Ohio: Walk to Stop Executions!

From the website: Walk Against the Death Penalty:

On Sunday October 4, 2015, abolitionists from Ohio and beyond will begin a 7 day 83 mile walk from the Lucasville prison where death row inmates are executed to the Statehouse in Columbus calling for an end to capital punishment as proposed in two bills pending in the House and Senate. 

Those unable to participate in the full walk can join the final two hour leg in Columbus on Saturday, October 10, the World Day Against the Death Penalty, or attend the 12 noon rally at Trinity Episcopal Church, 125 E. Broad St. across from the Capitol.  

Keynote speakers include OJPC director David Singleton and two murder victim family members Sam Reese Sheppard, and OTSE President Melinda Dawson.

Advertisements

A Letter From Ray Jasper, Who Is About to Be Executed

Ray Jasper, who is detained on Texas’ death row, was given an execution date of March 19th. We sincerely hope that those who hold worldly power in the state of Texas will stop this senseless murder of a fellow human being. 

Ray’s letters to Gawker were published recently in their magazine, we are posting links to them here to remind everyone of the unethical, horrible issue of the death penalty and executions, the unreligious system of killing people rather than rehabilitating them and caring for the victims of crime, by instating revenge as punishment. When is Texas (and other States too) going to start preventing crimes by education and mental and economic care? 

From: Gawker, March 4, 2014

Edited and written by Hamilton Nolan.

Letters by Ray Jasper

Second letter

Mr. Nolan,

When I first responded to you, I didn’t think that it would cause people to reach out to me and voice their opinions. I’ve never been on the internet in my life and I’m not fully aware of the social circles on the internet, so it was a surprise to receive reactions so quickly.

I learned that some of the responses on your website were positive and some negative. I can only appreciate the conversation. Osho once said that one person considered him like an angel and another person considered him like a devil, he didn’t attempt to refute neither perspective because he said that man does not judge based on the truth of who you are, but on the truth of who they are.

Your words struck a chord with me. You said that my perspective is different and therefore my words have a sort of value. Yet, you’re talking to a young man that’s been judged unworthy to breathe the same air you breathe. That’s like a hobo on the street walking up to you and you ask him for spare change.

Without any questions, you’ve given me a blank canvas. I’ll only address what’s on my heart. Next month, the State of Texas has resolved to kill me like some kind of rabid dog, so indirectly, I guess my intention is to use this as some type of platform because this could be my final statement on earth.

I think ’empathy’ is one of the most powerful words in this world that is expressed in all cultures. This is my underlining theme. I do not own a dictionary, so I can’t give you the Oxford or Webster definition of the word, but in my own words, empathy means ‘putting the shoe on the other foot.’

Empathy. A rich man would look at a poor man, not with sympathy, feeling sorrow for the unfortunate poverty, but also not with contempt, feeling disdain for the man’s poverish state, but with empathy, which means the rich man would put himself in the poor man’s shoes, feel what the poor man is feeling, and understand what it is to be the poor man.

Empathy breeds proper judgement. Sympathy breeds sorrow. Contempt breeds arrogance. Neither are proper judgements because they’re based on emotions. That’s why two people can look at the same situation and have totally different views. We all feel differently about a lot of things. Empathy gives you an inside view. It doesn’t say ‘If that was me…’, empathy says, ‘That is me.’

What that does is it takes the emotions out of situations and forces us to be honest with ourselves. Honesty has no hidden agenda. Thoreau proposed that ‘one honest man’ could morally regenerate an entire society.

Looking through the eyes of empathy & honesty, I’ll address some of the topics you mentioned. It’s only my perspective.

The Justice system is truly broken beyond repair and the sad part is there is no way to start over. Improvements can be made. If honest people stand up, I think they will be made over time. I know the average person isn’t paying attention to all the laws constantly being passed by state & federal legislation. People are more focused on their jobs, raising kids and trying to find entertainment in between time. The thing is, laws are being changed right and left.

A man once said that revolution comes when you inform people of their rights. Martin Luther King said a revolution comes by social action and legal action working hand in hand. I’m not presenting any radical revolutionary view, the word revolution just means change. America changes as the law changes.

Under the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution all prisoners in America are considered slaves. We look at slavery like its a thing of the past, but you can go to any penitentiary in this nation and you will see slavery. That was the reason for the protests by prisoners in Georgia in 2010. They said they were tired of being treated like slaves. People need to know that when they sit on trial juries and sentence people to prison time that they are sentencing them to slavery.

If a prisoner refuses to work and be a slave, they will do their time in isolation as a punishment. You have thousands of people with a lot of prison time that have no choice but to make money for the government or live in isolation. The affects of prison isolation literally drive people crazy. Who can be isolated from human contact and not lose their mind? That was the reason California had an uproar last year behind Pelican Bay. 33,000 inmates across California protested refusing to work or refusing to eat on hunger-strikes because of those being tortured in isolation in Pelican Bay.

I think prison sentences have gotten way out of hand. People are getting life sentences for aggravated crimes where no violence had occurred. I know a man who was 24 years old and received 160 years in prison for two aggravated robberies where less that $500 was stole and no violence took place. There are guys walking around with 200 year sentences and they’re not even 30 years old. Its outrageous. Giving a first time felon a sentence beyond their life span is pure oppression. Multitudes of young people have been thrown away in this generation.

The other side of the coin is there are those in the corporate world making money off prisoners, so the longer they’re in prison, the more money is being made. It’s not about crime & punishment, it’s about crime & profit. Prison is a billion dollar industry. In 1996, there were 122 prisons opened across America. Companies were holding expos in small towns showing how more prisons would boost the economy by providing more jobs.

How can those that invest in prisons make money if people have sentences that will allow them to return to free society? If people were being rehabilitated and sent back into the cities, who would work for these corporations? That would be a bad investment. In order for them to make money, people have to stay in prison and keep working. So the political move is to tell the people they’re tough on crime and give people longer sentences.

Chuck Colson, former advisor to the President once said that they were passing laws to be tough on crime, but they didn’t even know who the laws were affecting. It wasn’t until the Watergate scandal and Colson himself going to prison that he learned who the laws were affecting. Colson ended up forming the largest prison ministry in America. He also foreseen in his book THE GOD OF SPIDERS & STONES that America was forming a new society within its prisons. Basically, that prison would become a nation inside this nation. He predicted that over a million people would be locked up by the year 2000. The book was written in the 8O’s. Now, its 2014 and almost two million people are locked up. It’s not that crime is the issue. Crime still goes on daily. It’s that the politics surrounding crime have changed and it has become a numbers game. Dollars & Cents. You have people like Michael Jordan who invest millions of dollars in the prison system. Any shrewed businessman would if you have no empathy for people locked up and you just want to make some money.

I don’t agree with the death penalty. It’s a very Southern practice from that old lynching mentality. Almost all executions take place in the South with a few exceptions here and there. Texas is the leading State by far. I’m not from Texas. I was raised in California. Coming from the West Coast to the South was like going back in time. I didn’t even think real cowboys existed. Texas is a very ‘country’ state, aside a few major cities. There are still small towns that a black person would not be welcomed. California is more of a melting pot. I grew up in the Bay Area where its very diverse.

The death penalty needs to be abolished. Life without parole is still a death sentence. The only difference is time. To say you need to kill a person in a shorter amount of time is just seeking revenge on that person.

If the death penalty must exist, I think it should only be for cases where more than one person is killed like these rampant shootings that have taken place around the country the last few years. Also, in a situation of terrorism.

If you’re not giving the death penalty for murder, then the government is already saying that the taking of one’s life is not worth the death penalty. Capital murder is if you take someone’s life and commit another felony at the same time. That’s Texas law. That makes a person eligible for the death penalty The problem is, you’re not getting the death penalty for murder, you’re actually getting it for the other felony. That doesn’t make common sense. You can kill a man but you will not get the death penalty……if you kill a man and take money out his wallet, now you can get the death penalty.

