail? In my opinion, both are cruel and unusual punishments for us to inflict upon other human beings.
Source: Death Penalty Information Center
“Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption” by Laura Hillenbrand
This true story follows the life of Louis Zamperini (1917-2014) from his grade school years until his death at the age of ninety-seven. His was a life well worth the effort of reading this riveting, best selling book. In fact I have read it twice in seven years as well as seeing one of the two movies made of his life based upon this book.
Louie, as he was called, was a precocious young boy with a knack for getting into trouble. Somehow his family was always able to correct him without breaking his spirit for adventure. In high school he funneled his energies into running and while in college at the University of California he broke speed records which led him to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin where he met Adolph Hitler and set a new lap record.
Leaving college to join the Army Air Forces he became a bombardier during WWII. He, the pilot and one other man were the only survivors after his plane went down in the ocean during a search and rescue mission. They survived Japanese attacks, sharks and near starvation aboard an inflatable raft for forty-seven days. Only he and the pilot remained alive when they finally landed on the Japanese occupied Marshall Islands where they were captured.
The account of inhumane treatment in two different Japanese prison camps was difficult to read. The beatings and humiliations endured by Zamperini and his fellow prisoners of war are beyond my imagination. In spite of being singled out for the worst treatment because of his Olympic fame, he managed to survive. After discharge from the military Zamperini suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder leading to alcohol abuse and a tormented life. He was, however, unbroken and through a spiritual encounter he recovered and found forgiveness in his heart for his transgressors. He then devoted the rest of his life to working with at-risk youth.
I recommend this book and would award it five stars out of five.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be in prison? In solitary confinement? On death row? Now you can know those things and much more about a prisoner’s life by reading what prisoners write at https://prisonwriters.com. “Prison Writers . . . . Where Prisoners have a Voice” is an internet site of writings by people who are currently incarcerated. The articles are about all aspects of life before and after imprisonment. They are edited by professional volunteers and writers are paid $10 for each piece that is published on the website.
Please check out this link and read such articles as these popular ones:
- I Was Repeatedly Raped in Prison
- Best Prison Slang Words You (Hopefully Won’t) Need to Know
- Love in Prison: 12 Tips to Dating A Prisoner
- Remember Amy Preasmyer? She Writes Us From Solitary
- Life Behind Bars As A Convicted Sex Offender
Authors’ photographs and sometimes a bio accompany many of the articles written by inmates.
Each day we hear statistics regarding the number of COVID 19 cases and deaths occurring. We hear local, state, national and global figures. Our reactions vary depending on our own experiences with the pandemic. Unfortunately, we can become indifferent to the barrage of numbers unless it has affected us personally.
Numbers we don’t often hear are relative to how many cases and deaths take place in prisons. The incidence of COVID among prisoners is one in five. There have been over two thousand deaths which is 51% more than the general population. Each person who dies in prison leaves behind family who care about them. These loved ones need the same support and care that any grieving person needs, but it is difficult to receive due to the stigma of imprisonment.
A group of family members and other survivors have gone together to prepare a crowd sourced memorial for those who die in prison. Please review these obituaries, read about those who have died while locked away and look at their faces. They are our fellow human beings. Let’s spend some time honoring these lives lost. https://www.mourningourlosses.org
“The Sun Does Shine, How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row” by Anthony Ray Hinton – with Lara Love Hardin
In 1985 “Ray” Hinton was a twenty-nine year old man living with his beloved Mother and working a full time job within the community. He wasn’t perfect. He had written a few bad checks and had once stolen a car, but he was not a murderer. That did not keep him from being arrested, tried and convicted to be put to death in Holman Prison in his home state of Alabama. Hinton was innocent and for three years he could only think of that and of getting even with those who put him in prison. During this time he did not speak except to his Mother and his best friend who visited him. After those years he realized that anger and hatred were not helping his cause and he began to make a life where he was even though he never gave up believing that one day he would be proven innocent.
For thirty years he lived, ate and slept in a cell that was 5X7 feet and during these years he had only one hour per day of exercise in an outdoor chainlink pen. Somehow he made his life worth living. He knew he was innocent and he had hope. He started a book club on the cell block and for the first time prisoners had something more than the Bible to read. They were only allowed two books and they had to share them up and down the rows of cells, but after everyone had a chance to read, there would be a discussion of the book. The men now had something to think about other than their approaching executions.
His incompetent trial attorney half-heartedly appealed his case without any success. Justice was hard to come by as a poor black man but year after year he continued to hope. During the time he spent on death row he knew each time there was an execution because his cell was only feet away from the room where this took place. As the generator kicked on for the electric chair the lights in the cell block would dim. Then he smelled the burned flesh of his fellow prisoners, men he got to know over the years they were contained in close proximity. Fifty-four men were killed during the years Hinton remained on Death Row.
When the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) learned of his case an attorney was sent in to seek a re-trial. After a few years there was another attorney and further attempts were made to fight the legal system and to obtain justice for Hinton but to no avail. Finally a miracle occurred in the form of Bryan Stevenson, founder of the EJI, (and author of “Just Mercy” https://crookedcreek.live/2020/11/23/just-mercy/ ) who made a surprise visit to Holman Prison. He informed Hinton that he was taking over his case. More years of legal proceedings took place until Stevenson finally took Ray Holman’s case to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2015 he finally walked out of prison a free man.
This story of courage and forgiveness is well worth your read. I highly recommend it for better understanding humankind as well as the Justice System or what stands for justice in the United States.
