Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Government…can’t be trusted to control its own bureaucrats or collect taxes equitably or fill a pothole, much less decide which of its citizens to kill.”—Helen Prejean


“Curiouser and curiouser.”

A pretty young thing who happened also to be a very smart, though fictional, character once uttered these words. Dazzled by the inconsistencies surrounding her, Alice held forth in her search through madness, mayhem, and danger until she found bravery and truth. At least she did in Tim Burton’s wonderful retelling of the beloved Lewis Carroll story. Would that there be such a happy ending in our own lives, filled with wacky and wonderful and resourceful characters that can identify and take down the bad guys. Or, in Alice’s case, a very bad queen and her loathsome Jabberwocky.

One of the many real life bad guys is Rick Perry, the governor of Texas. And like all bad guys he has no style, he has no class. On a recent, riveting episode of Frontline, proof was clearly in evidence before execution that a man, Todd Willingham, did not murder his children by arson. But it took a despicable “Good Ole Boy” governor and it took a village of Todd Willingham’s spiteful neighbors to put this innocent man to death for an accident. I’m not a fan of Iron Maiden, or of any Heavy Metal, but I have friends and relatives who are and I wouldn’t let them hang for it.

Much has been written lately about the death penalty and the information—the correct information—is out there. Troy Davis’s case has been at the forefront of the battle, with thousands of supporters led by his devoted and tireless sister, Martina Davis-Correia. Ralph Nadar said in an interview on Meet the Press: “Since I was a law student, I have been against the death penalty. It does not deter. It is severely discriminatory against minorities, especially since they’re given no competent legal counsel defense in many cases. It’s a system that has to be perfect. You cannot execute one innocent person. No system is perfect. And to top it off, for those of you who are interested in the economics it, it costs more to pursue a capital case toward execution than it does to have full life imprisonment without parole.”

It’s difficult for me to spew statistics, repeat what I already know to be true and wax eloquently on this subject. “Once you know, you can’t unknow,” serves me well and keeps me ‘curiouser and curiouser’ about the facts of any situation. I can’t be part of a system that solves one murder by creating another. I cannot understand people who will wail and shed tears over the abuse of animals, particularly pets, champion rescue and then stare dumbly as I speak of capital punishment on the same level. “Animals have no one to fight for them.” “They are the powerless victims.” Yes, that’s awful. No getting around it. But to refuse to accept that there are fellow Americans, who because of their race, their mental instability, their poverty, will also go unsupported, unprotected and who will die by the hand of the state and a complicit citizenry is inconsistent and, well, wrong. Once they fall down the rabbit hole of our judicial system, without the magical white rabbit aid of pro bono attorneys and judges who will actually listen to appeals then the clock ticks faster for those on death row and they spiral downward toward the darkness at the bottom of that hole.

We as humans are equally responsible for our fellow human creatures. Ignoring that is just a head too far down in the sand for me.

People have told me, especially new parents, that they might once have been profoundly anti-death penalty until they have children. God forbid their child was murdered. Their argument is that I couldn’t understand that. If that were so then I, and many, many other people would never understand the horrendous ramifications of racism, military torture, poverty, rape, social injustices, the aftermath of natural disasters, and the list goes on and on. I leave them to it because I am comforted by the fact that the movement in this country to end capital punishment and the broader efforts to abolish LWOP (Life in Prison Without Parole—a living death sentence) and the prison system as we know it include all kinds of people. People who have lost children to murder included; and those families of the executed and their victims who know revenge to be a senseless resolution. People, like me, who are saddened that the joyous occasion of a child’s birth should be now counteracted with an unwholesome belief in state sanctioned murder.

My unshakeable belief that this system, which is outlawed by most of the civilized world, sullies us as Americans, makes us less than and serves up hateful revenge on a platter that so many lap up with relish, is never questioned when it comes down to the dangers inherent to the health of their souls. Friends were stunned that I could not vote for Obama. Apart from gross inconsistencies on his part, our own president champions the death penalty. Al Gore, the Great Environmentalist, is right behind it. Bill Clinton left the campaign trail while he was running for president to run back home and see to the execution of a man with severe mental disabilities. I once went to a meet and greet of Hilary Clinton’s acolytes and asked the question. Not only was she a woman of faith, I was told, she was very much in favor of the death penalty. So, it doesn’t take much to connect the dots to torture, which is often blamed on “the other side.”

Faith and torture. Faith and racism. Faith and misogyny. Faith and homophobia. Faith and child abuse. Faith and state-sanctioned revenge killing. Legal murder is no less heinous than what people are being put to death for; in many cases innocent people. To allow this system of capital punishment to exist makes us all complicit and destroys the soul of Americans.

