Category Archives: Guest Features

WHAT THE DEATH PENALTY HAS DONE TO ME – Christy Armell

August 30th, 2007 will forever be engraved in my mind. This is the day that the state of Texas was going to execute my friend Kenneth Foster. I remember going to bed the night before, with Kenneth’s letters right beside me thinking I may never get another letter from him. How could this be happening? How could this country that I live in want kill someone that I cared for? I remember waking up that morning in tears. I paced the floors, calling people, emailing, screaming the injustice that was going to take place that very day. I reached out to anyone who would listen to me. I held my 13 year old daughter tight, somehow helping me feel closer to my friend. My daughter looked at me and told me everything will be ok. As she dressed for school, she vowed to fast in protest of the state sanctioned murder of my friend. Seems her silent protest may have helped save Kenny’s life.

I don’t remember anything else Adam Axel said to me when he phoned me mid morning on August 30th, 2007 except that Kenny’s sentence had been commuted. I screamed so loud my neighbors came by to see if I was ok. Answering the door in tears of joy, I responded my friend will live, my friend will live. August 30th, 2007 turned out to be one of the happiest days of my life.

I actually stumbled upon Kenny’s case while researching the death penalty for a class. I am a Criminal Justice student. I decided to write to him in prison. Those letters have continued to this day. I had known, before I met Kenny, that I opposed the death penalty, I just never was able to really vocally say so. Kenny helped me to see that my voice could be and should be heard. I have not stopped using my voice since then.

I really began getting more involved, writing to inmates, and speaking to their families and other activists. I became aware of the pain, the tears, and the cries of help that each case warranted. We were talking about people’s lives. Guilt or innocence never really mattered. This country is killing people in the name of justice. I don’t call that justice, I call that revenge. I became more involved with the death penalty in Texas. My focus remains there today. Texas is the killing capital of the world, when it comes to executions. With over 400 executions in Texas since the death penalty became legal again in 1976, there seems to be a real joy of applying a death sentence to people; even people who have never killed another. Texas has an arcane law called the Law of Parties. The Law of Parties was never meant to be used in capital cases. However, that has changed and men and women are being sent to their deaths for never killing anyone.

The Law of Parties basically states that a person should “anticipate” that a murder will occur. How can anyone anticipate such a thing? Men and women are sitting in prison, convicted under LOP who had no knowledge that a murder would occur, did not conspire to commit a murder, and did not participate it the crime at all. How can Texas justify this? Kenneth Foster was charged under LOP, and his life was spared. Will others?
I have been to Texas. The moment I crossed the border into that state, I could smell the death in the air. Why? Why the death penalty is still considered an appropriate form of punishment? Over 100 men and women have been exonerated from death row in recent years, with valid proof of innocence.
This is enough to tell me that the system is flawed. The death penalty is irreversible. I do not want the blood of an innocent person on my hands. And neither should Texas, or the United States.

While I came into this struggle on a victory of Kenny’s life being saved, I knew that it would not last. However, I was never prepared to lose a friend to state sanctioned murder. Karl Chamberlain was killed by Texas in June 2008. Karl had this amazing smile that would melt your heart. His words did the same. Karl was prepared to die, and was also very remorseful for the crime that he committed. He told me once not to feel sorry for him, but to continue the fight. I go over those words in my mind everyday. The day of Karl’s execution will also be forever etched in my mind. June 11th, 2008. The day Texas killed my friend. I frantically was on the phone to people in Texas who were outside the gates of the killing chamber in Huntsville Texas. I was also on the phone with Joey, a pen pal of mine who was just released from Texas Department of Corrections. I had grown to love Joey very much, and I called on him to watch the news there and to tell me anything that was being said about Karl. I was in tears and completely distraught.
When the news came down that Karl had indeed been executed all I could do was cry and wonder when will it stop? When will this country stop creating more victims? I certainly was a victim that day, as well as all of Karl’s family and friends. We lost someone we loved. I closed down the computer, turned off the phone and thought of Karl, and his mother, who was protesting outside of Huntsville while her son was being murdered just feet away from her.

The next day, I received a letter from Karl. It was the usual upbeat letter, telling me to press forward, to fight for those who others have forgotten or just chose not to hear. Karl was looking down on me, as he is today. The sadness will remain from losing Karl, but the fight will continue. I fight for Kenny who lived, and I fight for Karl who died. I fight for the mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and children who love unconditionally. I fight for what the death penalty has done to me, and what it may one day do to you.