I’m on death row and yet I didn’t commit the act of murder. I was convicted under the law of parties. When people read about the case, they assume I killed the victim, but the facts are undisputed that I did not kill the victim. The one who killed him plead guilty to capital murder for a life sentence. He admitted to the murder and has never denied it. Under the Texas law of parties, they say it doesn’t matter whether I killed the victim or not, I’m criminally responsible for someone else’s conduct. But I was the only one given the death penalty.

The law of parties is a very controversial law in Texas. Most Democrats stand against it. It allows the state to execute someone who did not commit the actual act of murder. There are around 50 guys on death row in Texas who didn’t kill anybody, but were convicted as a party.

The lethal injection has become a real controversial issue here of late because states are using drugs that they’re not authorize to use to execute people. The lethal injection is an old Nazi practice deriving from the Jewish Holocaust. To use that method to kill people today, when it’s unconstitutional to use it on dogs, is saying something very cruel and inhumane. People don’t care because they think they’re killing horrible people. No empathy. Just contempt.

I understand that it’s not popular to talk about race issues these days, but I speak on the subject of race because I hold a burden in my heart for all the young blacks who are locked up or who see the street life as the only means to make something of themselves. When I walked into prison at 19 years old, I said to myself ‘Damn, I have never seen so many black dudes in my life’. I mean, it looked like I went to Africa. I couldn’t believe it. The lyrics of 2Pac echoed in my head, ‘The penitentiary is packed/ and its filled with blacks’.

It’s really an epidemic, the number of blacks locked up in this country. That’s why I look, not only at my own situation, but why all of us young blacks are in prison. I’ve come to see, it’s largely due to an indentity crisis. We don t know our history. We don’t know how to really indentify with white people. We are really of a different culture, but by being slaves, we lost ourselves.

When you have a black man name John Williams and a white man name John Williams, the black man got his name from the white man. Within that lies a lost of identity. There are blacks in this country that don’t even consider themselves African. Well, what are we? When did we stop being African? If you ask a young black person if they’re African, they will say ‘No, I’m American’. They’ve lost their roots. They think slavery is their roots. Again, its a strong identity crisis.

You take the identity crisis, mix it with capitalism, where money comes before empathy, and you’ll have a lot of young blacks trying to get money by any means because they’re trying to get out of poverty or stay out of poverty. Now, money is what they try to find an identity in. They feel like if they get rich, legal or illegal, they’ve become somebody. Which in America is partly true because superficially we hail the rich and despise the poor. We give Jay-Z more credit than we do Al Sharpton. What has Jay-Z done besides get rich? Yet we see dollar signs and somehow give more respect to the man with the money.

A French woman who moved to America asked me one day, ‘Why don’t black kids want to learn?’ Her husband was a high school teacher. She said the white and asian kids excel in school, but the black and hispanic kids don’t. I said that all kids want to learn, it’s just a matter of what you’re trying to teach them. Cutting a frog open is not helping a black kid in the ghetto who has to listen to police sirens all night and worry about getting shot. Those kids need life lessons. They need direction. When you have black kids learning more about the Boston Tea Party than the Black Panther Party, I guarantee you won’t keep their attention. But it was the Black Panther Party that got them free lunch.

People point their fingers at young blacks, call them thugs and say they need to pull up their pants. That’s fine, but you’re not feeding them any knowledge. You’re not giving them a vision. All you’re saying is be a square like me. They’re not going to listen to you because you have guys like Jay-Z and Rick Ross who are millionaires and sag their pants. Changing the way they dress isn’t changing the way they think. As the Bible says, ‘Where there’s no vision the people perish’. Young blacks need to learn their identity so they can have more respect for the blacks that suffered for their liberties than they have for someone talking about selling drugs over a rap beat who really isn’t selling drugs.

They have to be exposed to something new. Their minds have to be challenged, not dulled. They know the history of the Crips & Bloods, but they can’t tell you who Garvey or Robeson is. They can quote Drake & Lil Wayne but they can’t tell you what Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton has done. Across the nation, they gravitate to Crips & Bloods. I tell those I know the same thing, not to put blue & red before black. They were black first. It’s senseless, but they are trying to find a purpose to live for and if a gang gives them a sense of purpose that’s what they will gravitate to. They aren’t being taught to live and die for something greater. They’re not being challenged to do better.

Black history shouldn’t be a month, it should be a course, an elective taught year around. I guarantee black kids would take that course if it was available to them. How many black kids would change their outlook if they knew that they were only considered 3/5’s of a human being according to the U.S Constitution? That black people were considered part animal in this country. They don’t know that. When you learn that, you carry yourself with a different level of dignity for all we’ve overcome.

Before Martin Luther King was killed he drafted a bill called ‘The Bill for the Disadvantaged’. It was for blacks and poor whites. King understood that in order to have a successful life, you have to decrease the odds of failure. You have to change the playing field. I’m not saying there’s no personal responsibility for success, that goes without saying, but there’s also a corporate responsibility. As the saying goes, when you see someone who has failed, you see someone who was failed.

Neither am I saying that advantages are always circumstancial. Sometimes its knowledge or opportunity that gives an advantage. A lot of times it is the circumstances. Flowers grow in gardens, not in hard places. Using myself as an example, I was 15 when my first love got shot 9 times in Oakland. Do you think I m going to care about book reports when my girlfriend was shot in the face? I understand Barack Obama saying there is no excuse for blacks or anyone else because generations past had it harder than us. That’s true. However, success is based on probabilities and the odds. Everyone is not on a level playing field. For some, the odds are really stacked against them. I’m not saying they can’t be overcome, but it’s not likely.

I’m not trying to play the race card, I’m looking at the roots of why so many young blacks are locked up. The odds are stacked against us, we suffer from an identity crisis, and we’re being targeted more, instead of taught better. Ask any young black person their views on the Police, I assure you their response will not be positive. Yet if you have something against the Police, who represent the government, you cannot sit on a trial jury. A young black woman was struck from the jury in my case because she said she sees the Police as ‘intimidators’. She never had a good experience with the Police like most young blacks, but even though she’s just being true to her experience, she’s not worthy to take part as a juror in a trial.

White people really don’t understand how it extreme it is to be judged by others outside your race. In the book TRIAL & ERROR: THE TEXAS DEATH PENALTY Lisa Maxwell paints this picture to get the point across and if any white person reading this is honest with themselves, they will clearly understand the point. I cannot quote it word for word, but this was the gist of it…

Imagine you’re a young white guy facing capital murder charges where you can receive the death penalty… the victim in the case is a black man… when you go to trial and step into the courtroom… the judge is a black man… the two State prosecutors seeking the death penalty on you… are also black men… you couldn’t afford an attorney, so the Judge appointed you two defense lawyers who are also black men… you look in the jury box… there’s 8 more black people and 4 hispanics… the only white person in the courtroom is you… How would you feel facing the death penalty? Do you believe you’ll receive justice?

As outside of the box as that scene is, those were the exact circumstances of my trial. I was the only black person in the courtroom.

Again, I’m not playing the race card, but empathy is putting the shoe on the other foot.

The last thing on my heart is about religion and the death penalty. There are several well-known preachers in Texas and across the South that teach their congregations that the death penalty is right by God and backed by the Bible. The death penalty is a governmental issue not a spiritual issue. Southern preachers who advocate the death penalty are condoning evil. They need to learn the legalities of capital punishment. The State may have the power to put people to death, but don’t preach to the public that it’s God’s will. It’s the State’s will.

If God wanted me to die for anything, I would be dead already. I talk to God everday. He’s not telling me I’m some kind of menace that He can’t wait to see executed. God is blessing me daily. God is showing me His favor & grace on my life. Like Paul said, I was the chief of sinners, but God had mercy on me because He knew I was ignorant. The blood of Abel cryed vengeance, the blood of Jesus cryed mercy.

There are preachers like John Hagee in San Antonio who have influence over thousands of people, who not only attend his church, but also watch his TV program, and hear him condoning the death penalty. Hagee doesn’t see his Southern mentality condones the death penalty, not the scriptures. There is absolutely nothing in the Bible that condones the way Texas executes people today.