For some time now I have been writing to a young man on death row in Livingston, Texas. His name is Robert Will. His friends call him Rob. He is innocent and his story can be found on a website his supporters have created for him. I volunteer to type the handwritten updates—his prison diaries—that he sends me. We write letters of a more personal nature as well, music that we listen to, books that we read, artists that we admire. He is an astute critic of my own fiction writing. I send him books to aid in his artistic endeavors. He sends me an inspiration that is priceless. The quality of a man or woman behind bars and facing execution who strives still to better themselves, educate themselves, strengthen their spirit with a complete open-mindedness in such dire conditions is astounding and impossible to ignore. With his permission I am posting the most recent update below.

A person cannot remain unmoved when he or she makes an effort to step outside the safety of thinking like the masses and begins to think as an individual. There are organizations like The Campaign To End the Death Penalty and New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty. Contact them, meet incredible people from all walks of life who will welcome you and change your mind. Become a friend of Rob’s on his facebook page, read his story. Meet the most amazing people around the world who work tirelessly to free Rob from a horrible injustice. Or write to any one of the hundreds and hundreds of men and women on death row in our country—our ‘Land of the Free and Home of the Brave’.

Be brave enough to challenge the system. Come and step outside with me.

Rise Above the Wretchedness

By Robert G.Will


Polunsky Unit

3872 F.M. 350 South

Livingston, Texas 77351

Written Friday October 15, 2010 *

Quite a number of extremely intelligent individuals have said that this environment, Texas Death Row, is the absolute most oppressive environment in the entire United States and even in the entire modern Western World. There is no doubt that by far Texas D.R. has the worst conditions out of all prisons that house D.R. inmates in the U.S. The general conditions and the fact that everyone here is under the threat of death makes for a toxic combination that wages a ceaseless, unrelenting war of aggression upon one’s psyche.

Rarely have I written about this from a general and personal perspective, for several reasons. For one, it seems the vast majority of people simply do not want to hear about sad things, oppressive things. This is something I’ve never understood—oppression inspires me. When I hear about injustice something deep within me stirs. I feel motivated to act, to move, to fight to correct the injustice.

Anyway, I think it is important that people on the outside understand all aspects of the nature of this environment. Sometimes, I’ll think that J. Edgar Hoover and Augusto Pinochet were sitting around reading Orwell, Kafka and torture manuals years back and came up with a devious little plan to create a twisted, psychologically torturous environment just for fun.


My dear Augusto, this racist, murderous thing I’ve been on is really quite boring and tedious. I feel I might not have much longer to live. I know you have plans to do the South American dictator thing a few years from now, but come on mi amigo, let’s come up with something a bit more fun! With more pizzazz!


Are you suggesting something of a legacy? I must tell you John Edgar, I plan on being a brutal dictator for a few decades at least.


Very well, and I wish you well and I’m certain you’ll enjoy the backing of our government. However, let’s spend a few weeks delving into these torture manuals and reading some Orwell and Kafka and how about we create a blueprint for a really, really oppressive environment!


Ay dios mio, Johnny Edgar, I get all warm when you talk to me like that! Where shall this scrumptious place be and when shall it come into existence?


We’ll shoot for sometime after the year 2000 and oh, let’s say we’ll have this lovely place come to be in Texas!


Yes, yes! How grand!


Indeed!—Let’s get to work!

A bit ridiculous, I know, but I think of such things often. Especially with all that has been going on around here lately. Yesterday, I found out that a guy who was “disappeared” a few weeks ago is alive and back on D.R. No one knew if he was alive or dead or what. The medical staff here is truly Josef Mengele-esque vile sadists. The guy had to raise hell to get a blood sample taken. When they finally did blood work on him he was told he was rapidly dying and he was rushed off to the hospital to receive an emergency blood transfusion.

My neighbor just caught scabies. I mean Je-sus, scabies? Parasitical mites? No one knows where the guy who tried to hang himself some weeks ago is. Is he dead? On the psych unit? I wrote and update about him but it was “disappeared.” The guy was housed three cells over from me. Here’s here under the Law of Parties, he’s never killed anyone, and the state fully acknowledges this. Plus, he’s mentally challenged and psychologically unstable. A C.O. was doing count, found him hanging and gassed him. Then he left to the psych unit I assume and hasn’t been seen since.

Right now, as I’m writing this my downstairs neighbor who is extremely schizophrenic is yelling and screaming half-incoherently, ranting and ranting and ranting mind-numbingly loudly. Last Thursday we were hit with an outrageously oppressive shakedown. The most wretched Ms. Smith—who I’ve written about quite a number of times—went on an absolute maniacal rampage. A newer Sergeant and Lieutenant were on the pod so she obviously felt that she could get away with stealing and pillaging about with unmitigated glee.

This crazy woman literally defied her ranking officers orders and engaged in a little devious and sneaky maneuver in order to shake me down. That horrible, pitiful, sad, and hateful woman stole all of my books, all of my art supplies, and all of my envelopes. In all of the years I’ve been here NOTHING like this has happened to me. I’m really rather shocked. It was a big ordeal and I’m having to go through all sorts of stuff to get my property back.

