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Fund for Life - NEWS & NOTES IV

Summer 2001


Greetings Friends & Supporters

I'm not so much into numerology, but it seems that certain key events in my life parallel around corresponding dates.

March 02, 2000, was the date that I, along with the majority of Death Row, were moved to the Terrell Unit. Exactly a year later, on March 02, 2001, the federal courts not only denied our request for an Evidentiary hearing but also denied my Writ of Habeas Corpus. My lawyer speculates that my appeals will be exhausted within a year's time. More details inside.

When George W. Bush was Governor here in Texas, he presided over more than 150 executions. Since taking the office of President, he's already presided over 2 executions - that of Timothy McVeigh and Juan Raul Garza. He's only been in office six months.

The Texas Legislature has been very hard at work and has made some positive steps but they have also refused to budge on some points.

With the help of friends, I've been quite busy in the past few months. We now have an E-Group established as well as a website. I've also expanded my line of printed greeting cards.

This issue is jam-packed with news and information, so enjoy. If you have any comments, suggestions or ideas for the next issue, drop me a line or an E-mail. I'd be glad to hear from you.

If we are strong, our strengh will speak for itself. If we are weak, words will be no help.


When Punishment Becomes a Crime:
Trying to Find a Balance


A 70 year-old man walks into a bank and hands a teller a note demanding two twenty dollar bills. He then asks the teller to call the police and informs her that he will be in his car smoking a cigarette. Sure enough, when the police arrive, that's exactly where they find him. When asked why he robbed the bank, he states that he has just been released from prison. His family and friends are gone and he has no one. He wants to go back.

In two Florida cases that received national attention, twelve-year-old Lionel Tate was tried as and adult and sentenced to a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole for the fatal beating of a six year-old, Tiffany Eunick. He was imitating wrestling moves when he battered the girl to death.

Another boy, Nathaniel Brazill, faces the same sentence for the shooting death of his English teacher, Barry Grunow, after he was suspended from school for throwing water balloons. He was only thirteen at the time.

Excessive sentencing

Here we have both ends of the spectrum. For the past two decades, tough-on-crime policies have meted our harsher sentences. Mandatory minimums for drug convictions and the "three strikes" law for habitual criminals have all contributed to the nationwide prison population exceeding 2 million.

Due to the increased population, prison reform and cuts in prison budgets, penal institutions have gotten far away from the notion of rehabilitation. Prison libraries, remedial education and job training have all but vanished. Consequently, most of those released will be forced to work or go back to prison. Upon release, they'll given a bus ticket, $50, and a slip of paper with the name of their parole officer. But where will they go? Society has little sympathy for these men because they made mistakes as adults and have to live with their mistakes.

Treating Children As Adults

The odd thing I noticed in reading all the newspaper acounts of the 12 and 13 year old was that in no acount were they ever referred to as "men". They were always reffered to as "boys" and rightly so. It is difficult to fathorn how society - a jury of their own peers? - could determine that a child not old or mature enough to make a rational decision to smoke, drive, drink, work or even vote for the very people making the decisions about the rest of their lives, can be considered adult and sentenced to spend the rest of their lives behind bars.

I am in no way advocating that a crime, especially that of murder, should go unpunished. But life without the possibility of parole for a 12 or 14 year old? What will then become of these "State-raised babies"?

I believe it is no accident that a study conducted by Amnesty International in 1998 found that not only is the overall number of youths being tried as adults increasing, but that Black and Latino youths are being dispropionately tried as adults. Could this be genocide in the 21st Century?

Destroying Hope

So the criminals are all locked up, safe and sound. Now what? How do the prison authorities control the inmates that have a minimum of 40 calendar years to do? What of the ones that will never get out? What happens when you tell an individual, "No matter how exemplary your behavior; no matter how many college classes you take; no matter how many vocational courses you take; no matter how you do your job; no matter how remorseful you are, and; no matter how much restitution you pay, we'll never let you go. Period!" I ask you, what incentive does that individual have to "be good"?

I believe that part of the problem lies in the short-sightedness of the politicians who enact these mandatory sentencing laws. The nation's citizenry wants to feel safe and tough-talking politicians have convinced the voters that, for those who break the law, they should "lock 'em up and throw away the key". The idea sounds good on a short-term basis because most politician's terms only last 2 or 4 or 6 years. But again, what's going to happen in 15 or 20 or 35 or 40 years when those criminals have served their mandatory time? Maybe not all, but sooner or later some will have to be released - even if it's when they're in their 70's and society feels safe by releasing them because they will be too old to pose a threat.

But what happens when these old men get out and will have nowhere to go? Most, if not all of their family will be gone. The neighborhood will have changed. Because they have been confined nearly all their adult lives, they will not have held a job so won't even be able to apply for Social Security. With failing health, they will have to depend on tax-payer supported programs to meet their needs. Or, perhaps they will be like the old man mentioned at the beginning of this article and just commit a new crime to go back to the only environment they've known. Either way, the burden will again fall on the tax-payer.

