“There is no question in my mind at all that the death penalty has no place in a civilized society. We cannot, as human beings who are imperfect and in a system that is imperfect, try to come out with a perfect solution.”
-Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Gerald Kogan
I couldn't agree more with Justice Gerald Kogan's statement as talks continue to take place about the upcoming execution here at San Quentin. This announcement is so unexpected, a real surprise to everyone on death row. For the past several years news on the death penalty was looking favorable or rather promising, with more details coming to light, for example that the execution methods are in fact violating the Eight and Fourteenth Amendments (cruel and unusual punishment). Let's not forget that murder in any form, whether unlawful or under the false pretense of the law is immoral. It demonstrates a lack of respect for human life. That is to be respected.
Such unforeseen news caused many to have a reality check, including myself. Don't get me wrong. I awaken every day knowing I'm sitting in Death Row, knowing the government is set out to kill me and many others who find themselves in my situation. Yet, I was never present
to witness the ripple effect the news has, to see the changes in everyone's demeanors. That's… well, a mind-boggling experience.
Everyone took the news differently. Of course the prison reacted by tightening up security, briefing their staff to watch for certain changes in our demeanors, to be on alert for everything. It's pretty
intense for everyone. Psychologists make their presence known, walking the tiers more often, and attempting to evaluate us all. But there's something they'll never be able to detect, as some couldn't handle the news of executions resuming once again. So, in the hour that no one was looking, they decided to hang themselves. Unsuccessfully, that goodness! Some chose to distance themselves. Some remained silent being ever so vigilant to the occurrence taken place. Some prayed or held prayer calls in attempts to keep everyone hopeful. Some remained indifferent, or just acted like it was no big thing. Few talked about what their last hours might be like, if they'll go willingly or fight till the end. While others joked, laughed and discussed what they'll ask for in their last meal.
If you ask me, these individuals need serious help. There are indications that solitary confinement us having a psychological affect on them. I've seen it numerous times. It starts off with senseless
laughter or rambling. Then enters depression led by huge outcry for help and attention. Usually by acting out, banging on walls, toilets, doors, or even screaming obscenities until their lungs go out. After their outcries go unheeded comes the suicide attempts. Believe me, I've lived amongst these men. I've seen the deteriorating of many people. Simply being in the hole is a psychological challenge. Add the extra weight of having the death sentence hanging above your head and you're just asking for an emotional breakdown. I see this on a daily basis and I wonder what this man is going through. What it would be like to receive a slip, stating when you'll die and when will be the hour of your last breath.
For me, the news discombobulated me, saddened me, depressed me, angered and worried me. It's always a sad, depressing time when someone is about to be murdered, under the false pretence of the law. I'm angry because I can't do anything to stop it. I'm just one man in this world I've come to call Death Dormitories, attempting to give everyone a glimpse into my world, my mind and my soul. Hopefully it is enough to shed light on this important issue. What worries me is that this will be the beginning of many more executions. There's a waiting list and at least seven hundred and three more of us, trying to survive this ordeal. We're dependent on overworked, underpaid lawyers and the very system that placed us here. The outcome doesn't look too good, but everyday another individual joins the fight to abolish the death penalty. Everyday another person becomes aware of the injustice and inhumanity occurring behind these walls. And every day we get closer to our objective that's to stop capital punishment, this inhumane practice, and the injustice going on here. That's my hope, the core I draw my strength from.
For today, or the rest of the year, there will be no executions. Not because the government decided to act humane. No, not of that reason, but simply because the poison they were going to use expired. Maybe that will give the guy's legal team enough time to defend him properly and save his life. Until then his life hangs in the balance including ours. It's not about the crimes that lead to the death sentence being handed sown, no. It's about being the example, being humane. You never know when an innocent man might be wrongly convicted in this imperfect
system. But we can start taking steps in being the examples of a just and humane nation, like so many others have. The San Quentin Medical Administration have taken that step. Maybe the guards will as well.
One step at a time. Until then, stay strong and continue pushing
forward. Thank you.
Peace, kindness and love.
Since 1996, The Beat Within’s mission is to provide incarcerated youth with consistent opportunity to share their ideas and life experiences in a safe space that encourages literacy, self-expression, some critical thinking skills, and healthy, supportive relationships with adults and their community. Outside of the juvenile justice system, The Beat Within partners with community organizations and individuals to bring resources to youth (between the ages of 11 -17) both inside and outside of detention. We are committed to being an effective bridge between youth who are locked up and the community that aims to support their progress towards a healthy, non-violent, and productive life. The following pieces come from our weekly workshops which were recently held in one the 18 juvenile detention facilities – from Hawaii to San Francisco to Washington DC – we venture into each week. From the writings we produce the national publication, The Beat Within. For more information please visit us at www.thebeatwithin.org.