Voices from the Inside

Prisoners speak out

Credit: Students against the Death Penalty
October 2009: Anna Terrel, mother of executed prisoner Reginald Blanton, speaks at the tenth annual Texas March to Stop Executions

It’s a day of death

Danielle Simpson was executed in Texas on November 18, 2009. Rob Will, a Texas death row prisoner and member of the DRIVE Movement, wrote this account of the day.

Another day of death, the second day of the three-day triathlon of death scheduled for this week. Danielle Simpson (a.k.a. “Dre”) is set to die today. 

Since Reg’s execution [Reginald Blanton, put to death on October 28, 2009], I’ve been fighting to remain motivated. It’s hard though. After seeing the initial process of Reg’s murder take place I told myself that for the sake of my sanity, I shouldn’t watch anyone else taken to be executed.  But I know that I need to write about it -- people on the outside need to know what goes on here. So, here I am once again: standing on top of my folded-up mattress, looking out of my little 3-inch window.  As I’ve said before, almost all of the cells on this building offer a view of some part of the process of executions. One cell might allow the occupant to see a person going to and from his last visits on the day he is scheduled to die. Another cell may allow a person to see the friends and family of a condemned man on their way to visit him for the last time. From my cell -- which has a rather restricted overall view -- I can see the death van come in, park and load people up to be carried off to execution.

Most guys here refuse to look out of their window on execution dates. Quite an attractive option, but one I cannot chose -- my conscience compels me to do otherwise.  People on the outside need to be informed about the nature of this environment and the system of capital punishment in general. So here I am, with my pen grasped tight in my hand -- a battle-ax of Truth, issuing forceful blows to the dark shroud of ignorance  and injustice that surround this system.

It’s 11:35 a.m. and I’m looking out of my window, talking to my neighbor, who I’ve convinced to partake in this venture with me.

11:46 a.m. An officer just wheeled a wheelchair out to the visitation. This was done in case Dre decides to refuse to submit to the demands of his execution and refuses to participate in his own murder. The vast majority of people who say that they’re going to protest their own execution end up not doing so. I think Dre may be an exception.  We’ll see soon enough.

11:53 a.m. The death van is here. It just parked outside of the death row building, and an officer opened its back doors -- great hinged jaws, waiting patiently to swallow up another victim.

I was just reminded of the fact that Dre is an execution “volunteer.” He voluntarily gave up his appeals. I read the court filings concerning this as well as something Dre wrote about why he decided to refuse his last  appeals options. Dre did so because he felt that he no longer could endure the “cruel and unusual punishment” of this environment. I’m reminded of a remark Schopenhauer made in his short essay On Suicide: “It will generally be found that where the terrors of Life come to outweigh the terrors of death, a man will put an end to his Life.”

The conditions of this environment, like an undefeatable band of perfidious little ghostly goblins, can indeed terrorize a person’s psyche -- gnawing away at his sanity with razor-sharp, piranha-like teeth.  One can imagine Dre’s consciousness lurking about in a state of limbo in a dank dark swamp of despair, being constantly attacked from all angles by ghoulish hordes. An outline of a door appears etched in warm light. A soothing voice is heard emanating from the glow of the door: “I am Death. I am release. Come to me and end your anguish.”

11:56 a.m. The Emergency Response Team just went out to visitation. Another precautionary measure taken in case Dre resists.  There are cute little birds hopping about on the deadly sharp razor wire on top of the fence in front of the death van.  Beautiful little birds oblivious to the great Beast that sits in their midst, with its treacherous jaws open wide.  Small little cute birds darting vigorously back and forth from wall to fence, from razor wire to rooftop. The type of swift-flying graceful little birds one might enjoy watching and hearing sing their harmonious songs during an outing on a nice day at the park, a day full of Life and filled with the beauty of nature.

The foot-thick concrete walls and inches-thick, double plexiglass window prevent me from hearing their song.  And today certainly isn’t a day full of Life. It’s a day of Death, a day of state-sponsored murder. 

12:14 p.m. The gate coming from visitation just opened. Ah-ha! They’re bringing Dre into the building in a wheelchair!

Thus spoke the Soul of Rosa Parks: “Sometimes you have to sit down to stand up!”