HOW THE DEATH PENALTY HAS AFFECTED HUMANITY – Donna Siepiela

On the day that Timothy Mc Veigh was executed, I looked to my husband and said “What a waste! Now how are we going to learn to prevent that from happening again?
Humanity has wasted too much time and energy on vengeance when it should be focusing on prevention!
Why are we not learning from convicted criminals instead of destroying them? Why not find out what is different about them?”
Studies have shown that the death penalty is not a deterrent to murder as was once thought. States that did not have the death penalty and which later added it to their laws showed no decrease in the murder rate. As a matter of fact, the murder rate actually goes up following a highly publicized execution. So why did we start executing criminals?
Almost 4000 years ago, a Babylonian King named Hammurabi decreed a code of laws that included the phrase ‘An eye for an eye’. This made it legal for a person who had killed a human being to be killed. Since that time, we have progressed, but not by much. We no longer put a person to death if they have killed someone by accident and some states find it unacceptable to kill a person who is mentally ill, or too young, or too mentally deficient to understand. But our understanding of human behavior and physiology has progressed since the time of Hammurabi. Science has progressed, but the laws have not. It’s time we changed our philosophies and upgraded the system. We now know about such scientific facts as the violent effects of overproduction of estrogen in males, the effects of alcohol on the human brain, the many problems with neural transmitters, Impulse Control Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and the effects of child abuse and neglect.
We know that tests taken on male prison populations have shown that the great majority of inmates have an over abundance of estrogen in their systems. An excess of estrogen in males directly results in violent behavior. We have treatments for hormone imbalance these days. Could simple testing and treatment have prevented more crimes then police protection?
We know that 95% of all violent crimes are alcohol related. One conviction for an alcohol related crime should be enough for a person to lose the right to drink alcohol. What would it take to put a little mark on a person’s ID so that store and bar owners would know not to sell them any alcohol? This one simple change in
American philosophy could end prison overcrowding and clear the courts to a manageable level! And what about child abuse and neglect as a factor in crime? The facts show that there is a direct relationship. Yet people still hesitate to report child abuse. States still don’t give child protection agencies the funds necessary to protect and care for all children.
High schools still don’t teach classes on child development and the proper care of children. Every day children in this country are beaten, raped, used to commit crimes, and starved. And we wonder why there are so many juvenile delinquents!
Impulse Control Disorder is an illness that prevents people from controlling their impulses. It is caused by problems with the neurotransmitters in the brain and is connected with a great deal of anti-social behavior from stealing to pyromania to many other reasons.
For example: A small child hits his little brother.
His mother asks him,“ What happens when you hit your little brother?“
“I have to sit for time out,” he replies.
The child is aware of the consequences of hitting, yet the impulse to hit has overshadowed the knowledge of the consequences. In most people, maturity leads to better impulse control. But some people do not develop the mental processes that would give them that control for a long time. The result is that such people know what will result if they commit a crime, yet the impulse is too strong for them to control and they fail to mentally process the results of their action such as going to prison. This is a treatable disorder. Testing for this disorder should be done on inmates to determine exactly how common it is and treatment given to prevent further crimes. I suspect a high number of prison inmates have this disorder as studies show that the older a criminal gets, the less likely they are to commit new crimes.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder comes from problems with the neurotransmitters in the brain also. Sufferers are plagued by ideas/thoughts that are not founded on fact or reality. Again, testing for this disorder should be done on inmates and treatment should be given.
And where would the money for this testing and treatment some from? It cost THREE TIMES as much to execute a person on death row as it does to keep them alive for life. By eliminating the death penalty and introducing mandatory participation in research, we would not only save taxpayers millions PER convict, but we would have the opportunity to learn to prevent future crimes. The death penalty is not doing what it was intended to do. It is not deterring people from murder. Why hang on the death penalty, something to prevent murder and violent crime, then? We have full prisons in every state with people we could be learning from now to prevent future crimes! I’m sure that many would volunteer for such research.
Another thing about the death penalty: about the mistakes. The science of DNA is proving that an unacceptably large percentage of those on death row are/were innocent of the crimes they were convicted of!
Over and over again we hear of how DNA results sent home someone from death row ho was totally innocent.
In Oklahoma, 294 people were sentenced to death between 1973 and 1999 and of theses there were 128 cases where the sentence or conviction was overturned for a multitude of reasons. That’s a 43.9% reversal rate!
I’m sorry, but “Oops!” does not justify the execution of so many innocent people!
To those of you who cry for justice: There is none. Nothing brings back a murder victim regardless if they were murdered by a criminal or the state. Nothing can undo a rape. The one thing we CAN do is to study criminals and learn to prevent future crimes. So why aren’t we doing that? No price could be put on the lives that could be saved.
If your child had one of these disorders, wouldn’t you rather see him/her get early testing and treatment BEFORE he/she committed some violent crime?
Knowing the scientific facts leads one to believe that the death penalty is primitive, barbaric and counterproductive.

“WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING” – TONY FORD

Being here in this hell really affords me a lot of time to think. Some people think that I think too much. But, I can’t help it. I am introspective and I believe that this is the only way that I can grow and develop from the mistakes that I make in life. I don’t think that it is productive to keep repeating the same mistakes over and over. How do you grow
doing that? Some things do need to be done in repetition, for the sake of perfection. But, if mistakes are repeated, does this mean that one becomes more perfect in their mistakes?
Well, a lot is going on here. But, that is to be expected when you live within a prison environment. Things happen and not all of it good. But, there are some good things going on that I believe are being missed by a lot of people who tend not to pay attention to death row or the things that go on here, UNLESS they are happening to someone here who has a lot of outside support. Or someone who is supported by a certain group or organization. But, what of those who don’t have that type of support? The type of supporters who will take the things that that person does to fight against the death penalty and to fight for justice in their case, and publicize these things.

 

Anyway, good things are happening, and I look forward to more good things transpiring, such as the protest that has been going on periodically when someone has been unfortunate enough to have advanced to the point of that final day
of life here on earth. The bad thing is no one seems to be really paying attention. Not the news organizations – whether mainstream or underground independent media. Nor does it seem that those who supported those who have been slain by this state, have taken these mens’ final stance and advanced it to the public view. So, in a sense, I am pissed. I am also disappointed. But, let me go back and explain what it is that I am first talking about ok?

 

Last year when I had a December 7th execution date, I started a passive non-violent protest against my execution. Even when my execution date was modified to March 14th of this year, I continued to protest. Now, please understand my doing this caused much distress. You see most people will just ride out their remaining time eat as much as they can, have their last visits, etc… and try and make like everything is ok, not withstanding the fact that the state has it in their minds to murder them. All in the name of justice… In the name of the people… Well, for me, this has NEVER been ok. And it never will be. I cannot fathom anyone thinking that it would be ok to murder anyone.

 

And, being here, especially for those who are innocent, how could anyone ever think they could make this ok??? To not resist? I am not talking violence. I am talking simple resistance against something that is so unjust. Something that is so wrong. And my view has always been this: Look I am not in some hospital bed. I am not dying of terminal cancer or some other incurable disease or illness. This state is saying that it will KILL me. And unless something positive happens, then they will. So what I need is people who will stand with and by me, as I struggle for my life. That has been my stance from day ONE. And I know that such a stance runs counter to how so many people have perceived fighting the death penalty…
I remember when I first heard about how people protested someone being killed by the state of Texas you know, the candlelight vigils? I was like, “you’re kidding right?!” Now that might sound “cold”. But I just couldn’t understand how someone could just stand by and let an execution take place!! I mean you have people who will chain themselves together to save a TREE. Or to save some animals from being killed or abused You have people who will go all out in front of clinics they believe have certain drugs that can help them. But for us here, you light a candle?????!!! So, no I didn’t understand it. While the ideas and actions are appreciated, I just didn’t get why there was no more action than that to truly let the people know that no state should be killing its citizens. But, I guess you would have to be a fly on the wall to truly understand how such low key dissent affects us here. Again, it is appreciated. But, nothing more???

