Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Prison Board to Have Open comments this Thursday

Dear Fellow Activists,

On Thursday, the Texas Board of Criminal Justice will be meeting in Austin and this is one of only two times each year when the public can address this board on any issue they choose. the next one is in July.

This board controls the lives of all those in Texas prisons. This is the board that is denying the men on death row simple things like TV's, a work program, piddling in their cells, religious services, group recreation and so much more. When the rest of the system gets telephones next fall, death row will not be included.

We all know that ever since the men were sent to the Polunsky Unit, things have gone from bad to worse.

The Abolition Movement would like to ask you, particularly those living in Austin, to join us at the board meting on Thursday and speak out about conditions on death row.

Also, Kenneth Foster is in need of help on the McConnell Unit. If no one from Austin or San Antonio can go and speak for Kenneth, please let us know and we will see who from the Abolition Movement can do this. I hope his father or grandfather could come. That would be best!
We have to sign in and give the topic we wish to speak about by 8:45. At 9AM the board will begin its meeting, We cannot all put down death row conditions, so pick a small point of what you want to say and use that. If there are a lot of people speaking on one subject, they will ask for one representative to represent the group.

They cover many boring items, like congratulating someone for this or that and committee reports. but it goes fast as they are all on a per diem and want to have the rest of the day free! Never goes beyond 11AM or noon.

But on this agenda, there is actually something related to death row: something about changing or amending the authorized witnesses to an execution. Don't know what this is about?????

If you can get off work or school, please join the Abolition Movement at 8:45 Thursday. The meeting is at the Austin Hilton Hotel, 400 East 4th Street. We are sending out a press advisory about people speaking out for those on death row. I have emails for Nokia and the Statesman and the Austin Chronicle. If someone has TV and radio or someone else, send it please.

You can see the agenda at the board's web site. Go to www.tdcj.state.tx.us and click on ORGANIZATION and then go down and click on OVERSIGHT and the first item will be the Texas Board of Criminal Justice. Also on this web page www.tdcj.state.tx.us where it says "Quick Links" you can click on the last item which is "Public Presentation and Comments" and you can see the elaborate rules they have to keep any of us from disrupting the decorum of thier "business as usual" meeting.

Hope to see some of you Thursday.

(We will have copies of the resolution that many of us are introducing at Democratic Party Senate District Conventions this Saturday. If you can help with this, also let me know. Even some of us who think the Democrats are just another imperialist party have gotten elected delegates so we can push this resolution for abolition in Texas.)

In struggle,

for the Abolition Movement

Monday, March 24, 2008

Message & Call to Action from Kenneth Foster

March 18, 2008
Dear Friends,

I know that many of you have been waiting for some official words from me since I’ve been at my new Unit. And I apologize for the delay. I had hoped, when I made my first journal, that I could bring some good news. Of course the good news remains that I’m here and have the chance to keep this fight going. And that will forever be. But, life goes on and so does the struggle. We look back and have inspiration, we look forward with aspirations.

Well, as many of you know I was waiting to see if I would be placed in a higher level as the current level I’m on is not that much different from the way I was housed on death row. The main difference is that I recreate with a group of men and we sometimes eat together in our day room. Other than that it remains the same that I’m confined to a cell 22 hours a day, but this time with somebody.

When I got here in September and was reviewed I was told that if I did 3 months with no disciplinary cases that I would be reviewed for the next level. Unfortunately we went on a lock down from November 13th – December 31st. So, that review did no happen, but I was told that it wouldn’t happen, because the “higher ups” wanted the mandatory 6 months. It was already January when I was told that, so 2 more months was no big deal. However, when you deal with this system for long enough you learn to catch vibes from those that smile in your face. You learn to read their language and delays turn into denials. I know that program well.

My 6 months rolled up on this day (March 18th) and I went for that review. You guessed it- DENIED! I had pretty much felt that was going to happen. One thing that you will learn about TDC (and this system, period) is that there is no TRUE protocol. As we say- “They make it up as they go.” As with the entire System it’s with TDC- every year there’s new rules and the powers that be are always above them, manipulate them and utilize them how they want.

I was told that they want me to do a full year on this level. Is that written in protocol? Yes! Do they bend it when they want to? Yes! Since I’ve been here I’ve seen them bring men up for their next level in 6 months. I’ve astoundingly seen them raise men up even when they had disciplinary cases. I’ve seen that happen with 3 people thus far. So, I basically see them do what they want for whatever reasons they choose.