They just wheeled Dre back into the Death Row building so they can fully chain him down with extra shackles, belly-chain and security box before putting him in the van. Reg was the first person to protest his own execution in like two years, and now, only three weeks later, Dre is doing the same!

12:27 p.m. The gate leading to the death van just opened. Dre’s coming out of the building in a wheelchair fully chained up.  They just put him in the death van. Good old Dre! -- engaging in a righteous act of direct-action protest on the day he is scheduled to die.

The death van just pulled off with Dre inside. Although I’m not one who seeks to impose my morality upon others -- and I certainly believe in the right of self-determination -- I don’t wish to see anyone give up their appeals. But if they do so, I certainly think that they, like Dre, should protest their own execution. Everyone who is going to be executed should refuse to participate in the process!

From Texas Death Row, With Strength and Love: Rob Will

Rob can be reached at:
Robert G. Will #999402
Polunsky Unit
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351

He blogs at freerobwill.blogspot.com


Kevin Cooper: I’m down but not out

On November 30, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s denial of Kevin Cooper’s appeal. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was bitterly divided. An unprecedented 103-page dissent signed by five judges warned that “the State of California may be about to execute an innocent man.”

This is a terrible injustice, but we must continue to fight. The lethal injection challenge prevents the state from immediately setting an execution date. But the state’s intent is to restart executions in California -- and to execute Kevin. You can learn more about Kevin’s case and get involved by going to www.savekevincooper.org, calling 510-333-7966 or sending an e-mail to california@nodeathpenalty.org.

Below is a statement from Kevin Cooper about the Supreme Court decision.

My Friends & Comrades,

While I am somewhat down concerning the U.S. Supreme Court not taking my case on appeal, I am not out. Down, but not out!!! I, and some of you, have been down this road before, only with less to work with than we have now.

If you read the press release by my lead attorney Norman Hile (available at www.savekevincooper.org), then you know that he and his law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe haven’t given up either. Nor will they give up on me, or us in this fight!

We now have a plan, and that is to get Eric Holder, the U.S. attorney general, on this case. We must help in any way that we can. We must come up with new ideas and strategies. I will do my part in all of this because after all, it is me who will be strapped down and tortured, and then murdered by the state if we lose.

Please know that I am strong and upbeat and positive! I look forward to this upcoming battle, and I plan on winning.

With your continued help and support, I don’t see why we can’t win in the long run. After all, we do have a great deal of Truth and Evidence on our side.

I thank each and every one of you for all that you have already done, and all that you will do in this fight for my life.

With respect and appreciation,
Your friend and comrade…
Kevin Cooper


“I believe in the people”

As the New Abolitionist went to print, the U.S. Supreme Court remanded back to the lower court a ruling that had been favorable in the case of Mumia Abu Jamal. In 2008 Mumia had won a new sentencing hearing but prosecutors appealed that decision. In ruling in favor of the prosecution, the case is now being sent back to the Third US Circuit Court of Appeals where they have been instructed to “reconsider the issue.” This is yet another infuriating setback for Mumia.

Here is Mumia speaking with Amy Goodman from Democracy Now! in April 2009.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you hold out any hope for President Obama in the world today, and also in your own case?

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: I have held out hope for the people, because I believe in the people, because the people make change. If the people don’t organize and protest, then no change will happen. It doesn’t matter who is sitting in what office or in what judgeship or whatever. And that’s just a fact. That’s just the truth.  Several weeks ago, a reporter in the New Yorker wrote an article, and I found it quite remarkable…It illustrated quite convincingly to me how people are tortured all across the United States in almost every state of the union every day.

People are driven crazy. People are subjected to all kinds of vile and violent and vicious treatment, and they’re driven out of their minds by solitary confinement.  We can all celebrate the impending closing of Guantánamo, but there are Guantánamos in almost every state of the union, and have been for, I think, several decades now.

I think that’s the next phase -- people want to understand how to change this draconian system that we have in this country. That can be done, but people need to be aware of it, and people need to struggle for it, and they need to fight for it. Without struggle, there is no progress.

Frederick Douglass was right. 

Mumia Abu-Jamal, #AM 8335
175 Progress Drive
Waynesburg, PA 15370