Southern preachers use scriptures like God telling Noah, ‘Whoever shed’s man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed’. ‘That’s murder. Under Texas law, you cannot receive the death penalty for murder. There is no such thing as capital murder in the Bible, where murder must be in the course of another felony. Yet, they preach capital punishment is God’s will. Even if you’re guilty of capital murder in Texas, it doesn’t mean you’ll receive the death penalty. People get the death penalty when a jury has judged them to be a ‘continuing threat to society’. ‘That means they are deemed so bad that they have no hope of redemption or change in their behavior. That is the only reason a person gets the death penalty. They are suppose to be the absolute worse of the worse, so terrible that they cannot live in prison with other murderers.

That in itself is contrary to the whole Christian faith that believes no one is beyond redemption if they repent for their sins and put their faith in Jesus Christ. For a Christian to advocate the death penalty is a complete contradiction.

As easy as it is for a preacher to stand up in the pulpit with a Bible and tell thousands of people the death penalty is right, I challenge any preacher in Texas, John Hagee or any others to come visit me and tell me that God wants me to die. Martin Luther King said, ‘Capital punishment shows that America is a merciless nation that will not forgive.’

Again, Mr. Nolan, this is only my perspective. I’m just the hobo on the street giving away my pennies. A doctor can’t look at a person and see cancer, they have to look beyond the surface. When you look at the Justice system, the Death Penalty, or anything else, it takes one to go beyond the surface. Proper diagnosis is half the cure.

I’m a father. My daughter was six weeks old when I got locked up and now she’s 15 in high school. Despite the circumstances, I’ve tryed to be the best father in the world. But I knew that her course in life is largely determine by what I teach her. It’s the same with any young person, their course is determined by what we are teaching them. In the words of Aristotle, ‘All improvement in society begins with the education of the young.’

Sincerely,

Ray L. Jasper

Ps: Forgive me for being longwinded, but I was speaking from the heart. Thanks for the opportunity.

First letter:

Last month (as we did last year), we sent letters to all of the U.S. death row inmates who have execution dates in the upcoming year. Today, we have our first reply: Ray Jasper, who is scheduled to be put to death in Texas in March.

Jasper was convicted of the 1998 murder of a recording studio owner. Jasper was 18 years old at the time. He has been in prison for the past 15 years.

The purpose of publishing these letters is to hear directly from people whose voices are not often heard. This is not a referendum on the guilt or innocence of any inmate. Ray Jasper responded to our questions numerically, so we will briefly list them here:

  1. What do you think the chances are of your execution occurring as scheduled?
  2. Can you describe daily life on Death Row?
  3. Can you talk a bit about your own past and upbringing?
  4. Has your time in jail changed your political or religious beliefs?
  5. Do you have any thoughts on how the media and the public view the death penalty?

 

  1. What else would you like to say to the public about your life, your situation, and what you think it means for our country?

Mr. Nolan,

I hope you’re genuine in your endeavor and I hope you achieve your goal with your writing. I numbered your questions to match my answers. I’m sure you can take it from there. Can I receive a copy of how you publish this or the name of the website?

1) I think any execution has a 50/50 chance of taking place. It comes down to the legalities of the case. The controversial issue in my case has been narrowed down to racial discrimination concerning the State of Texas purposely striking Black people from the jury panel. Racial discrimination on trial juries has a long-standing history in Texas. It was really made known in the Thomas Miller-el case where Dallas had a guide for their prosecutors to strike all minorities from the jury panel. So it’s about whether the Courts will consider the issue worth halting the execution.

2) Daily life on death row is like living in a black & white TV, while the rest of the world is [in] a full color high definition plasma TV. I’ve done my best to live above the circumstances by studying self-help and spiritual books. Ghandi once said that prison is not a punishment for an enlightened person, it only gives them more time to deepen their divinity. I agree. I was a teenager when I came to death row and over the last 15 years I’ve written several books & screenplays. I’ve turned a negative into a positive, while others around have lost their mind, dropped their appeals or committed suicide. I think who you are matters more than where you are.

3) I grew up like most young blacks at a disadvantage, susceptible to the street life out of the environment and a lack of education. For most young blacks we rebel out of subtle racism and being targeted by the police. For young blacks, cops are the enemies. I’ve been falsely arrested and beat by the police before the age of 18. It’s like how can society expect young blacks to be [compliant] with the same law that poses a threat to their life. You never hear of black cops beating or killing young whites, but its so common to hear about white cops beating and killing young blacks.

  1. My time in jail introduced me to politics. I was too young and uneducated to understand politics before I got locked up. Now, I see everyone has their own agenda and ideology of how society should function and those in political offices enforce their own agenda upon others. I think politics is a shark’s pool. There’s not much empathy involved.

I am a deeply religious person. I respect all religions, especially those who sacrifice for the service of God. I have a strong faith in Christ, but I do see  religion is often misused and Americans are too intellectual to be truly religious spiritually. Many people are only outwardly religious. I was religious people who wanted Christ to be executed. It was religious clergy who persecuted Martin Luther King as an extremist. One has to be careful of those who choose the letter of the Spirit. Paul said, “The letter kills, the Spirit gives life.” Jesus said only those the Spirit understand the kingdom of God.

5) The way the media covers the death penalty depends of the agenda of that media outlet. The media is not neutral. I think whether a person is pro or anti-death penalty, we should all be against injustice. Those who do not see the death penalty as unjust should do their homework. Every major newspaper in Texas has taken a stance against the death penalty due to their investigative journalism. They know what’s going on behind the scenes. The average person in Texas cannot explain the difference between murder and capital murder. The public is under the impression the people receive the death penalty for murder and murder, in Texas, is not punishable by the death penalty. There are thousands of people who committed murder and capital murder who are not on death row, but in regular prison. To say one person guilty of capital murder should live and another person guilty of capital murder should die is an injustice in [and] of itself.

I suggest reading the book TRIAL & ERROR: THE TEXAS DEATH PENALTY by Lisa Maxwell. It just came out this year and it highlights all the injustices of the Texas death penalty that many people never knew or forgot about over the years.

6) My life is a testament of what it is to be young & black in America. Black [people] are incarcerated at a higher rate than any other race because we are ignorant to the laws that govern society. As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon on which you can use to change the world.” I gave up in school after a friend died when I was 11 years old. I didn’t officially dropout until 16. By 18, I was facing the death penalty. I had no idea what capital murder was by definition or the law of parties. The Bible says that understanding makes a person depart from wrongdoing. People must be taught, even if its not in a school. We are all interdependent and we can educate each other. Adults need to have the courage to talk to teenagers and teach them how to make a smoother transition into adulthood. Over a million teenagers are arrested every year in America. 5 out of 6 black teenagers will drop out of high school. When you’re young it’s hard to see the road up ahead and many teens lack a long term vision for their life. They must be taught in the school of life by adults who cross their path.

Note: I apologize for all the mistakes, but I’m stuck in the 80’s with a E-typewriter, not a laptop. Any other questions let me know. I wish you success on your endeavor. Enjoy the season.

Peacefully, Ray

A Letter From Ray Jasper, Who Is About to Be Executed

Ray Jasper, who is detained on Texas’ death row, was given an execution date of March 19th. We sincerely hope that those who hold worldly power in the state of Texas will stop this senseless murder of a fellow human being. 