I’m not going to get on my political conspiracy/political retaliation theories. I’m also not going to walk with my head down about it. Dealing with snakes in the grass is nothing new to me and fighting is nothing new to me. The only thing this Administration did was put themselves further into my scopes. I’ve already began to take action against them for what’s going on with our recreation. Those problems continue (in fact, at the time of this writing I have not had recreation for the last 4 days straight. We did another lock down from February 27th-March 13th and during the month of February we only got a total of 4 days of recreation). The only thing they are doing is engaging me in battle with them. And I don’t mind. I was bred for that. I had hoped to be able to move forward with my life, but they’re not going to make that simple for me. It’s nothing new about knowing these people are provokers. They create problems and punish people when they stand up for themselves.

As of now I have dedicated my protest to the pen. IF we were getting the recreation we were due it wouldn’t be so bad. Thus far I have begun to have letters sent to politicians. I had some drawn up and I had copies made and I passed them out to the inmates in my living area. You will find a copy of that attached below. It’s only a draft. I would ask ALL OF YOU to put something together and send to Senator John Whitmire. By making TDC do the right thing this is the best way we can get back. For all those in Texas and with Texas connections I’d ask you to pass this on. People here must press this issue. If the issue doesn’t get pressed politically we, the prisoners, will be forced to press it physically. That has already happened to one young man here and he was slammed on his head while in handcuffs causing his head to bust open. I am helping him contact politicians and Civil Rights groups and he plans to file a law suit. I’ll help whoever I can.

I deal with these situations by staying busy. When I left death row I said that I wouldn’t stop and I meant that. I don’t want people to worry. If we can beat death row there’s nothing we can’t do. We can do a lot.

What my future holds I cannot say, so I seek to make each day worth living. Because of all my family went through over the past years I will stay focused and will do my best to not fall into any traps. I just ask that those of you that can….stay moving, because you are the wind in my back.

I close this for now, but I close with strength in my heart and vision in my eyes. We’ll talk soon.

From the Struggle,



Senator John Whitmire
803 Yale Street
Houston, TX 77007

Dear Sir-

We come to you today hoping to get your assistance in correcting some injustices going on within some TDCJ institutions. We are aware that you are the Chairman of the Criminal Justice Jurisprudence Committee, thus have jurisdiction over these affairs.

We are very aware of the staff shortage TDC is facing, but we believe that this reason is being used to carry out some abuses at one Unit specifically and that is the McConnell Unit in Beeville.

I am the______________(insert here your relation to the person you are petitioning for)

To__________________ (insert name of that inmate here).

It’s been brought to our attention that the inmates on close custody are being thoroughly neglected. By the TDC Handbook it states that these men are to recreate for 2 hours a day outside and if weather is bad- in the gym. Due to the staff shortage these men have not been getting any recreation at all. Inmates on other levels are being allowed dayroom time. It is true that inmates on other levels are allotted 2 hours outside and several hours in the dayroom. However, the McConnell Administration is using this as an excuse to not recreate Close Custody at all, because they are only allotted outside time and since there is a staff shortage they are being denied recreation completely. We believe this is becoming inhumane treatment. Please keep in mind that these men are housed with someone, thus they are being forced to be in a cell with another person for 24 hours day after day.

Also, on days when they say staff is extremely short these men sometimes don’t get showers and are not fed hot meals- they get a sacked meal. As citizens that pay taxes to the Criminal Justice branch we are very disturbed that our funds are not covering the above issues. We are also concerned with how our family members are being treated. How can they come out better people if they are being treated as less than human?

Grievances have been filed by the inmates on these matters. In the grievances they suggest to the McConnell staff to rotate staff so that at least they could come out of their cells sometimes. This very simple suggestion has not been followed. From February 2nd – February 24th these men came out of their cells only 3 times. And we believe it will only get worse. These men need to come out of there cells for exercise, fresh air, and to get relief from their cell mates. These are not just things which the rule book states they should have, but are basic human decencies.

We come to you and ask you to look into what is going on at McConnell Unit. We understand that McConnell Unit is not the only unit with problems, but the situation there is only worsening. As politicians we would hope that you would want to deter any possible problems, or stresses that could occur from such treatments. We ask you to do what you can so that fair treatment- even if only little due to the circumstances- are carried out.

We look forward to hearing from you regarding progress in this matter. Thank you.

Sincerely Submitted,

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Podcast: Bryan McCann on Debating the Death Penalty

DC Tedrow of The New Texas Radical has published a Podcast of the workshop by Bryan McCann on debating the death penalty. On March 11, 2008, McCann gave a talk at UT-Austin on debating the death penalty, focusing on knowing one's audience, providing a framework for debate, specific death penalty cases, and the state of the capital punishment system today. His presentation was part of the activities at this year's Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break.