Ms. Smith also stole property from another guy and engaged in her customary lying filth. The dude ended up being hit with the gas repeatedly and run in one by the Riot Team. This vile woman even went so far as to steal all of the stamps possessed by the guy whose execution date was set for this week.

On Saturday, a guy was stabbed in the head by another inmate, and the shank went four inches into his head. He was Life-flighted off the unit and no one knows if he is alive or dead. Just last week we came off a really bad lockdown and everyone is still feeling the effects of three weeks of wretched Johnny Sacks. Yesterday there was an emergency situation on another pod—the sergeant ran off this pod to go down there because “someone was cutting on themselves!”

I just found out that a guy I know received an execution date; even though his co-defendant has said repeatedly that he himself committed the murder they’re still set to execute the other guy. Another person, someone I’ve been real cool with for like 8 years just had his last appeal denied so he should be getting an execution date soon. Next week, a guy who is very obviously mentally retarded is scheduled to be executed. And yet, another very twisted thing: Another guy is scheduled to be executed in about a month and a half yet he’s not on Death Watch or even on this unit. He’s extremely schizophrenic and he’s housed on the Jester 4 psychiatric unit.

Non-stop screaming mania. People being hit with riot gas while hanging. Other gassings. Riot Teams running in the cells. Weird parasitical diseases. Emergency blood transfusions for unknown and untold reasons. Executions, maniacally sadistic officers stealing the things that are closest to a person’s Heart. People slicing on themselves with razors. Utter insanity—and these things go on day in and day out. Without delving into a bunch of neuro-psychological babble, let me just say that the things that go on here severely disturb a person’s normal cognitive functioning, even pushing some people into a permanent state of schizophrenia.

Sleep deprivation itself causes a decline in logical reasoning capabilities and disturbances in normal biological processes. The short term and long term memory is affected. Paranoid thinking is rampant. One of the reasons I felt the need to write about this is because I understand the psychodynamics of the situation and can expand upon it. Also because I know others won’t write about these things.

It’s as loud as a rock concert right now, perhaps louder due to the fact that we’re packed into this small space like sardines. I’m literally having to fight to concentrate enough to write coherently. It’s somewhat hard to describe this process, the process of mentally battling to focus enough to write words on paper. Sometimes, I absolutely cannot do it at all, no matter how hard I try. Right now, I especially feel the affects of this environment because of all that has been going on.

There’s a heaviness around my eyes. Even though I work out and experience Yoga daily and I’m in extremely good physical shape I feel very lethargic right now. Periodically, I’ll notice my shoulders slouching and I’ll catch myself and straighten my posture. My eyesight will become blurry off and on and I’ll notice tension in my jaw and do a bit of pranayama (yogic breathing exercises) to dissipate the tension.

Right before I started writing this I thought I noticed an itch on my arm, which I scratched. This was an unconscious process and I sort of “caught” myself scratching my arm and then I rushed to my sink and started frantically washing my arm. I thought, “Whoa, am I going crazy?” But worrying about weird diseases isn’t irrational when people around here are actually contracting weird diseases.

It truly is hard, very hard, to engage in positive and productive activity in this terribly oppressive environment. Well, my court-appointed attorney is essentially doing nothing more than attempting to have me executed so I have a lot of work to do. We desperately need to raise funds like right now for legal and organizing expenses. I need to work on my next Sociology lesson and my very small number of dedicated supporters need to find a way to get others involved with our organizing. When. And when.

But one who possesses the Spirit and Soul of a warrior must constantly renew his or her battle fervor and rise above the wretchedness with the wings of an Eagle.

I’m thriving in this Hell—What are you doing out in the “free-world” where the possibilities of living a fulfilling life are endless?


By William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the Pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll.

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.



PICTURED ABOVE: Cyclical Mindrip by Robert G. Will. Watercolor on cardboard

*NOTE: These are Robert’s words and I do not editorialize.

“A humane and generous concern for every individual, his health and his fulfillment, will do more to soothe the savage heart than the fear of state-inflicted death, which chiefly serves to remind us how close we remain to the jungle.”
— RAMSEY CLARK, New York Times, Jul. 3, 1968


Belnu said...

Yes, venceremos! I hope so. I really admire your work against death penalty. I don't understand how someone could think there is a democracy in a country with death penalty. It is middle ages ways. People critisize fanatic muslims but if are not against death penalty you are fanatical and primitive too. I hope Troy will be saved. And I hope we will win against death penalty. Justice doesn't have any relation with revenge!

Linda Danz said...

Thank you. I am so humbled to know Robert and to have heard Troy Davis's sister speak about her brother. These are incredible people. You are absolutely right that justice and revenge have no relationship. People deny it, those who are for the death penalty but the fact is, it's revenge.