Ray’s letters to Gawker were published recently in their magazine, we are posting links to them here to remind everyone of the unethical, horrible issue of the death penalty and executions, the unreligious system of killing people rather than rehabilitating them and caring for the victims of crime, by instating revenge as punishment. When is Texas (and other States too) going to start preventing crimes by education and mental and economic care? 
From: Gawker, March 4, 2014
Edited and written by Hamilton Nolan. 
Letters by Ray Jasper
Second letter
Mr. Nolan,
When I first responded to you, I didn’t think that it would cause people to reach out to me and voice their opinions. I’ve never been on the internet in my life and I’m not fully aware of the social circles on the internet, so it was a surprise to receive reactions so quickly.
I learned that some of the responses on your website were positive and some negative. I can only appreciate the conversation. Osho once said that one person considered him like an angel and another person considered him like a devil, he didn’t attempt to refute neither perspective because he said that man does not judge based on the truth of who you are, but on the truth of who they are.
Your words struck a chord with me. You said that my perspective is different and therefore my words have a sort of value. Yet, you’re talking to a young man that’s been judged unworthy to breathe the same air you breathe. That’s like a hobo on the street walking up to you and you ask him for spare change.
Without any questions, you’ve given me a blank canvas. I’ll only address what’s on my heart. Next month, the State of Texas has resolved to kill me like some kind of rabid dog, so indirectly, I guess my intention is to use this as some type of platform because this could be my final statement on earth.
I think ’empathy’ is one of the most powerful words in this world that is expressed in all cultures. This is my underlining theme. I do not own a dictionary, so I can’t give you the Oxford or Webster definition of the word, but in my own words, empathy means ‘putting the shoe on the other foot.’
Empathy. A rich man would look at a poor man, not with sympathy, feeling sorrow for the unfortunate poverty, but also not with contempt, feeling disdain for the man’s poverish state, but with empathy, which means the rich man would put himself in the poor man’s shoes, feel what the poor man is feeling, and understand what it is to be the poor man.
Empathy breeds proper judgement. Sympathy breeds sorrow. Contempt breeds arrogance. Neither are proper judgements because they’re based on emotions. That’s why two people can look at the same situation and have totally different views. We all feel differently about a lot of things. Empathy gives you an inside view. It doesn’t say ‘If that was me…’, empathy says, ‘That is me.’
What that does is it takes the emotions out of situations and forces us to be honest with ourselves. Honesty has no hidden agenda. Thoreau proposed that ‘one honest man’ could morally regenerate an entire society.
Looking through the eyes of empathy & honesty, I’ll address some of the topics you mentioned. It’s only my perspective.
The Justice system is truly broken beyond repair and the sad part is there is no way to start over. Improvements can be made. If honest people stand up, I think they will be made over time. I know the average person isn’t paying attention to all the laws constantly being passed by state & federal legislation. People are more focused on their jobs, raising kids and trying to find entertainment in between time. The thing is, laws are being changed right and left.
A man once said that revolution comes when you inform people of their rights. Martin Luther King said a revolution comes by social action and legal action working hand in hand. I’m not presenting any radical revolutionary view, the word revolution just means change. America changes as the law changes.
Under the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution all prisoners in America are considered slaves. We look at slavery like its a thing of the past, but you can go to any penitentiary in this nation and you will see slavery. That was the reason for the protests by prisoners in Georgia in 2010. They said they were tired of being treated like slaves. People need to know that when they sit on trial juries and sentence people to prison time that they are sentencing them to slavery.
If a prisoner refuses to work and be a slave, they will do their time in isolation as a punishment. You have thousands of people with a lot of prison time that have no choice but to make money for the government or live in isolation. The affects of prison isolation literally drive people crazy. Who can be isolated from human contact and not lose their mind? That was the reason California had an uproar last year behind Pelican Bay. 33,000 inmates across California protested refusing to work or refusing to eat on hunger-strikes because of those being tortured in isolation in Pelican Bay.
I think prison sentences have gotten way out of hand. People are getting life sentences for aggravated crimes where no violence had occurred. I know a man who was 24 years old and received 160 years in prison for two aggravated robberies where less that $500 was stole and no violence took place. There are guys walking around with 200 year sentences and they’re not even 30 years old. Its outrageous. Giving a first time felon a sentence beyond their life span is pure oppression. Multitudes of young people have been thrown away in this generation.
The other side of the coin is there are those in the corporate world making money off prisoners, so the longer they’re in prison, the more money is being made. It’s not about crime & punishment, it’s about crime & profit. Prison is a billion dollar industry. In 1996, there were 122 prisons opened across America. Companies were holding expos in small towns showing how more prisons would boost the economy by providing more jobs.
How can those that invest in prisons make money if people have sentences that will allow them to return to free society? If people were being rehabilitated and sent back into the cities, who would work for these corporations? That would be a bad investment. In order for them to make money, people have to stay in prison and keep working. So the political move is to tell the people they’re tough on crime and give people longer sentences.
Chuck Colson, former advisor to the President once said that they were passing laws to be tough on crime, but they didn’t even know who the laws were affecting. It wasn’t until the Watergate scandal and Colson himself going to prison that he learned who the laws were affecting. Colson ended up forming the largest prison ministry in America. He also foreseen in his book THE GOD OF SPIDERS & STONES that America was forming a new society within its prisons. Basically, that prison would become a nation inside this nation. He predicted that over a million people would be locked up by the year 2000. The book was written in the 8O’s. Now, its 2014 and almost two million people are locked up. It’s not that crime is the issue. Crime still goes on daily. It’s that the politics surrounding crime have changed and it has become a numbers game. Dollars & Cents. You have people like Michael Jordan who invest millions of dollars in the prison system. Any shrewed businessman would if you have no empathy for people locked up and you just want to make some money.
I don’t agree with the death penalty. It’s a very Southern practice from that old lynching mentality. Almost all executions take place in the South with a few exceptions here and there. Texas is the leading State by far. I’m not from Texas. I was raised in California. Coming from the West Coast to the South was like going back in time. I didn’t even think real cowboys existed. Texas is a very ‘country’ state, aside a few major cities. There are still small towns that a black person would not be welcomed. California is more of a melting pot. I grew up in the Bay Area where its very diverse.
The death penalty needs to be abolished. Life without parole is still a death sentence. The only difference is time. To say you need to kill a person in a shorter amount of time is just seeking revenge on that person.
If the death penalty must exist, I think it should only be for cases where more than one person is killed like these rampant shootings that have taken place around the country the last few years. Also, in a situation of terrorism.
If you’re not giving the death penalty for murder, then the government is already saying that the taking of one’s life is not worth the death penalty. Capital murder is if you take someone’s life and commit another felony at the same time. That’s Texas law. That makes a person eligible for the death penalty The problem is, you’re not getting the death penalty for murder, you’re actually getting it for the other felony. That doesn’t make common sense. You can kill a man but you will not get the death penalty……if you kill a man and take money out his wallet, now you can get the death penalty.
I’m on death row and yet I didn’t commit the act of murder. I was convicted under the law of parties. When people read about the case, they assume I killed the victim, but the facts are undisputed that I did not kill the victim. The one who killed him plead guilty to capital murder for a life sentence. He admitted to the murder and has never denied it. Under the Texas law of parties, they say it doesn’t matter whether I killed the victim or not, I’m criminally responsible for someone else’s conduct. But I was the only one given the death penalty.
The law of parties is a very controversial law in Texas. Most Democrats stand against it. It allows the state to execute someone who did not commit the actual act of murder. There are around 50 guys on death row in Texas who didn’t kill anybody, but were convicted as a party.
The lethal injection has become a real controversial issue here of late because states are using drugs that they’re not authorize to use to execute people. The lethal injection is an old Nazi practice deriving from the Jewish Holocaust. To use that method to kill people today, when it’s unconstitutional to use it on dogs, is saying something very cruel and inhumane. People don’t care because they think they’re killing horrible people. No empathy. Just contempt.
I understand that it’s not popular to talk about race issues these days, but I speak on the subject of race because I hold a burden in my heart for all the young blacks who are locked up or who see the street life as the only means to make something of themselves. When I walked into prison at 19 years old, I said to myself ‘Damn, I have never seen so many black dudes in my life’. I mean, it looked like I went to Africa. I couldn’t believe it. The lyrics of 2Pac echoed in my head, ‘The penitentiary is packed/ and its filled with blacks’.