You can listen to the Podcast by going to TNTR website.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Spring Break in the Belly of the Beast

Alternet has published an article by UT's Bryan McCann about the 2008 Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break.

By Bryan McCann, AlterNet. Posted March 19, 2008.
At the Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break in Texas, students learn what it takes to fight state killing -- against all odds.

It's easy to pity the Texas death penalty abolitionist. The Lone Star State is widely recognized as the "belly of the beast" when it comes to capital punishment. Since 1982, Texas has executed 405 individuals, more than the rest of the nation combined. Harris County, which includes Houston, would rank second in the nation for executions if it were its own state. Quite simply, no state in the union is more willing to administer lethal injections to the convicted. This would not be possible without broad statewide support for capital punishment, and an accompanying sense of "frontier justice" infused with the specter of Jim Crow.

Organizing against this state killing machine can be grueling -- even devastating. Yet there are reasons to press forward. Take the recent victory in the case of Kenneth Foster, Jr., a man sentenced to death for driving the car occupied by a man named Mauriceo Brown when he shot and killed Michael LaHood, Jr., in 1996. (Yes, sentenced to death for driving a car. Welcome to Texas). We saved Kenneth's life by building a vibrant and well-organized movement that left Gov. Rick Perry with no other choice than to, for the first time in Texas history, grant a commutation on the basis of grass-roots pressure.

Another reason for hope in Texas comes every March in the form of the Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break. Since 2005, high school and college students skip drinking on the beach with their friends to travel to Austin to participate in workshops, lectures and direct actions, all designed to train them to be better advocates for abolishing the death penalty. The annual event was founded by the Texas Moratorium Network and is currently run by Texas Students Against the Death Penalty, with the sponsorship of Campus Progress. Over the years, it has also enlisted the tactical support of legislative aids, lawyers, lobbyists and grassroots activists to help build and run events.

Scott Cobb of the Texas Moratorium Network has compared Spring Break to the Freedom Summers of the Civil Rights era. Like the northern activists who traveled south to fight segregation, Alternative Spring Break participants travel from across the country to ground zero in the death penalty fight, to both learn and contribute to the struggle. The death penalty has been shown time and again to disproportionately impact the poor and ethnic minorities, punish the innocent, and fail to deter crime. As I have told students in the debating workshops I have run in the past couple years, the death penalty is a microcosm of far deeper social problems and should be targeted as such.

Life and death lessons

I first hopped onboard the Alternative Spring Break in 2006. My group, the Campaign to End the Death Penalty (CEDP) accompanied the students to Huntsville, Texas, where a man named Tommie Hughes was scheduled for execution. On the bus down to Huntsville, where all Texas executions are carried out, members of the CEDP engaged the students in a debate about the value of vocal and political protest versus the traditional silent vigils that often take place outside the execution chamber. We all eventually agreed to lead the small crowd outside the Huntsville unit in protest chants up until the moment Hughes was to be killed. When the execution started, we would fall silent out of respect.

Across from the "Walls Unit," where executions are carried out, is the "hospitality" building. This is where the families of the condemned and their witnesses spend the day awaiting the 6 p.m. execution. We watched as Tommie Hughes' family left the small building for the much larger facility where they would watch their loved one die. Less than half an hour later, we watched them walk back. Tommie Hughes was dead. Texas had killed another. The students of the 2006 Alternative Spring Break had seen the reality of state killing up close.

The next year, the 2007 Alternative Spring Break coincided with Senate committee hearings on Texas' "Jessica Law," which would extend the death penalty to convicted child sex offenders. A number of high-profile death penalty opponents, including exonerated prisoners Kerry Max Cook and Shujaa Graham, helped out with the Spring Break and testified before the committee. Students also testified. Though Jessica's Law was eventually passed, the opportunity to speak truth to power in such a way, plus a rally downtown that concluded the spring break, were not in vain. The students who participated gained a real lesson in grassroots struggle through losses and victories.

Spring Break 2008: The case of Rodney Reed

This year's spring break took place between March 10 and March 14, coinciding with important developments in a high-profile Texas death row case. Rodney Reed is a black man who has lived on Texas' death row since 1998, convicted of the rape and murder of a white woman named Stacey Stites. Though a semen DNA sample connects Reed to Stites' body, other evidence in the case strongly implicates a former police officer named Jimmy Fennell, who was engaged to Stites at the time of her death. Several witnesses -- none of whom were called to that stand during the trial -- claim that Reed and Stites were having a consensual sexual affair (explaining the semen sample) at the time she was killed. Fennell, who failed two lie detector tests when asked if he strangled his fiancé, is believed by many to have lashed out at Stites in a jealous rage and then framed Reed for the crime.