I'm not a sociologist or a criminal justice policy specialist. I'm just an inmate sitting here, hoping that one day I will be allowed to reenter society. I hold onto that hope. Why? Because for me, without hope in something, life would not be worth living. When you take away all hope from an individual, you destroy their soul. Society would be well served to find that fine balane between punishment and justice, mercy and recondciliation. It is our only hope.


BOOK RELEASE


Cathy D. Knepper, Maryland State Coordinator for Amnesty International and long-time friend and supporter has written a book.
Greenbelt, Maryland - a Living legacy of the New Deal ($39,95 hardcover, 304pp, 0-8018-6490-9), is a specialized book about the worn-out tobacco land between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. The community was built in the 1930s and was designed to provide homes for low-income families as well as jobs for its builders.
Cathy describes the origins of Greenbelt, the ideology of its founders, and their struggle to create a cooperative planned community in the capitalist United States.
For a synopsis and to order on-line, log on.

By Chan Lowe, Sun-Sentinel, FORT LAUDERDALE FL

There are no hopeless situations - only people who are hopeless about them.


A FLOWER

by Margery R. Layton

A color,
A smell,
A growing up,
A streching out,
A blowing by the wind,
A standing still,
A being shined on,
A being rained on,
A being there in the ground,
A saying "no" to the weeds,
A staying a flower!



DEATH PENALTY NEWS


Amnesty International Cheers and Jeers

Illinois Gov. George Ryan was declared a human rights hero by Amnesty International because he declared a moratorium on use of the death penalty in his state after 13 inmates were freed from Illinois' Death Row.

On the flip side, Amnesty called the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles "human rights scoundrels".

The Texas Board is cited "for operating a flawed capital punishment system" that "violated Texas" own Open Meeting Act". Amnesty charged that many of the board's decisions are made in secret. Board members could not be reached for comment.


Executing the mentally retarded

Gov. Rick Perry blocked an effort to ban the execution of the mentally retarded. He vetoed the measure on the last possible day it would have become law without his signature.

He argues that enough safeguards existed to protect the mentally ill criminals. However, Florida became the 15th state to outlaw the execution of retarded defendants.


Life without parole denied

A bill that would have allowed jurors to sentence convicted murderers to life without parole was defeated. Some lawmakers and prosecutors objected to the bill, saying it would make it difficult to get death sentences.


The Crimes Law Passed

Gov. Rick Perry signed into law the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Act. The Act will dole out stiffer penalties for crimes motivated by race, religion, color, gender, disabilities, sexual preference, age or national origin.


Texas overhauls indigent-defense system

Gov. Rick Perry signed into law an overhaul of the state's system of providing lawyers for poor defendants. Under the new law, court-appointed attorneys will have to be appointed within three days after a defendant requests one and will have to met minimum standards of training and experience.

Texas has set aside $19,7 million to help its 254 counties pay for indigent defense.


Racial Profiling

Gov. Rick Perry signed a racial profiling law requiring Texas law enforcement agencies to have a written policy that prohibits stopping suspects based on their race.

Even if tomorrow the world will end,
today I plant a new little tree.
(Martin Luther)



CLOSURE?

by Dominique Green

To describe the death penalty in a word, one would need look no further than "hypocrisy". Where's the logic in telling someone it's wrong to kill when we as citizens have, by law, made it right? If rationalization were plain and simple, this subject wouldn't need much debating. But often what we think loses out to what we feel and by the time we understand the gravity of our mistakes, it's a tad bit too late.

The loved one left behind from victims of violent crime are a prime example. They are left with wounds that run deep. So deep that the only thing they most want is to hurt the person who caused them hurt. At the urging of politically active prosecutors, advocacy groups have become the tools to play on those emotions by convincing them the death penalty is the outlet they seek to heal their scars and bring forth closure.

Unfortunately, what many don't contemplate is how their loved one would want to be remembered. I know if I died, I'd want to be remembered for something positive like affecting and possibly changing people's lives, not turning my loved ones into killers of faceless nobodies, which many people on Death Row are. But the rage is so blinding and all-consuming, this is often given no thought. Emotions have driven the families of some victims to not only push for the death penalty, but to also attend the killer's execution. Sadly, after it was all over and done with, many have come to admit that it was not what they expected and that they were not closer to finding closure than they were at the beginning.

However, state lawmakers who campaigned on a "though on crime" platform will leave them with nowhere to go and no one to turn on. Their only choice will be to chalk it up. Once the killer is executed, the state no longer feels obligated to the victim's survivors so they are forgotten. Had the victim's survivors known the power the death of their loved ones possessed, they could have made it amount to something more than just another senseless killing.

More than likely the killer, having no one that cares about him, will be no great loss to anyone.

If this is the case, why not teach him how to appreciate life? Why not work to help or cure him? Being in prison for life (the sentence he would get other than death) would give him a chance to learn from his mistakes, grow and possibly become one of society's great contributors.

We hear everyday about prisoners making gifts for homeless children for Christmas, donating drawings, crafts and poetry to fundraising events or even becoming writers of enlightening material. Wouldn't allowing him to do these things in the victim's name be giving them a better way to be remembered ? After all, as long as their killers are alive, so remains their memory. Why ask for less than those precious memories are worth? Or is forgetting them both completely the only way we can allow ourselves to find true closure?