It’s really an epidemic, the number of blacks locked up in this country. That’s why I look, not only at my own situation, but why all of us young blacks are in prison. I’ve come to see, it’s largely due to an indentity crisis. We don t know our history. We don’t know how to really indentify with white people. We are really of a different culture, but by being slaves, we lost ourselves.
When you have a black man name John Williams and a white man name John Williams, the black man got his name from the white man. Within that lies a lost of identity. There are blacks in this country that don’t even consider themselves African. Well, what are we? When did we stop being African? If you ask a young black person if they’re African, they will say ‘No, I’m American’. They’ve lost their roots. They think slavery is their roots. Again, its a strong identity crisis.
You take the identity crisis, mix it with capitalism, where money comes before empathy, and you’ll have a lot of young blacks trying to get money by any means because they’re trying to get out of poverty or stay out of poverty. Now, money is what they try to find an identity in. They feel like if they get rich, legal or illegal, they’ve become somebody. Which in America is partly true because superficially we hail the rich and despise the poor. We give Jay-Z more credit than we do Al Sharpton. What has Jay-Z done besides get rich? Yet we see dollar signs and somehow give more respect to the man with the money.
A French woman who moved to America asked me one day, ‘Why don’t black kids want to learn?’ Her husband was a high school teacher. She said the white and asian kids excel in school, but the black and hispanic kids don’t. I said that all kids want to learn, it’s just a matter of what you’re trying to teach them. Cutting a frog open is not helping a black kid in the ghetto who has to listen to police sirens all night and worry about getting shot. Those kids need life lessons. They need direction. When you have black kids learning more about the Boston Tea Party than the Black Panther Party, I guarantee you won’t keep their attention. But it was the Black Panther Party that got them free lunch.
People point their fingers at young blacks, call them thugs and say they need to pull up their pants. That’s fine, but you’re not feeding them any knowledge. You’re not giving them a vision. All you’re saying is be a square like me. They’re not going to listen to you because you have guys like Jay-Z and Rick Ross who are millionaires and sag their pants. Changing the way they dress isn’t changing the way they think. As the Bible says, ‘Where there’s no vision the people perish’. Young blacks need to learn their identity so they can have more respect for the blacks that suffered for their liberties than they have for someone talking about selling drugs over a rap beat who really isn’t selling drugs.
They have to be exposed to something new. Their minds have to be challenged, not dulled. They know the history of the Crips & Bloods, but they can’t tell you who Garvey or Robeson is. They can quote Drake & Lil Wayne but they can’t tell you what Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton has done. Across the nation, they gravitate to Crips & Bloods. I tell those I know the same thing, not to put blue & red before black. They were black first. It’s senseless, but they are trying to find a purpose to live for and if a gang gives them a sense of purpose that’s what they will gravitate to. They aren’t being taught to live and die for something greater. They’re not being challenged to do better.
Black history shouldn’t be a month, it should be a course, an elective taught year around. I guarantee black kids would take that course if it was available to them. How many black kids would change their outlook if they knew that they were only considered 3/5’s of a human being according to the U.S Constitution? That black people were considered part animal in this country. They don’t know that. When you learn that, you carry yourself with a different level of dignity for all we’ve overcome.
Before Martin Luther King was killed he drafted a bill called ‘The Bill for the Disadvantaged’. It was for blacks and poor whites. King understood that in order to have a successful life, you have to decrease the odds of failure. You have to change the playing field. I’m not saying there’s no personal responsibility for success, that goes without saying, but there’s also a corporate responsibility. As the saying goes, when you see someone who has failed, you see someone who was failed.
Neither am I saying that advantages are always circumstancial. Sometimes its knowledge or opportunity that gives an advantage. A lot of times it is the circumstances. Flowers grow in gardens, not in hard places. Using myself as an example, I was 15 when my first love got shot 9 times in Oakland. Do you think I m going to care about book reports when my girlfriend was shot in the face? I understand Barack Obama saying there is no excuse for blacks or anyone else because generations past had it harder than us. That’s true. However, success is based on probabilities and the odds. Everyone is not on a level playing field. For some, the odds are really stacked against them. I’m not saying they can’t be overcome, but it’s not likely.
I’m not trying to play the race card, I’m looking at the roots of why so many young blacks are locked up. The odds are stacked against us, we suffer from an identity crisis, and we’re being targeted more, instead of taught better. Ask any young black person their views on the Police, I assure you their response will not be positive. Yet if you have something against the Police, who represent the government, you cannot sit on a trial jury. A young black woman was struck from the jury in my case because she said she sees the Police as ‘intimidators’. She never had a good experience with the Police like most young blacks, but even though she’s just being true to her experience, she’s not worthy to take part as a juror in a trial.
White people really don’t understand how it extreme it is to be judged by others outside your race. In the book TRIAL & ERROR: THE TEXAS DEATH PENALTY Lisa Maxwell paints this picture to get the point across and if any white person reading this is honest with themselves, they will clearly understand the point. I cannot quote it word for word, but this was the gist of it…
Imagine you’re a young white guy facing capital murder charges where you can receive the death penalty… the victim in the case is a black man… when you go to trial and step into the courtroom… the judge is a black man… the two State prosecutors seeking the death penalty on you… are also black men… you couldn’t afford an attorney, so the Judge appointed you two defense lawyers who are also black men… you look in the jury box… there’s 8 more black people and 4 hispanics… the only white person in the courtroom is you… How would you feel facing the death penalty? Do you believe you’ll receive justice?
As outside of the box as that scene is, those were the exact circumstances of my trial. I was the only black person in the courtroom.
Again, I’m not playing the race card, but empathy is putting the shoe on the other foot.
The last thing on my heart is about religion and the death penalty. There are several well-known preachers in Texas and across the South that teach their congregations that the death penalty is right by God and backed by the Bible. The death penalty is a governmental issue not a spiritual issue. Southern preachers who advocate the death penalty are condoning evil. They need to learn the legalities of capital punishment. The State may have the power to put people to death, but don’t preach to the public that it’s God’s will. It’s the State’s will.
If God wanted me to die for anything, I would be dead already. I talk to God everday. He’s not telling me I’m some kind of menace that He can’t wait to see executed. God is blessing me daily. God is showing me His favor & grace on my life. Like Paul said, I was the chief of sinners, but God had mercy on me because He knew I was ignorant. The blood of Abel cryed vengeance, the blood of Jesus cryed mercy.
There are preachers like John Hagee in San Antonio who have influence over thousands of people, who not only attend his church, but also watch his TV program, and hear him condoning the death penalty. Hagee doesn’t see his Southern mentality condones the death penalty, not the scriptures. There is absolutely nothing in the Bible that condones the way Texas executes people today.
Southern preachers use scriptures like God telling Noah, ‘Whoever shed’s man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed’. ‘That’s murder. Under Texas law, you cannot receive the death penalty for murder. There is no such thing as capital murder in the Bible, where murder must be in the course of another felony. Yet, they preach capital punishment is God’s will. Even if you’re guilty of capital murder in Texas, it doesn’t mean you’ll receive the death penalty. People get the death penalty when a jury has judged them to be a ‘continuing threat to society’. ‘That means they are deemed so bad that they have no hope of redemption or change in their behavior. That is the only reason a person gets the death penalty. They are suppose to be the absolute worse of the worse, so terrible that they cannot live in prison with other murderers.
That in itself is contrary to the whole Christian faith that believes no one is beyond redemption if they repent for their sins and put their faith in Jesus Christ. For a Christian to advocate the death penalty is a complete contradiction.
As easy as it is for a preacher to stand up in the pulpit with a Bible and tell thousands of people the death penalty is right, I challenge any preacher in Texas, John Hagee or any others to come visit me and tell me that God wants me to die. Martin Luther King said, ‘Capital punishment shows that America is a merciless nation that will not forgive.’
Again, Mr. Nolan, this is only my perspective. I’m just the hobo on the street giving away my pennies. A doctor can’t look at a person and see cancer, they have to look beyond the surface. When you look at the Justice system, the Death Penalty, or anything else, it takes one to go beyond the surface. Proper diagnosis is half the cure.
I’m a father. My daughter was six weeks old when I got locked up and now she’s 15 in high school. Despite the circumstances, I’ve tryed to be the best father in the world. But I knew that her course in life is largely determine by what I teach her. It’s the same with any young person, their course is determined by what we are teaching them. In the words of Aristotle, ‘All improvement in society begins with the education of the young.’
Sincerely,
Ray L. Jasper
Ps: Forgive me for being longwinded, but I was speaking from the heart. Thanks for the opportunity.
First letter:
Last month (as we did last year), we sent letters to all of the U.S. death row inmates who have execution dates in the upcoming year. Today, we have our first reply: Ray Jasper, who is scheduled to be put to death in Texas in March.