The CEDP has organized alongside the family of Rodney Reed for years to win a new trial -- and an upcoming hearing before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals may result in just that. Fennell was recently indicted for kidnapping and raping a woman in his custody. The charges have shined new light on the Reed case and bolstered the defense's claim that Fennell is an explosive, misogynistic and potentially violent individual. For all these reasons, the CEDP and the Alternative Spring Break organizers saw fit to build the week's events around Rodney Reed's case.

On March 12, the spring breakers held a "people's tribunal" in front of the Texas State Capitol. A theatrical event that adopted the form of a court hearing -- complete with a "judge" in a gown and a "prisoner" in stripes -- participants took the microphone and spoke out against capital punishment. People talked about racism, the opposition to state killing by murder victims' families, international human rights standards, and the myth of deterrence, as passersby stopped to listen in. We described the conditions and dimensions of a death row prison cell (six-by-seven feet) to show how "cruel and unusual" begins well before the condemned enters the death chamber.

That night, the students, along with several local activists, made signs and banners for a rally in support of Rodney Reed. Starting in front of the Capitol, the March 13 rally included the Spring Break participants and several local activists. After a march downtown, the group returned to the Capitol to speak some final words into the bullhorn and display their signs for passing traffic. "The turnout wasn't the biggest we've ever seen, but it was vibrant and inspiring," said CEDP activist Lily Hughes. Hooman Hedayati, of the CEDP and Texas Students Against the Death Penalty, called the 2008 Spring Break a success. "A group of energetic students came to Austin to learn to be better activists and were able to pull off a direct action for Rodney Reed."

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals hears the Reed case on March 19, after which it may take as long as it pleases to make a decision. Whether Reed wins a new trial or not, one thing remains certain: The struggle will continue. As I write this, the Supreme Court is determining whether Kentucky's method of lethal injection constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Nationally, more individuals than ever prefer life without parole to the death penalty. We are living in exciting times in the history of American capital punishment. If the students who came to this and previous years' Alternative Spring Breaks left with one lesson, it was hopefully that such change is in no way automatic. Through each loss and victory, a growing number of committed activists do the unglamorous work of attending meetings, making pickets, and fretting about strategic choices. As the students bid goodbye to Austin, one can only hope that they left the belly of the beast with a sense of not only what is possible, but what is necessary to wage an uphill battle against a particularly macabre expression of state power that will not leave the stage of history without a fight.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Broken System – Crying out For Justice

2007 – 2008 National Speaking Tour

In Austin, April 9, 2008
7 PM at UT, The Texas Union
Chicano Culture Room, 4.206

Featuring Mothers of Texas Death Row Prisoners:

Sandra Reed – mother of Rodney Reed
Anna Terrell - mother of Reginald Blanton
Lee Greenwood – mother of Joseph Nichols, killed March 7, 2007

A “Live From Death Row” Event, with a call from a death row prisoner.

Something is wrong. What can we do?
The first step to action is awareness.
Come and hear these voices and together let's fight for justice.

For more info: 494-0667 or cedpaustin@gmail.com

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

People's Tribunal Against the Death Penalty

One of the events during last week's anti-death penalty spring break was the People's Tribunal Against the Death Penalty. During the tribunal, students and members of the public put the death penalty "on trial." It was conducted as a sort of public "trial" at which the "defendant" was the death penalty. At the end judge Stefanie Collins found the death penalty guilty in all counts.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Georgia Supreme Court to Troy Davis: Innocence doesn't matter

Capital Defense Weekly just reported that the Georgia Supreme Court denied a new trial for Troy Davis. According to Karl Keys, "In a sharp 4-3 decision the Georgia Supreme Court denies relief over a strong claim of innocence. The evidence of innocence, the majority holds, comes too late."

For the reasons set forth below, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Davis’s extraordinary motion for new trial without first conducting a trial.. . .

Davis’s extraordinary motion for new trial relied primarily on affidavit testimony consisting of four types, recantations by trial witnesses, statements recounting alleged admissions of guilt by Coles, statements that Coles disposed of a handgun following the murder, and an alleged eyewitness account.

As the Chief Justice notes in dissent:

I believe that this case illustrates that this Court’s approach in extraordinary motions for new trials based on new evidence is overly rigid and fails to allow an adequate inquiry into the fundamental question, which is whether or not an innocent person might have been convicted or even, as in this case, might be put to death.