See “Decades Behind Bars” by Gay Holman at https://crookedcreek.live/2019/05/27/decades-behind-bars-book-review/
Several weeks ago we explored the subject of “Corrections” https://crookedcreek.live/?s=corrections here on Crooked Creek. Several readers had important comments to make on the subject. Recently I read a story about a prison in Mississippi which I may not have believed had it not been published by The Marshall Project. The Marshall Project is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization that seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system. It strives to educate regarding the state of criminal justice.
Mississippi has long been known as a troubled prison system. The particular privately operated institution described in a report by Joseph Neff and Alysia Santo is Wilkinson County Correctional Facility. The report is accompanied by a security videotape of an attack on a prisoner which resulted in his death four days later. You can view that disturbing video at https://www.themarshallproject.org/2019/06/26/corporate-confession-gangs-ran-this-private-prison
On January 31, 2018, twenty-six-year-old Brad Fitch arrived at the prison. The video shows him being chased, then attacked by two inmates, one of whom had a handmade knife. Fitch was stabbed ten times and died at a hospital. In spite of the video showing his killers, no one has been charged for the murder. It turns out the men were just doing their jobs.
An internal audit revealed that this privately run prison was so short on employees (guards) that the warden, who has since resigned, used inmate gangs to control the prison population. Fitch and his killers were actually members of the same gang, called Simon City Warriors, a white gang affiliated with the Gangster Disciples. The killers caught on security cameras were settling a score with Fitch from two years before.
As we learned before many, if not most, prisons have trouble hiring and retaining people for low paying, dangerous jobs. Wilkinson has a turnover rate of 90% and even though they have raised the hourly wage to $11.25 per hour more than a third of its positions are vacant.
I encourage those of you interested in the subject of criminal justice to read the entire Marshall Project report at the link listed above.
“America is the land of the second chance – and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.” George W. Bush
I ask you to think about this terrible word, one that strikes fear in most of us. Can you imagine living near a murderer? What about having a person convicted of murder as a friend or family member? Should those who have committed murder ever get out of prison? Should they even be allowed to live? Can a person who has committed murder ever be a worthwhile citizen?
These are serious questions and ones we casually ponder at different points in our lives. It might be when a well-publicized murder takes place or when the circumstances are more unforgettable or perhaps when it has been geographically close to us. Today when probably none of those situations are present, let’s answer the hard questions.
- Do you support Capital punishment? I never have. During my studies of the criminal justice system over the past several weeks I did not change my mind on this matter.
- Do you believe in a sentence of life without the possibility of parole? As a result of these classes, reading, and research, I have changed my mind and no longer believe that this should be a punishment. If there is no incentive for release where is the incentive for rehabilitation? It’s not “corrections.” It’s not “criminal justice.” It is simply punishment.
3. Have you ever been mad or afraid enough to take the life of another person? I cannot say that I have, but I can imagine how this happens. I believe that a good person can do terrible things under certain circumstances and that they, even murderers, can change. It is worth noting that murder has one of the lowest recidivism rates of all crime categories.
I’m not going to go into great detail, but one day in class two men who had been convicted of murder were our guest speakers. Each had committed their crime while very young and each served over twenty years before receiving parole. Both concentrated on getting an education while in prison and they have used those degrees to find work since released. What’s more, both work now to help others in the prison system and their families. They spoke of their crimes, took full responsibility and voiced their regret. I would welcome either as next door neighbors.
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“Why do we incarcerate? Are we afraid or angry?” Mark Bolton, Corrections Director, Louisville, KY
The SOURCE of most of the information of the past two posts is a class at Bellarmine University taught by Gaye Holman, Author, “Decades Behind Bars: A Twenty-year Conversation with Men in America’s Prisons.” Today’s post is mostly my personal opinion.
Photo and Graphic by Pixabay
Can people change? Experience shows that people can and do change and that formal education is one of the most effective means. In 2011, in KY 1,151 inmates attained their GED in prison while in 2015 that total was down to 126. The difference? As the number of inmates goes up so do costs and education funds are one of the first cut. This is unfortunate considering that statistics show that 5.6% of inmates with a Bachelor’s degree re-offend and 0% of those with a Masters.
According to a psychologist who works with inmates in KY, other keys to reducing recidivism are family support and treatment for addiction. Families tend to drift away after the first year or two and by the third year, few inmates have visits or any contact with their family.
Is the justice system just?
“No” is the easy answer. In the general population 86% is white and 11% are black and brown. In prison 64% of the population is white and 34% are people of color.
If the goal was truly to rehabilitate and reduce recidivism would prisoners be released without any money, ID, phone or often even a place to stay?
Here’s a case history: WRS, a graduate of Seneca HS in Louisville was 21 when he committed a few robberies and one assault. When he was caught he had an empty gun on his person. He waived a plea bargain of eight years to have his day in court. He was sentenced to 317 years in prison. Now 29 years later WRS has been turned down for parole four times in spite of a good record in prison. The cost of his incarceration is now over $800,000 and that amount gets higher the older an inmate becomes.
Is this a good investment of taxpayer dollars? Is the fact that WRS is African-American a consideration?
NOTE: In KY Parole Board Members (9) are appointed and must have at least five years experience in Criminal Justice work. Members are paid $1,000 per year. They have few or no policies to follow. For lower level offenses they do not see the inmate in person but review their file. The Board files no monthly or annual reports. Most cases are reviewed by only 3 Board Members. (Per Larry Chandler former Board Member.)
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“Poor people, people of color – especially are much more likely to be found in prison than in institutions of higher education.” Angela Davis
SOURCE of most of this information is a class at Bellarmine University taught by Gaye Holman, Author, “Decades Behind Bars: A Twenty-year Conversation with Men in America’s Prisons.”
Photo and Graphic by Pixabay