Jasper was convicted of the 1998 murder of a recording studio owner. Jasper was 18 years old at the time. He has been in prison for the past 15 years.

The purpose of publishing these letters is to hear directly from people whose voices are not often heard. This is not a referendum on the guilt or innocence of any inmate. Ray Jasper responded to our questions numerically, so we will briefly list them here:

1. What do you think the chances are of your execution occurring as scheduled?
2. Can you describe daily life on Death Row?
3. Can you talk a bit about your own past and upbringing?
4. Has your time in jail changed your political or religious beliefs?
5. Do you have any thoughts on how the media and the public view the death penalty?

6. What else would you like to say to the public about your life, your situation, and what you think it means for our country? 
Mr. Nolan,
I hope you’re genuine in your endeavor and I hope you achieve your goal with your writing. I numbered your questions to match my answers. I’m sure you can take it from there. Can I receive a copy of how you publish this or the name of the website?
1) I think any execution has a 50/50 chance of taking place. It comes down to the legalities of the case. The controversial issue in my case has been narrowed down to racial discrimination concerning the State of Texas purposely striking Black people from the jury panel. Racial discrimination on trial juries has a long-standing history in Texas. It was really made known in the Thomas Miller-el case where Dallas had a guide for their prosecutors to strike all minorities from the jury panel. So it’s about whether the Courts will consider the issue worth halting the execution.
2) Daily life on death row is like living in a black & white TV, while the rest of the world is [in] a full color high definition plasma TV. I’ve done my best to live above the circumstances by studying self-help and spiritual books. Ghandi once said that prison is not a punishment for an enlightened person, it only gives them more time to deepen their divinity. I agree. I was a teenager when I came to death row and over the last 15 years I’ve written several books & screenplays. I’ve turned a negative into a positive, while others around have lost their mind, dropped their appeals or committed suicide. I think who you are matters more than where you are.
3) I grew up like most young blacks at a disadvantage, susceptible to the street life out of the environment and a lack of education. For most young blacks we rebel out of subtle racism and being targeted by the police. For young blacks, cops are the enemies. I’ve been falsely arrested and beat by the police before the age of 18. It’s like how can society expect young blacks to be [compliant] with the same law that poses a threat to their life. You never hear of black cops beating or killing young whites, but its so common to hear about white cops beating and killing young blacks.
4. My time in jail introduced me to politics. I was too young and uneducated to understand politics before I got locked up. Now, I see everyone has their own agenda and ideology of how society should function and those in political offices enforce their own agenda upon others. I think politics is a shark’s pool. There’s not much empathy involved.
I am a deeply religious person. I respect all religions, especially those who sacrifice for the service of God. I have a strong faith in Christ, but I do see  religion is often misused and Americans are too intellectual to be truly religious spiritually. Many people are only outwardly religious. I was religious people who wanted Christ to be executed. It was religious clergy who persecuted Martin Luther King as an extremist. One has to be careful of those who choose the letter of the Spirit. Paul said, “The letter kills, the Spirit gives life.” Jesus said only those the Spirit understand the kingdom of God.
5) The way the media covers the death penalty depends of the agenda of that media outlet. The media is not neutral. I think whether a person is pro or anti-death penalty, we should all be against injustice. Those who do not see the death penalty as unjust should do their homework. Every major newspaper in Texas has taken a stance against the death penalty due to their investigative journalism. They know what’s going on behind the scenes. The average person in Texas cannot explain the difference between murder and capital murder. The public is under the impression the people receive the death penalty for murder and murder, in Texas, is not punishable by the death penalty. There are thousands of people who committed murder and capital murder who are not on death row, but in regular prison. To say one person guilty of capital murder should live and another person guilty of capital murder should die is an injustice in [and] of itself.
I suggest reading the book TRIAL & ERROR: THE TEXAS DEATH PENALTY by Lisa Maxwell. It just came out this year and it highlights all the injustices of the Texas death penalty that many people never knew or forgot about over the years.
6) My life is a testament of what it is to be young & black in America. Black [people] are incarcerated at a higher rate than any other race because we are ignorant to the laws that govern society. As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon on which you can use to change the world.” I gave up in school after a friend died when I was 11 years old. I didn’t officially dropout until 16. By 18, I was facing the death penalty. I had no idea what capital murder was by definition or the law of parties. The Bible says that understanding makes a person depart from wrongdoing. People must be taught, even if its not in a school. We are all interdependent and we can educate each other. Adults need to have the courage to talk to teenagers and teach them how to make a smoother transition into adulthood. Over a million teenagers are arrested every year in America. 5 out of 6 black teenagers will drop out of high school. When you’re young it’s hard to see the road up ahead and many teens lack a long term vision for their life. They must be taught in the school of life by adults who cross their path.
Note: I apologize for all the mistakes, but I’m stuck in the 80’s with a E-typewriter, not a laptop. Any other questions let me know. I wish you success on your endeavor. Enjoy the season.
Peacefully, Ray

Save Brett Hartmann! No vengeance! Brett is innocent!

We visited with Brett last year. He has many friends, from all over the world. The State of Ohio plans to kill this man. Why do we allow a killing to take place? Why this vengeance? There is NO justice in killing someone. There is NO closure. We have to change society. Brett summarized it well by saying that it all comes down to politics, not justice. And politics is often so corrupt…

Please Write to the governor NOW and ask him politely to stop the execution.

From: Youngstown Vindicator
Oct 15th 2012

COLUMBUS
An Akron man facing execution next month for the murder and dismemberment of a woman 15 years ago maintains his innocence, saying prosecutors and a jailhouse snitch lied about the crime and failed to test evidence that could exonerate him.
In an interview from death row at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution, Brett Hartmann told the Statehouse bureau of The Vindicator that phone records and hair and fingerprints taken from the scene could prove he didn’t stab 46-year-old Winda Snipes 138 times, slit her throat or cut off her hands.
The latter were never found.

“Whether people want to believe I’m innocent or not, you know, but ask why,” Hartmann said. “Why are they hiding? Why are they lying so much? … Why are they lying and hiding evidence like they do?”

Hartmann, 38, is scheduled for lethal injection Nov. 13 at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville.

Twice in recent years, the state parole board has recommended against clemency in the case, with a third decision from that panel expected in coming days after another hearing earlier this week.
In documents presented to the parole board, Snipes was described as a “thoughtful and caring person” who “dressed meticulously” and was “extremely close” to her family.

One day in September 1997, she picked up her paycheck, mailed a letter and stick of gum to her grandmother and was spotted crossing the street near her Highland Square neighborhood in Akron.
Police found her mutilated body tied to a bed in her apartment that evening after receiving several 9-1-1 calls from Hartmann, who admitted having sexual relations with the victim hours before she was murdered.
Police found Hartmann’s fingerprints on a bedspread and on the leg of a chair, and investigators later matched his DNA to the victim’s body.

They also found a wristwatch that purportedly belonged to Snipes and a bloody T-shirt at Hartmann’s apartment.

They also cited incriminating comments he made to a co-worker and a cellmate. The latter said Hartmann confessed the crime.

According to documents submitted by the prosecutor’s office to the state parole board, “… The evidence at trial (as well as recent DNA evidence) clearly establish that [Hartmann] tied Winda to her bed, had vaginal and anal intercourse with her, beat her, strangled her with a cord, stabbed her 138 times, slit her throat, and cut off her hands. The jury found [Hartmann] guilty of Winda’s murder and determined unanimously that [Hartmann’s] crimes warranted death. The jury’s verdict has been affirmed many times by state and federal courts. Subsequent DNA testing also confirmed [Hartmann’s] guilt. … [His] many claims of legal error have been carefully reviewed, considered and rejected.”

Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh added in a released statement Friday, “The state has provided Mr. [Hartmann] with top-notch defense attorneys to argue his claims in state and federal courts for the past 14 years. No court — state or federal — has bought any of Mr. Hartman’s claims.”

Hartmann said he and Snipes had a casual sexual relationship, “hooking up” on occasion after drinking at a bar near her apartment. He admitted to police on the night that Snipes’ body was found that he had been with her early on the morning of the crime but that she was alive when he left.

“Clearly, no matter how intoxicated I was that morning, when I left her, she was well, alive and healthy, because she was seen alive later that day,” he said.

Hartmann said he did not murder Snipes; rather, he returned to her apartment for another “hookup” and found her dead on the floor. He said he panicked, grabbed anything that connected him to the crime scene and fled. He said he didn’t think about calling the police immediately to report the crime, only doing so later from a nearby pay phone.

“I lived on the streets with bikers and meth-heads,” he said. “I grew up on Indian reservations where you don’t call the police at all. … When I found her, the first thing that went through my head was two warrants out for my arrest for traffic violations and failure to pay fines. And the first thing that went through my head was if I call the police, they’re going to run my name, see I have warrants and arrest me and I’m going to lose my job.”

Hartmann said the watch police found at his apartment was common at the time and belonged to a married woman, one of many who he had sexual relations with and who left clothes or other belongings behind. And he said it doesn’t make sense, logically, that he would leave the watch and bloody T-shirt at his apartment for police to find but manage to hide the victim’s hands and other evidence.

“… I supposedly went and hid all these so well that police have never found them and yet come back to my apartment and these two pieces of evidence are just thrown right there in the middle of everything,” he said. “If I would have done something like this, common sense would dictate that you take everything if you’re going to hide it hide it altogether. You don’t hide some of this stuff and then throw some of the most critical evidence in the middle of your floor.”

Hartmann said phone records prove he was at home at the time the murder was committed. He said police and prosecutors failed to test fingerprints, hair and other evidence found at the crime scene that could prove someone else committed the murder. And he denied making incriminating statements to a co-worker or cellmate.

Hartmann said he does not support the death penalty, calling the process for determining capital punishment “totally flawed. … It has nothing to do with justice or the law or anything. It’s almost all politics.”

He said he and others on Ohio’s Death Row are changed people.

“Most people I know back here don’t even resemble the people they were when they first came,” he said. “I know no one will ever believe me, most of the public will never believe me when I tell them I’ve met better people on Death Row than I ever met out on the street. If I’m hungry, all I have to do is say so and there’s someone there to give me some food. If there’s ever something I need, there will be someone there to help me.”

Asked what he would say to the family and friends of Winda Snipes, Hartmann replied, “My heart goes out to them. I know losing anyone, especially family, is a very traumatizing experience. I recently lost my mom and my sister. And no one in the world deserves to lose a relative or anyone the way that Winda was taken, and my heart goes out to them. But I didn’t do it.”

Death Row prisoner Steve Champion, Tookie’s friend, on hunger strike since Oct. 4

From the SF Bay View:

Word has just reached us that Steve Champion, a prisoner on San Quentin’s death row well known as an inspirational advocate for justice and as one of the trio with Stanley Tookie Williams and Anthony Ross, began a hunger strike last Thursday, Oct. 4. His demands – still unmet – are listed in “The struggle never stops,” published in the July Bay View and reprinted below, and he asks that all who believe in justice call and write the warden and Corrections Department (CDCR) spokespersons to say:

“We are aware of Steve Champion’s hunger strike and concerned for his health. We look to you to respond to him promptly, constructively and appropriately.”

Call and write:

·         San Quentin Warden Kevin Chappell, Kevin.Chappell@cdcr.ca.gov or (415) 454-1460
·         CDCR Press Secretary Jeffrey Callison, Jeffrey.Callison@cdcr.ca.gov
·         CDCR Deputy Press Secretary Terry Thorton, Terry.Thornton@cdcr.ca.gov.

“Steve Champion, death row prisoner and author of ‘Dead to Deliverance, A Death Row Memoir,’ has been held in administrative segregation, without phone and other privileges, since just prior to the execution of his friend Stanley Tookie Williams in December 2005,” writes Steve’s friend, Professor Tom Kerr of Ithaca College, in an afterword to Steve’s essay, “Gang validation: The new inquisition,” published Feb. 18, 2011.

It was Professor Kerr who learned and confirmed today that Steve started a hunger strike Oct. 4. Letters from both Steve and his comrade Anthony Ross are reportedly on their way, their delivery perhaps held up by San Quentin authorities. But we cannot wait to save Steve’s life.

Like Tookie, Steve is a brilliant writer and leader widely admired and loved on both sides of the prison walls. Professor Kerr adds in his afterword:

“Steve Champion, in his death row memoir, describes his early life in Los Angeles and the allure for him of the Crips street gang, his incarceration and experience in the U.S. prison system, his life on death row, and his growth and struggle as a human being. He also offers a critical analysis of the prison system, especially capital punishment, and describes how through sustained collaboration with Stanley Tookie Williams and Anthony Ross, he evolved on death row from a high school dropout into an accomplished writer and student of the humanities.”

A lot of history is evoked by Steve’s hunger strike. San Quentin’s infamous Adjustment Center is where “Soledad Brother” George Jackson was housed when he was assassinated Aug. 21, 1971, the day commemorated every year in Black August. In turn, George Jackson, probably the most famous and influential U.S. prisoner of all time, was Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s excuse for executing Stanley Tookie Williams.

The governor wrote in denying clemency to Tookie, triggering his execution hours later, on Dec. 13, 2005:

“The dedication of Williams’ book ‘Life in Prison’ casts significant doubt on his personal redemption … (T)he inclusion of George Jackson on the list [of Black heroes in the book’s dedication] defies reason and is a significant indicator that Williams is not reformed and that he still sees violence and lawlessness as a legitimate means to address societal problems.”

Steve Champion’s “Gang validation: The new inquisition” begins by reporting a cell search and the confiscation of his legal materials and other writings “for possible gang validation. The reason for the action, I was told, was my possession of a Kiswahili dictionary and the book ‘Soledad Brother’ by George Jackson” – this after 28 years on San Quentin’s death row, with that book in his cell for most of those years.

Recalling the rebellion of Aug. 21, 1971, and fearing a repeat in response to Tookie’s execution 34 years later, San Quentin authorities confined Tookie’s closest friends, Steve Champion and Anthony Ross, to the Adjustment Center, an extremely restrictive form of solitary confinement much like the infamous Pelican Bay SHU. Thus, now that solitary confinement is recognized worldwide as torture, the particularly intense torture endured by Steve Champion is purely retaliatory. Steve is being tortured for his friendship with Tookie and Anthony and their admiration of George Jackson.

Steve writes in “Gang validation: The new inquisition”: “Prison administrators know that if even one prisoner shuns George Jackson’s books or other leftist material because he thinks he might be labeled a gang member and placed in the SHU, then the strategy of suppression is effective. …

“[Even] ‘apolitical’ prisoners will recognize on a general level that their own existential condition can be compared to George Jackson’s. It is this identification with George Jackson that makes him symbolically powerful and very much alive. And for this, he must be vilified and punished, over and over again – suppressed and chased away from anyone who dares consume his words.”

In the same essay, Steve also addresses what is likely to become – only three days from now – the number one prison story across the U.S.: the “end of hostilities” between prisoners in California declared by the leaders of last year’s hunger strike housed in the Pelican Bay SHU. That declaration is contained in “California prisoners make historic call for peace between racial groups in California prisons and jails,” published in the October Bay View.

Steve writes: “What also facilitates the suppression of political consciousness is the unending cycle of ethnic and sectarian violence that permeates the U.S. prison system. Violence is micromanaged to perpetuate racial hatred and division among prison groups.

