• Scott

Perspectives on a Connotation

Absurdities come with existing on Death Row. I do not mean all the usual antics you would expect of the depraved and mentally challenged one has to interact with in this environment. Nor am I referring to the actual prisoners who reside here who have their own issues – but what I do speak of are the moments that stay with you, that truly impress upon your mind that what you just witnessed cannot be so.

A friend taught me a German expression: "Ich glaub' mein Schwein pfeift". If I said that correctly and used it in the right context, it should mean perfectly what I am expressing here.

A lot of us in here share one or both lawyers assigned to our cases, so on occasion multiple client visits are scheduled at the same time, and because of that it seems akin to watching a game of musical chairs with those people.

On one particular day I saw one of my lawyers get off the elevator hand in hand with an unknown lady who would soon be identified as an attorney for another death row prisoner. They were smiling and literally skipping together to the area with their client. The ecstatic emotions on display were because they had come to share the news that their successful arguments in court had condemned their client to a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Now, being scared to die is understandable, to some degree, and for some being in prison until they are old and feeble is a better alternative to being executed. Or is it? And should it really be cause for celebration? It seems that depends on your perspective.

As long as it doesn't affect your situation you don't want to begrudge another their choice in the matter, however irrational it seemingly is. What does affect you however is seeing an attorney designated to represent your appeal so overjoyed with not getting someone out of prison. You just have to ask yourself why that is.

On two different occasions I have heard two different directors of the Center fpr Death Penalty Litigation state their position and belief on the matter. One saying that "it is not their job to get them out of prison", the other, and present director, telling me in person that she "admires those of you who have accepted the way things are, and have made the best life they can in prison, as opposed to those who constantly obsess over getting back into court to have their appeals heard".

When you hear, and are told things like that by the very people your inexperienced and all too often undereducated legal representatives go to for advisement, should there be hope or cause for celebration?

Relatively recently (a handspan of years), another phenomenon strange to me has occurred with all too much frequency. Death Row prisoners giddy with the opportunity and result of signing a paper that their attorney and and the State Attorney General have so benevolently offered – and that says that by signing they accept a life sentence without parole (LWOP) and will then not be able to pursue any appeal. So in essence they voluntarily submit to growing old and dying in prison, while surrendering any argument, and are elated with the prospect of it.

Before the current moratorium, on the eve of an execution, the staff would bring in food and drink for a party, and openly exhibit, in general, a gay and festive mood. Some of these same people we interact with on a daily basis will also be the ones who escort us to the death chamber, restrain us, then proceed to murder us. For "Homicide" is the official cause written on the death certificate.

So it seems a celebration in the staffroom is one of the rewards for a good days work here, and the "just doing my job", or "Just following orders", which is what we here often enough to associate it with their reasoning for what and why they do what they do. But, if I am not mistaken, aren't those the some of the same reasonings given during the Nuremberg trials? For me at least, neither signing away your means of appeal nor conducting a State sanctioned murder is cause for celebration. Yet, and sadly enough, I have been witness to both, and so both of these are among my reasons to fight and resist.

Because of this will to resist, my "capacity to proceed" has recently been called into question. Now, if the State goes on to determine that I cannot decide what my own interests are then some will have cause for celebration themselves.

These esteemed and highly respected court functionaries will gleefully declare a victory, because they have succeeded in suppressing someones resistance to their cause. for celebration. Am I the one confused here, or should their capacity to proceed, and the morality behind it, be called into question?

Artwork by Lucinda Devlin.

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