We have noted that recantations by trial witnesses are inherently suspect, because there is almost always more reason to credit trial testimony over later recantations. However, it is unwise and unnecessary to make a categorical rule that recantations may never be considered in support of an extraordinary motion for new trial. The majority cites case law stating that recantations may be considered only if the recanting witness’s trial testimony is shown to be the “purest fabrication.”3 To the extent that this phrase cautions that trial testimony should not be lightly disregarded, it has obvious merit. However, it should not be corrupted into a categorical rule that new evidence in the form of recanted testimony can never be considered, no matter how trustworthy it might appear. If recantation testimony, either alone or supported by other evidence, shows convincingly that prior trial testimony was false, it simply defies all logic and morality to hold that it must be disregarded categorically.

Friday, March 14, 2008

New Writing and Poem by Kenneth Foster/Haramia KiNassor

As I look out my window….the building looks just like death row. I can’t help but to stare at it. The building is the same. The windows are the same. Even the area surrounding it is almost identical. I can’t seem to take my eyes off the building. I watch it as if it was going to jump out the way. But it doesn’t. It’s the same concrete and steel that I’ve known for 11 years now. And as I look at this building- that looks exactly like death row- I ask myself: How are you?

The conversations between Me, My/Self and I continue, because I learned long ago that if one can’t fraternize with its own soul then they are doomed to a far worse torment than the prison system. Prisons and hells are internal as well as external. I find that I am repeatedly asking my Self- How are you? Are you ok? Are you healing? I look at myself in the mirror and I ask my Self- How traumatized are you? I’ve been tough, I’ve been strong, I’ve endured, I’ve smiled when I wanted to cry and cried when I didn’t have the slightest damn idea why. I know there are scars! I know there are issues! I can’t deny that nor suppress it. We do that enough on death row. But I’m not on death row anymore, although the “god(s)” don’t seem to want to let me forget that.

What exactly am I talking about, you might be asking? I’m talking about the building that sits RIGHT outside my window. I’m currently on McConnell Unit in Beeville, TX, but you could have fooled me. In the mid-90’s when Texas was having its prison boom it used the same blueprints to build several prisons. Therefore, the same exact blueprint that was used to make Polunsky Unit was used to build McConnell Unit. When my family walks into McConnell it’s just like walking into Polunsky. The visiting rooms are identical. The Unit’s structure is the same. So are the names of the buildings. What kind of sick game is this? I left death row and turned around and came right back to…..what looks like death row.

BUT…..I’m not on 12 building. I’m on 8 building. However, right outside my window is…..12 building. Except when I look at this building I don’t see 12 building at McConnell Unit, I see 12 building death row. I know those windows like the palms of my hands. Those windows which you can’t open. They are narrow and you can only see out. I peered through those windows for 7 years and now….they peer at me. 12 building here is for Ad Seg inmates. But, I don’t see that. When I look at this building I see Tony and Gabriel. I think of F-Pod and familiar officers. I think I smell pepper spray. My mind is playing tricks on me. I blink my eyes, but I keep looking at the building. It’s like I’m in a gotdamn trance. I’m getting upset, so I pull away.

What trauma have I endured? What’s going on with my mind? Outside I am free of death row, but inside it’s still gnawing at me. It’s like nails running across the chalk board. What good does physical liberation do if my soul is chained in an abyss?

Since I left there’s been 3 executions and 2 suicides. I wake up in a cell that looks just like my cell on Polunsky except it has 2 bunks and I have a cell mate. Nevertheless, I still expect someone I know to be going out the door with a date. When I walk to the visiting room I still can see families lined up giving their last goodbyes. It’s vivid! The rage steams through my body.
I’m not ok! I need to verbalize that. I’M NOT OK! I need to hear it coming out my mouth! In a short time I’ve been faced with some challenges here. Locations change, but oppression under TDC and the struggle doesn’t. When I got engaged in my rebellion here I thought to myself….I know they’ll retaliate. I’m sure I’ll end up in Ad Seg! Shit! Then I’ll be right back where I started. The single man recreation. The cuffs everywhere you go. The isolation. 12 building! What a sick joke that is! Could I do it again? 4 years? 6? 7? My soul grunts at the thought of it.
Down south the fog comes a lot in the morning. I rise, as always, around 7ish. I open my window and look out. 12 building is almost covered, but I can catch a light or two on shining from the building looking like the yellow eyes of the demon dog from hell. I can’t help but to think about what I left behind, what I endured and what others are still enduring today. They question if the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment. Albert Camus said:
“Capital Punishment is the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal’s deed, however calculated, can be compared! For there to be equivalency, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date at which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not encountered in private life.”
As a child I was scared of the dark (like most children) – too many scary movies. You always thought a monster lurked down the hall, so you’d run to turn on the light. And run back! I should have been a track star. But, to who does the death row inmate run? To God? Maybe! “Christian” politicians who cry for blood don’t give God a good name. Why is brutality made to look so good in amerika?

