First posted by Dallas Morning News
This blog post is written by Pamela Skjolsvik, a blogger and author currently finishing her first book, Death Becomes Us. A resident of Bedford, she earned a master's degree in 2010 from Goucher College in Maryland. Her writing has been included in Creative Nonfiction, the Durango Herald, and in the upcoming Ten Spurs literary journal from the University of North Texas.
After the Day of Innocence march and rally at the Capitol, day four of the Alternative Spring Break was low key. Along with the four exonerees who were brought to Austin by www.witnesstoinnocence.org to speak about their lives, we attended a showing of "Incendiary" a new documentary about Todd Cameron Willingham's case. This powerful film by Austin filmmakers Steve Mims and Joe Bailey is playing at SXSW and will be showing again tomorrow. In the film there is commentary from both sides, including Willingham's defense attorney who was and is still convinced that his client was guilty of murder.
There is also footage in the film of Barry Sheck, a New York attorney who started the Innocence Project (www.innocenceproject.org), speaking to the newly appointed forensics commission. I'd heard of Sheck. In fact I recently saw Peter Gallagher portray Sheck in a Hollywood film called "Conviction" with Hillary Swank. So I was like, wow, there he is and Peter Gallagher looks nothing like him.
Anyway, Albert Burrell, one of the exonorees was seated next to me in the theater. During Sheck's impassioned speech in the film, Mr. Burrell tapped me on the arm and said, "That was my lawyer." He said this like a kid pointing out his really cool older brother. I don't know if Sheck really was his attorney, but it got me thinking. Nobody believed in this man. He was locked away, forgotten and headed for an execution. How would I feel if I were treated that way?
I don't know a lot of statistics or studies, but I do know that the death penalty tends to polarize people. Either you are for it or you against it. The middle ground seems to be missing. I would imagine that the reason many haven't given much thought about the death penalty is because they feel it doesn't concern them. If you're a human being, it does.
If I've learned anything from attending this Alternative Spring Break, it is this -- if you believe in a cause, you have to act. And don't be discouraged because your views don't necessarily jibe with popular opinion. Take a look at our history books. Again and again there are incidences of people opposing popular opinion and changing the world for the better. Call me kooky, but I don't think that it's right for our government to kill people for killing people to show that killing people is wrong.