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Sunday, September 5, 2010

Blog Archive - November 17, 2007 "State Sanctioned Murder"

How, as a judge or governor, do you decide who it's okay to kill?  How do you justify it?  Does personal bias come into play during trial and later appeals?  Do political agents factor in?  We are a supposed civilized society...with the highest prisoner population in the world, and still advocating state sanctioned murder.  Hell, we just decided it's wrong to execute juveniles and the mentally retarded.

Can you vote?  Then, whether or not you say you are supportive of the death penalty, if you aren't speaking out against it then you're condoning it.  Harsh?  Not within reason, I assure you.

I've been housed in C-building with Death Row prisoners for six years now.  I know these guys; some in passing, and some are friends.  I spent a year on the tier with Earl Berry who, on October 30th, was given a stay of execution minutes before lethal injection was to be administered.  Imagine for a second that your choices in life have been limited to whether or not you want to wear a "harness" when you're executed so that, as you're dying and your bowels and bladder evacuate, you'll be spared the indignity of visibly soiling yourself.  That's the position Earl was in.  Civilized?  Not in my opinion, but I'm just a prisoner.

In the case of Atkins v. Virginia, 122 S.Ct. 2242 (2002) the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that it is unconstitutional to execute mentally retarded individuals.  Here it is, 2007, and after 20 years the people elected to govern Mississippi are attempting to rush Earl Berry to his execution.  Speaking from my own observations, Earl is both mentally and emotionally retarded.  Anyone who has spent any amount of time around him can see the truth of this for themselves.

One incident that stands out in my mind was related to me by Earl.  He and a friend, just kids at the time, were playing hide & seek and it was Earl's turn to hide.  He thinks it'd be fun to play a trick on his little friend, but how?  The shed was nearby and there's no way his friend would spot him up there...Wait!  Even better!  He runs for the water-hose, drops trou and, well - he gives himself an enema. With not much time left, he rushes to the shed and climbs up on the tin roof to wait.  Not long after he gets in place his friend comes in sight searching for him.  It seems to take forever for him to make it to the shed and, when he does, Earl eases to the edge of the roof and waits until he walks beneath his hiding spot.  Just as he walks beneath him, Earl strains fit to burst a blood vessel and sprays his friend with the enema he'd been holding all this time.  Of course, Earl's friend didn't find this funny in the least, and ran home crying and screaming. (I wonder how he explained that to his Momma.) In telling this story, even after all these years, Earl doesn't understand why his friend wasn't allowed to come over and play with him anymore.

I'm not a psychiatrist or a psychologist, I don't have any degrees and I sure don't have a doctorate.  Despite this lack, I can use common sense and say with certainty that Earl is retarded.  Do I trust him?  No.  Do I even like him?  Not in particular.  That doesn't change the facts though.  As my grandma would say, bless his heart.

So, how do you decide who it's okay to execute?  Why is it okay to execute a man who murders a woman on her way home from church, and not execute the woman who drowns her babies in the bathtub?  Why is it okay to sentence a man to death who shoots a police officer that has illegally raided his home unannounced, and it's not okay to sentence-or even charge-a cop who illegally raids a home and kills the occupant who is only protecting their-self from what seems to be a burglar?  How do you judge and place the value of one life above another?

What's ironic to me is who the proponents of the death penalty are.  They are people who proclaim to be Christians.  Governor Haley Barbour, for one.  Ask them about this and more often than not they'll quote the old saw about an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.  However, even Rabbis don't interpret this literally.  That's neither here nor there.  The point is, these are Christians with Christian values, supposedly.  Jesus taught His disciples that the law had been misapplied and distorted into a license for revenge, and He set about correcting their thoughts on this.  He said, "Love your enemies!  Pray for those who persecute you!" That's rather clear to me, so how did this teaching revert once again to an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth?  Plainly, it didn't.  Especially not for Christians.

Public opinion is a power all it's own, so if you want the people you elect to know you're against the death penalty - tell them.  If they won't listen, then replace them with someone who will.  You are far from powerless.  That's just one of the great things about this nation.
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1 comment:

  1. I saw a very sad but honest documentary from the late 80s, about a man who was facing death and was at MSP in was such a sad story because 1) he was truly innocent, and the film maker even made a second film after the man was executed to show evidence and much more.....and also 2) because it happens even now, years later, to many people that the public does not always hear the truth about. That man knew he was walking to the death chamber to die an innocent man, yet guilty in the eyes of so many, and Im sure he'd be shocked if he was alive to know that this still happens after all this time has passed.

    Even though it was one of those documentaries that, while watching, my heart stayed up in my throat like a rock and I had to fight back tears as I admired this man's strength and dispised all he had been put through when being made to confess as a very timid teenager..... I still wish this film was made more easily accessible for people to see, I simply got lucky and happened to find all 5 parts up on YouTube last year. I think many people should see this film and then do some thinking. Because its definitely one that leaves you in deep thought, when you realize that this was in the 1980s and it is now 2011 and we still let this happen. Only difference may be that now there are support groups trying to make a change over such things.

    I hope a change is just what we receive.
    Many changes at that.

    I know many who were just juveniles when their crimes were committed, and met the Texas death machine before the "rules changed" giving them life in prison at the last minute. Many still died before this point. : (

    Many guys I know of also had poor legal counsel in the start and then throughout handling their case, such as lawyers who they had never even met but maybe twice to visit/discuss the case, yet they needed REAL assistance years ago.

    I won't go into the awful stories of those I've heard about from (Texas mainly) death row who are mentally ill, and the things that they have done to themselves while receiving no help at all. Or the ways they have been encouraged to further drive themselves more and more insane.


About Steven

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Steven Farris is a prisoner who has been incarcerated since a month after his 16th birthday in 1998. Currently serving a life sentence without the possibility for parole, he is seeking to educate the public about the true nature of prison and the widespread and negative effects of the prison industrial complex. Steven has worked with both the National Prison Project of the ACLU, as well as the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in furthering this effort.

You can contact him directly at:
Steven Farris #R5580
P.O. Box 1889
Woodville, MS 39669-1889

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