It seems I’m still running from the monster. These thoughts spark as I read Primo Levi’s “Survival in Auschwitz.” People wonder why we would compare death row to a concentration camp- because it’s all the same. It’s death! It’s oppression! For the many that entered- not as many would leave. And for those that survived, it was a miracle. Like those in the camps, they struggled to live one more day. They held on that….maybe today will be the day I get out. Like them, we have the same thoughts. Just one more appeal, just one more exoneration. Death rows are the Auschwitz’s of the West! Ye gods! What games do you play to torment us mortals?
Self spoke to me today. Self said that I had to toughen up, that I could not come this far and falter. Self feels my knees wobble and heart race. Self knows that I’ve been looking out the window too much. I turn to Self and remind it (in the words of Nietzsche): “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”

I’ve been regurgitated out the whale, you see! And it seems…. That I too (like Captain Ahab) have become obsessed with the whale. Yes, I’m obsessed with its capture! I’m obsessed with its demise! I cannot sleep. My mind is unable to rest. I’ve been through a war. I suffer from everything that Vietnam and Iraq veterans do. We’ve had something stolen from us. The government doesn’t care- no thief does.

There’s no therapy for me, though. No couch! No group talks! My teachers remain buried in the history of tragic struggles. But, revolution is born of tragedy, is it not?! I have a bitter-sweet fruit to consume. I have meditations to continue: new mantras and chants to conjure up that will give me new answers filled with new strengths.

But for now, the Tango continues. What was once a very intimate dance- body to body, face to face, we now dance apart, but still our arms and eyes remain locked upon each other. Our eyes do not part. The tango is very intimate.

And so, as I search to heal, search to understand…I take another glance out the window, There’s not a smile and there’s not a tear, but there is a knowing. You can crush a rose, but its fragrance will remain. And death row- my fragrance continues. As we keep the fight going, death row, know that I’ll never accept less… I’ll give no less than everything…even if everything is less than what I was expecting… I’ll settle for nothing less.

Yes, the struggle does continue, and yes, I do remain (though crushed) the rose that won’t stop emanating from the concrete!

Straight Ahead!

Haramia KiNassor
2/17/08 4:24 PM

my trepid fingers
anxiously reach outside the window
formerly barred to me
allowing me to feel
real fresh air
and not the stale fabricated breeze
blowing from the vent
i cannot deny i’m nervous
wondering if i’m being watched as i reach
i can see
free of water stains and smudges
blocking my vision
the grass is so damn green
i smell it freshly cut
like when i was 16
can taste the dust
i stir in delight
as i push my fingers
as far as the bars will allow
i wiggle my digits
as if I’m shyly waving at…
i looked askance at the guard tower
and wonder if they are documenting this
it could seem
but it’s too late now
i’ve become dedicated to the act
the thought
it all has absorbed back into me
those suppressed feelings
of what it’s like to
be from under the
boxes and bars
it feels foreign
like I’m 1 ½ on discovered legs
but like riding a bike
you never fully forget
i smile at the fence
the dirt
the road
i realize
my time has come
i close the window with confidence
coz now
it’s all within my grasp

Sunday, March 09, 2008

2008 Alternative Spring Break Schedule

Below is the schedule for 2008. There may still be some slight changes. Go to TSADP blog for daily spring break blogs by participants.
  • Monday, March 10
    • Before 2 PM Housing check-in for people who have signed up for housing. We have rented several hotel rooms. We will let you know the locations of the hotels and contact you about which location you will be staying at. If you can not check in earlier in the day, then just go directly to the location of the first event and you can check in to your room after the workshops. Monday's events will take place on the UT-Austin campus in Garrison 1.126.
    • 5:15-5:45 PM -- Meet at Garrison 1.126 for snacks and socializing before the first speaker.
    • 5:45 - 6 PM -- Introduction to the Alternative Spring Break by Hooman Hedayati of Texas Students Against the Death Penalty and Scott Cobb of Texas Moratorium Network.
    • 6 :-6:45 PM -- A talk with Rick Reed, a former Dallas and Austin assistant district attorney who opposes the death penalty.
    • 6:45-7:00 "Live Phone Call from Inside a Prison" event organized by the Austin chapter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty featuring a live phone call from an inmate whose death sentence was commuted to life by former Governor Ryan in Illinois. Victor Safforld (AKA Cortez Brown), one of the Death Row 10, will call in and speak to us on the phone from inside a supermax prison in Illinois.
      7:00 – 7:10 PM Break - Pizza provided
    • 7:15 - 8:15 PM Alan Clarke, a lawyer who has handled death penalty cases and co-author of a new book entitled "The Bitter Fruit of American Justice: International and Domestic Resistance to the Death Penalty". Room to be announced.
    • Evening Time on your own for enjoying Austin, including the SXSW film festival.

