Tag Archive: death row

The Death Penalty Is Cruel. But So Is Life Without Parole.


From The New Republic / By Stephen Lurie

Prison cells don’t attract many spectators, but executions have always drawn crowds. Paradoxically, the names and identities of death row inmates only come to matter when their execution had been scheduled: from impending death we take a sudden interest in life.

Despite the incongruity, this isn’t all that surprising. Twenty-first century America is still susceptible to the time-honored spectacle of state-sanctioned death, even if much of the attention now scrutinizes, rather than cheers, the practice. Recently, there have been many stories typical of the current fascination with American capital punishment, most notably Ben Crair’s piece in this magazine and Jeffrey Stern’s in The Atlantic. Like other recent examinations of the death penalty, both accounts focus specifically on the act of execution by lethal injection; each covers botched executions and the question of cruel and unusual punishment in the death chamber itself. Stern’s story centers on the act and ramifications of Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett’s execution: A paramedic—and later, a physician—fail to find a vein in a dozen stabs into Lockett’s flesh so the execution can proceed. (Which it does, equally gruesomely.) Crair’s investigation deals with the national execution drug shortage—including Lockett’s experience along with many others—and highlights Ohio prisoner Joseph Wood’s story; his execution was so mishandled that he “gasped and snorted for one hour and 57 minutes… the longest execution in modern history.”

For Stern and Crair, as well as many human rights-minded activists and advocates, the death chamber is a potent and useful example of inhumanity. Other, newer abolitionists—like the legislators in Nebraska that voted to abolish the death penalty there last month—focus on the act of execution as well. While the death chamber is itself horrific, abolitionists would be remiss to ignore the more common punishment: the immense cruelty of a prisoner’s long wait for execution. The “death row phenomenon” and associated prison conditions cause significant psychological and physical harm; a so-called “death before dying” is both internationally condemned and domestically pervasive. If the end to capital punishment in the U.S. is based on concern for human beings—whether in a religious or moral sense—the reform movement must be concerned with the prison conditions left when death is not on the table. (more…)

Pardons Elude Men Freed After Decades in North Carolina Prison


Henry L. McCollum awaiting word on a rental home in Fayetteville, N.C.

From The New York Times

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — In the days leading up to the one last summer when Henry L. McCollum left North Carolina’s death row, it seemed that inmates and staff members could not stop talking about what awaited him beyond Central Prison.

The man who had spent almost his entire adult life awaiting execution would be able to go out for fried chicken, his favorite. Maybe he could strike a movie deal. At the very least, Mr. McCollum remembers, people told him that he would be a man of considerable wealth once the state paid him the $750,000 he could seek under North Carolina law because he had been wrongly convicted and imprisoned for decades.

Mr. McCollum, 50, was released from prison last September after DNA evidence showed that he did not rape and murder a young girl in 1983. But since then, he and his half brother, Leon Brown, who was also exonerated and freed in the same case, have led anything but glamorous post-prison lives. Instead, because of legal decisions made to help accelerate their release, as well as Gov. Pat McCrory’s deliberate approach to granting what is known here as a pardon of innocence, both men have clung to a minimal existence, absent substantive remuneration, counseling or public aid in transitioning back to society. (more…)

Prison Architecture and the Question of Ethics

A death-row jail cell in Huntsville, Tex. The design of such quarters has raised questions.

A death-row jail cell in Huntsville, Tex. The design of such quarters has raised questions.

From The New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO — Faced with lawsuits and a growing mountain of damning research, New York City officials decided last month to ban solitary confinement for prison inmates 21 and younger. Just a few weeks earlier, the American Institute of Architects rejected a petition to censure members who design solitary-confinement cells and death chambers.

“It’s just not something we want to determine as a collective,” Helene Combs Dreiling, the institute’s former president, told me. She said she put together a special panel that reviewed the plea. “Members with deeply embedded beliefs will avoid designing those building types and leave it to their colleagues,” Ms. Dreiling elaborated. “Architects self-select, depending on where they feel they can contribute best.”