Then I, along with some other brothers here, namely Ponchai “Kamau” Wilkerson, Emerson “Young Lion” Rudd, and a few others thought, “Well MAYBE the struggle out there is not vocal and demonstrative because we back here are doing nothing!” So, we set about trying to do something to show that we are not just talking a good game. That we are dedicated to this struggle. And that we would lead by example. Well, after being beaten across the head, and having countless precious personal property items destroyed – humiliations worse than what already goes on – we still didn’t garner the support we thought would come from our actions I mean I have been run in on and beaten, along with the aforementioned brothers and countless others. I have seen Howard “L.D.” Guidry (who thank God is back on a retrial!) carried down the hall like a log for refusing to walk, while he was doing his share in protesting the abuse back on the Ellis unit. Seeing brother Shaka Sankofa (Gary Graham) have his property destroyed because he would dare to expose what was going on back here on death row. Seeing Willie McGinnis starve almost to death as he did his leg of the hunger strikes to protest inhumane conditions and executions. Brothers beaten and gassed for daring to take a stance and lead in those things that we felt would galvanise the people to the cause Only, this had the opposite affect. Instead, we were abandoned wholesale. We were told to “chill”. To not “cause any trouble”. This, despite the fact we were getting beaten and humiliated regardless!

 

BUT, we felt that peaceful non-violent protest would be something that was “safe”. It was also a way of protesting that we chose because we know we are not those monsters that we are portrayed to be. So, random acts of hurting other human beings was not even an option. The question was, and always has been, WHAT could we do to gain the much needed support from the outside? To show you that we are with you, and hopefully you are with us, as we do REAL activism against the death penalty – on par with other struggles and movements of dissatisfied peoples, who are oppressed and abused and ignored in their grievances against their governments.

 

Well, the things that we have been doing down here in Texas are things that I have heard coming from any other death rows across this country. Maybe this is censorship against the activities of these other death rows. But one thing that got me really excited was listening to an interview on “Democracy Now” (Amy Goodman) with California death row inmate Kevin Cooper. He stated for all the world to hear that “I (he) will not participate in the sick and twisted practice of state sanctioned murder”…., that “I will not do anything violent, but I will not do anything either to help them kill me…” Hearing this was to hear the greatest thing I ever heard from a death row prisoner. Until then I had no knowledge of who Kevin Cooper was. But his words resonated deep within me, and I reflected on the strugglers down here in Texas. So, when my execution date approached I was determined that I would not help them in this process of death…. of murder. So, on November 2nd 2005 I began my protest. And this protest brought others
out to stand with me in solidarity, they being: Rob Will, Gabriel Gonzales, Andre Simpson, Kenneth Foster, Reginald Blanton and Robert Woodard. They all participated in passive non-violent resistances with me experiencing all the hardships and pain that the administration inflicted upon us. But, we didn’t break. We stood strong. And this galvanized other men who had execution dates.
And so, Shannon “Big Tank” Thomas and Marion Dudley lay down in protest on their execution dates! Big Tank’s people even protested out in the visitation area and ran across the grounds yelling their dissent against his execution date! Where was their support? The support for their actions and sacrifice? Then, Tommie Hughes protested nonviolently.

 

Again, where was his outside support? Tee had ALWAYS been involved with protest back here. And so I KNOW that people out there knew this brave man to be a warrior who stood up for what he believed in, and could not accept the injustice being done against him even if his death sated the thirst for blood of those who called for his murder! Then Timothy Titsworth. He likewise lay down in protest. He wasn’t trying to claim innocence. But that his life was precious and that his life was worth something, and that KILLING IS WRONG! And who can forget the brave stance Lamont Reese made? His protest, along with that of his mother who yelled out “They are killing my baby!” as she watched them murder her child, made it onto CNN and MSNBC!!! And the actions of Mauriceo Brown who also lay down in protest!! And lastly William “Motown” Wyatt!!

 

ALL these men made a stance against injustice. No matter what was felt about them or their cases. They made a brave stance and little or nothing is said about it… WHERE IS THE SUPPORT? I don’t know, but I do know that here on the row those men slain by the state have support. It just baffles me that when we read the anti death penalty newletters NOTHING is said about these men at all!! So this makes me wonder, are all our actions in vain? Why don’t those who purport to be fighting for the end of this death penalty stand up and support our actions more vocally than they have? Stop standing on the sidelines allowing us to be killed without bringing light to our actions.
Anyway, these are some of the things that have been going on down here…. while you were sleeping.

 

Tony Egbuna Ford
August 9th 06