  • Tuesday, March 11 - Meet at Garrison 1.126
    • 1:00 - 2:15 PM Workshop: "Lobbying and Influencing Legislators" led by Doug Lewin, chief of staff for Texas State Rep. Lon Burnam. During the workshop, participants will learn how to interact effectively with legislators or legislative aides and plan for the next day's lobbying activity.
    • 2:15- 2:30 PM BREAK
    • 2:30 - 3:20 PM Workshop "How to Debate the Death Penalty" led by Bryan McCann, coach of UT's nationally-ranked speech and debate team. Bryan is a member of Campaign to End the Death Penalty.
    • 3:20 - 3:30 BREAK
    • 3:30 - 4:30 Mental Illness and the Death Penalty led by Kristin Houlé, who served for five years as the Program Associate for Amnesty International USA's Program to Abolish the Death Penalty. She was involved with Amnesty International for more than 12 years and held several volunteer leadership roles (including State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator for Kentucky) before joining the staff in 2002. Kristin was the lead organizer of AIUSA's National Weekend of Faith in Action on the Death Penalty (NWFA). In 2007, Kristin received a Soros Justice Fellowship to work on the issue of the death penalty and mental illness in Texas.
    • 5 PM - Petition Signature Gathering Competition: We will divide into teams and fan out throughout Austin to collect signatures on a petition against the death penalty. People can collect signatures at places such as where SXSW events are taking place, outside certain bookstores or other stores if they allow it, on the streets in downtown Austin and wherever else the teams want to try. The team that collects the most petition signatures (with names, addresses, email addresses and possibly phone numbers) will win a prize of $100. We will decide as a group what size the teams can be. Options are 1, 2, 3, 4, or more person teams.
    • 7 PM: Meet back at Goodall Wooten to see who won

  • Wednesday, March 12 Death Penalty Issues Lobby Day and MVFR Panel - Meet at Texas Capitol
    • 10:00 AM - 11:30 AM: Murder Victim Family Member Panel.
    • Location: The Texas State Capitol in room E2.016, which is in the underground level of the Capitol.
      Panelists include:
    • Renny Cushing, Founder and Executive Director of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights. His father's murder in 1988 has shaped his work as an advocate for crime victims and as an opponent of capital punishment. As a victim-abolitionist Renny has been a pioneer in the effort to bridge death penalty abolition groups and the victims' rights movement)
    • Delia Perez Meyer, who is fighting to exonerate her brother, Louis Castro Perez, who is on death row in Texas.
    • Kerry Cook, an innocent man who spent 22 years on Texas Death Row and recently wrote a book, "Chasing Justice".
    • Jeanette Popp, mother of a mother victim. Jeanette's duaghte, Nancy was murdered in Austin in 1988 and two innocent men were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to life. Later, the real killer confessed and the innocent men released after 12 years spent in prison. Jeanette asked the Travis County DA not to seek the death penalty against Nancy's killer.
    • 11:30 Lunch Break
    • 12:00 Get in line for 1 PM Film Showing at the SXSW Film Festival. Bring $10 for admission. We will see the documentary, "At the Death House Door ", which follows the remarkable career journey of Carroll Pickett, who served 15 years as the death house chaplain to the infamous 'Walls' prison unit in Huntsville, Texas. During that time he presided over 95 executions, including the very first lethal injection done anywhere in the world. After each execution, Pickett recorded an audiotape account of that fateful day. The film also tells the story of Carlos De Luna, a convict whose execution bothered Pickett more than any other. Pickett firmly believed the man was innocent and two Chicago Tribune reporters turn up evidence that strongly suggests he was right.
    • 3 PM: Visits to Legislative Offices
    • 4 PM "A People’s Tribunal Against the Death Penalty". Location: South Steps of the Texas Capitol . Everybody from spring break and others from the public will have an opportunity to put the death penalty "on trial." It will be conducted as a sort of public "trial" at which the "defendant" is the death penalty. Everyone will be able to "testify' against the death penalty as a "witness" saying why the death penalty should be abolished.