What are the ethical boundaries for architecture? Architecture is one of the learned professions, like medicine or law. It requires a license, giving architects a monopoly over their practices, in return for a minimal promise that buildings won’t fall down. Raphael Sperry, the Bay Area architect who spearheaded the petition to the institute, thinks the public deserves more in return for that monopoly. (more…)

Dec. 25th, Annual Christmas Caroling at Central Prison

christmasThursday, Dec 25th, 10am Christmas Caroling Outside Central Prison- Meet under the railroad trestle on Western Blvd. Enter Boylan Heights through Boylan Ave.

All are invited to the Fr. Charlie Mulholland Catholic Worker House annual Christmas morning witness and caroling at Central Prison at 10 A.M.  We will  rally around the perimeter of the prison on Christmas morning to sing carols. Drummers will also be there to make a joyful noise. We hold a big Merry Christmas sign and bring the only cheer the inmates get on Christmas (The warden does not allow visiting on Christmas to give more guards the day off).  Singing starts around 10 am.  Believe me, this is a great way to remember what the season is about.  Peace and Blessings, Patrick O’Neill

Isaiah 61:1

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;


Voices from Solitary: 144 Years for Prison Escapes

A cell at Polunksy. Minutes Before Six

A cell at Polunksy. Minutes Before Six

From Solitary Watch

The following comes from widely known, multiple prison escapee Steven Jay Russell, 56, who is currently serving a 140-year sentence in administrative segregation at the all-solitary Allan B. Polunsky Unit on Texas death row. Robert Perkinson, author of Texas Tough, describes Polunsky as “the most lethal [death row] anywhere in the democratic world” and “the hardest place to do time in Texas.” Russell, who is the first person in U.S. history to receive a life sentence for prison escapes, has spent the last 17 years in solitary confinement, where he will likely remain for the rest of his life.Russell painstaking orchestrated each of his four escapes – all non-violent, executed without a hostage or gun – by forging documents which he planted in the system, manipulating prison officials and impersonating court system officials and doctors. And all four times, he simply walked out of the prison doors, embarrassing the Texas prison system in the process. Russell has stated that he did it all in order to be with his lover, Phillip Morris, whom he met in 1995 while both were incarcerated at the Harris County Jail. His story is recounted in the movie I Love You Phillip Morris, in which he is played by Jim Carrey. He can be reached by writing: Steven Russell, 00760259, Allan B. Polunsky Unit, 3872 FM 350 South, Livingston, TX 77351–Lisa Dawson

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Steven-Jay-Russell-001For more than 17 years, I’ve lived in a concrete box no larger than my late father’s closet. Most likely, I will continue to live in this concrete box until I’m granted parole or die. Living among other offenders in general population will never occur based on the opinions of at least 10 Texas Department of Criminal Justice wardens who have supervised me since my convictions for theft by embezzlement and non-violent escapes. My total term of imprisonment is 144 years. No, I have never committed a violent act or ever possessed any type of weapons in either my criminal or institutional history. I’ve never damaged state property by digging a tunnel or knocking a hole in the wall of my cell. I always walked out the front or back door of the jail or prison without taking any hostages. So, I am writing this essay from my cell which is located in the death row building at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas. Death row building? Yes. I share a pod with Texas offenders who are sentenced to death.

Remember George W. Bush? He was the president who told the nation and world that the United States of America does not torture our prisoners. Did I miss something last week or did I actually hear FBI director-designate James Comey admit to Senator Al Franken that prisoners at Gitmo were shackled in a standing position for seven days at a stretch to deprive them of sleep. TDCJ does things a bit different. They have what’s called the “Intensive Cell Searches” wherein an inmate cell is searched every hour of the day and night subsequent to that offender assaulting a guard. This little program goes on for months at a time right here on the Polunsky Unit. For those of us who walk out the front door, TDCJ has “Intensive Cell Moves.” For my first five years of solitary confinement in the concrete box, I was required to exchange cells with another inmate at least once every 72 hours. With more than 17 years of Solitary Confinement or Administrative Segregation now done, I graduated to cell moves once every two weeks. Why is moving around a big deal? Try moving into a different cell behind a mentally ill inmate who leaves special little treasures of poop in the cell. I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. That’s a great combination with the poop left behind. (more…)