Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Day 1: These young voices will soon be heard

pamela j.jpg From 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. 

As the clock ticks towards the initial kick-off of the Alternative Spring Break, Scott Cobb of the Texas Moratorium Network and Hooman Hedayati of Witness to Innocence affix posters and banners to the walls of the generic classroom at UT to liven things up and relay the message of the week--No More Executions.
A sprinkling of solo "breakers" and a small group of college gals from USC enter the room and take their seats near the front. They are followed by a boisterous group of teenagers who stake their claim on the cool kid seats in the back row. I overhear one of the teens say, "Do we get to pick and choose what we do, cuz I wannna have a spring break."

This should be interesting.

Before my cynicism gets the best of me, we introduce ourselves to the group. Several people are repeat attendees, including some of the teens. Most are in school. The oldest members of our group are three women from Houston, one of which is "eighty-five years young." The majority of us are from Texas, which we find out from Danielle Dirks, a PhD candidate who teaches "Capital Punishment in America" at UT, is the state that leads the nation in executions.
The stand out fact that I learn during Ms. Dirks' talk is that "In Texas, a death penalty case costs an average of $2.3 million, about three times the cost of imprisoning someone in a single cell at the highest security level for 40 years." (Dallas Morning News, March 8, 1992)

My immediate reaction upon learning this fact is--wouldn't this money be better spent on say, I don't know, education or after school programs? Let's put the moral argument against the death penalty aside for just a moment--don't you think that Texas is being fiscally irresponsible by seeking the death penalty? It's not like sentencing a person to life without the possibility of parole is being soft on crime. Prison is not exactly summer camp.
Later in the evening, we receive a phone call from Stanley Howard, a man in prison in Illinois who was wrongfully sentenced to death for murder. Afterwards, Sam Millsap, a former County District Attorney from San Antonio and Judge Charlie Baird from Travis County spoke about their thoughts on the death penalty. This was the most surprising event of the evening and if I took anything away from their talk, it was this--mistakes are made, especially in regards to eyewitness testimony, which is a powerful prosecutorial tool in the court.
I suggest checking out the book, "The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers" by Daniel L. Schacter
Day one was a great introduction to the anti-death penalty movement. I'm excited about tomorrow and I look forward to chatting with the other members of our group, especially the teens. As witnessed by their questions throughout the evening, they knew more about this issue than me. (But that isn't saying much.) These young men and women are all members of a group called KADP or Kids Against the Death Penalty.
Their opinions and voices may not be heard in the election process, but they soon will be, and that makes me feel pretty hopeful about our future.

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