  • Thursday, March 13: Protest and Rally Day
    • 1 PM-2:45 PM Meet at Garrison 1.126
      Skills Building Workshop: "Winning Step-By-Step: How to Organize and Win Moratorium and Abolition Resolutions at the Grassroots Level" led by Sarah Craft. This workshop will cover how to convince student governments, city councils, churches and othe:r organizations to pass resolutions. Sarah Craft works for Equal Justice USA (www.ejusa.org). EJUSA is a national leader in the movement to halt executions, providing hands-on technical assistance, grassroots organizing support, and capacity building to state and local campaigns across the country.
    • 2:45 to 3:00 PM Break
    • 3:00 - 4:00 "Youth Media Workshop" led by Campus Progress.
    • 4:00 - 6 PM Organize and Carry out a protest around the case of Rodney Reed. Rally for an innocent man on Texas' death row beginning at the Capitol (11th and Congress) and marching down Congress, Sixth, and then back tot he Capitol. The exact type, location and message of the protest will be decided on by the students. Coordinated by Campaign to End the Death Penalty.
    • 7PM - Meet at Goodall Wooten dormitory at 2112 Guadalupe in the lobby for discussion of the protest as well as the entire spring break. Fill out feedback forms. We can all go out to eat together afterwards.
    • 8 Pm - 9PM Last Supper - Spring Breakers will go out and eat their last supper. Location will be decided by the students.

  • Friday, March 14: Fun Day
  • This is Spring Break, so today we will have some fun and take a break after all the hard work we have done all week. Everyone is free to choose their own activities. Some things people could do are: Go swimming at Barton Springs Pool, attend a SXSW film or music event , go shopping, take a Segway tour of Austin, go jogging around Town Lake, go bike riding, visit a museum or do something else. Some of these activities cost money, so plan accordingly.
  • 11 AM -- UT Campus tour for anyone interested -
Each day, they offer two student-guided walking tours of campus for prospective students and families that begin at the Main Building ("UT Tower") and cover the center of campus from the unique perspective of a current student. This is one of the best ways to get a feel for campus, and we recommend that all prospective UT students sign up for the tour. Wear comfortable clothes and walking shoes, and feel free to bring your camera. You can also register for info sessions and other tours.

Saturday, March 15

    • Students leave Austin Saturday if they did not leave Thursday or Friday.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Roosevelt Institution New Deal Essay Contest

Co-Sponsored by The Nation
The Roosevelt Institution is asking students what relevance FDR and the New Deal have for the 21st Century. The winning essay, or excerpts, will be published in The Nation and the author will be awarded $500. The top five submissions will be published at StudentNation. To take part, click here. The deadline is March 2.

And watch StudentNation and this list for info on The Nation's Third Annual Student Writing Contest to be announced on March 15.

Houston Chronicle: DNA déjà vu

Thats title of today's editorial by Houston Chronicle about Harris County's crime lab.

How hard can it be to run a forensic lab according to the rules? The many episodes of the CSI television dramas usually get it right, but at the Houston Police Department's crime lab, the real-life employees can't seem to get their act together.

After a scandal erupted six years ago, exposing botched handling of evidence that led to wrongful convictions of defendants and required the expenditure of $5.2 million for an investigation by a special master, the lab's management and facilities were rebuilt from the ground up. That hasn't prevented the lab's controversial DNA section from once again being shut down due to improper handling of evidence and the issuance of a critical internal report.

The DNA section chief, Vanessa Nelson, resigned after accusations she had coached technicians to pass skills tests.

As reported by the Chronicle's Roma Khanna, Nelson told investigators the operation was "clearly out of control" and plagued by staff morale problems that "will succeed in destroying the lab we worked so hard to create if they proceed on their current course." Her concerns were backed up by investigators' interviews with employees, who spoke of confusion on how to register complaints and doubts that superiors would act on them. Nelson listed a series of evidence problems at the facility, including a sample switch, contamination and botched paperwork to verify a chain of custody for materials.

Almost as alarming as the reports of new problems is the explanation of the crime lab's director, Irma Rios, for how they occurred. She described them as "growing pains" that were being dealt with as they popped up. Responsibility for many of the issues cited, such as bad staff morale and failure to set up a reporting system for misconduct, relate directly to top management. Instead, Rios focused on contamination of evidence, saying it was solved by "an intense cleaning of the lab."

Waiting for mistakes to happen before taking action is only a formula for more problems and controversy. The latest missteps indicate that to thoroughly exorcise the lab of its demons, the cleaning might need to extend beyond counters and equipment to upper management, as well.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Alternative Spring Breaks

Party later. Change the world now!

This year students will have three exciting opportunities to use their spring breaks to fight for progressive social change! Campus Progress is teaming up with several partner organizations to organize Alternative Spring Breaks on three different issues. Each event will include training, actions, and education about their respective topics. There will also be plenty of fun activities and chances to meet cool and committed students from around the country. Register online at:

Death Penalty | Austin, TX | March 10-14
Iraq Action Camp | Philadelphia, PA | March 15-17
Climate Change | Santa Barbara, CA | March 24-27