“And let me be honest: Prisoners make it easy for prison administrators to accomplish this when they fail to redress the stark contradictions between their intransigent conflicts against each other and the repressive and often brutal treatment meted out to them by the prison regime.”

Solidarity among prisoners and between prisoners and all who believe in justice is the way to stop the madness of mass incarceration. Steve Champion’s hunger strike is a prime opportunity for showing prison administrators a better way.

The Bay View urges readers to flood San Quentin and CDCR with messages similar to the letter sent today by Professor Tom Kerr to San Quentin Warden Kevin Chappell with a link to Steve’s list of demands:

“Dear Warden Chappell,

“As Steve Champion’s friend and editor, I am writing to comment on the hunger strike that I understand he began on Oct. 4. Steve’s CDCR number is C-58001.

“Judging by his writing, by my nearly nine years of correspondence with him as his editor and friend, and by my several personal visits, Steve has, in 30 years on death row, become a remarkable person.

“I know that he would only resort to an action as dire as a hunger strike if he felt it were the last resort to get legitimate, if negotiable, grievances addressed. I know that he has long endeavored to work within the system, even when he has been critical of it.

“I hope you will view his hunger strike as an opportunity to reconsider or revisit the prison’s position on some of the issues he describes in his 602 petition and listed in his article in the San Francisco Bay View this past July: http://sfbayview.com/2012/the-struggle-never-stops/.

“I hope you will also ensure that Steve is treated respectfully and appropriately, as he protests against policies and procedures that he strongly believes to be excessively degrading and punitive, even in the extreme situation of death row. I trust that you will both respect the convictions and integrity driving his protest and work quickly toward a constructive solution.

“Thank you for considering my thoughts.

“Sincerely,

“Tom Kerr, PhD, Ithaca College”

Your message may also be as simple as the one noted above: “We are aware of Steve Champion’s hunger strike and concerned for his health. We look to you to respond to him promptly, constructively and appropriately.”

For ease of reference, here are Steve Champion’s demands:

by Steve Champion

“You can measure the level of a civilization by entering its prisons.” – Fyodor Dostevsky

On July 1, 2011, men held captive and confined in Security Housing Units (SHU) in Pelican Bay State Prison went on an unprecedented hunger strike to peacefully protest torturous, inhumane, barbaric and draconian-type conditions they were subjected to live under. Prisoners who were languishing in SHU isolation and administrative segregation throughout California heeded the call by the Pelican Bay hunger strikers and joined them. Most of the death row population isolated in the infamous adjustment center (AC) in San Quentin supported and participated in the hunger strike as a way to show solidarity.

A second hunger strike was called by the Pelican Bay Human Rights Movement in September 2011, because top California Department of Corrections (CDC) administrators in Sacramento began dragging their feet and back-tracking on previous promises and agreements they made. In the end, CDC made minor concessions but terribly failed to act in good faith in addressing the most critical issues, like indefinite SHU isolation, the debriefing process and gang validation.

In fact, what CDC did do is craft together a flimsy step-down program that doesn’t deal fairly with the issue. See the article published in the April 2012 Bay View titled: “Pelican Bay Human Rights Movement presents counter-proposal opposing CDCR ‘Security Threat Group Strategy.’”

In spite of the ongoing negotiations between the Pelican Bay Human Rights Movement and top CDC administrators, the San Quentin administration is resisting any attempt to improve the plight of death row prisoners housed in the AC. Unlike Title 15 – California’s Code of Regulations for all California prisoners – San Quentin top officials have concocted and enacted an exclusive code of regulations called the 608s, which mandate that death row prisoners are under the control of the warden of San Quentin. It is this illegal and repressive code of regulations that AC death row prisoners are vigorously challenging.

There have been several attempts by the San Quentin administration to discourage our goal to file a group 602 petition. It has been returned on two occasions and cancelled once. They sought to sublimate and obscure our grievances by trying to insist each individual must file a personal 602 even though our issues are collective grievances supported and endorsed across racial and ideological lines. The group 602 is still wrapped up in a labyrinth of bureaucracy. [Enclosed with Steve’s letter is a Group Appeal, CDCR 602-G, signed by 43 death row prisoners.]

Here are the nine core issues death row prisoners in the adjustment center are struggling to bring attention to and will fight to bring into existence:

1) Abolish the 608 or amend it to be in alignment with Title 15: In 2008, the Thompson decree, a code of regulations that governed California death row inmates, was abolished by the U.S. District Court. In the same year the San Quentin administration created their own code of regulations for death row inmates under the arbitrary control of the warden at San Quentin.

One of the rules included in the 608 is an “indetermined SHU” program for anyone found guilty of two serious rules violation reports or one serious and two administrative rules violation reports within 180 days. The 608 needs to be abolished or amended. California death row inmates should be placed under Title 15, which is the California Code of Regulations for all California prisoners.

  • Cease the discriminatory practice of holding new death row arrivals in the Adjustment Center for an indeterminate amount of time without just cause. There should be no more than a 90 day “observation” period for new arrivals before institutional classification committee renders a decision on an inmate’s status.
  • Cease the use of confidential informants or 1030 disclosure forms to deny inmates access to Grade A programming, Grade B programming in East Block or access to a group yard in AC.
  • Cease the use of confidential informants or 1030 disclosure forms to label inmates as “prison gang members,” “gang associates” or involved in gang activity, unless there is factual corroborating evidence, in which case San Quentin’s staff shall and must follow the regulations by issuing a rules violation report affording the inmate his due process as required by law. The San Quentin staff must specify the rules and criteria clearly – no vagueness or contradictory rules. The Castillo should be used and the most recent criteria created and implemented stemming from the hunger strikers in PBSP or from LEIU (Law Enforcement and Investigation Unit).
  • End long-term confinement in the AC: Some death row inmates have been in AC for 20, 15 and 10 years. Create a program for these inmates and other AC inmates who have been disciplinary free for a year and grant them some form of privileges as given Grade A inmates.
2) Expand and provide constructive programming and privileges for the AC death row inmates. For example:
  • Expand visiting to two hours for people traveling over 250 miles.
  • Allow two telephone calls per month.
  • Allow inmates to take four photos per year.
  • Allow four yearly packages per year, or increase the unit to 50 pounds.
  • Allow more TV channels – channels of substance like the history and discovery channels.
  • Raise the number of personal books condemned B are allowed to have to 10.
  • Allow us to get our education (GED) and take college courses.
  • Allow a proctor to come in to test us in our studies within the unit.
3) Cease the policy of group/collective punishment and hiding behind the policy of safety and security. For example, in 2007, the AC administration implemented a policy to collectively punish and humiliate all AC inmates. All AC inmates were required to wear leg restraints and shower shoes only whenever being escorted outside their cell or unit. We were also required to be strip searched outside at yard recall time. After two years the wearing of leg-restraints was rescinded. This entire policy was supposed to be temporary. We want:
  • To be able to wear personal tennis shoes, or state shoes, to and from the yard; and on all escorts inside or outside the unit.
  • To be able to wear state clothing to the law library, especially during inclement weather; T-shirt and underwear during rain storms are both inhumane and not required in any other part of San Quentin.
  • To cease being strip searched on the exercise yard when it’s raining or during inclement weather.
4) Provide healthy, nutritional and adequate food, and expand the canteen.
  • Allow AC inmates to be allowed to purchase vitamin supplements and protein meal supplements from approved vendors without it being counted as an annual package.
  • Cease the practice of removing the plastic covers off the bread, cookies and chips, which is required in order for daily freshness to be preserved.
  • Oversee how the meals and trays are being prepared; too often the breakfast/dinner food trays are not adequately cleansed.
  • Bring back the “hot food cart.”
  • Increase spending limit for canteen and offer a wider selection of food items.
5) Provide exercise equipment on the group yards and group yard program.
  • Return the basketball court.
  • Return the pull-up bar; place a dip bar and two tables on each yard.
  • Allow items to be brought out to the yard, such as soap, shampoo, coffee, lotion and a tumbler.
  • Provide the group yard with activity items – checkers, chess, cards and handballs.
6) Medical: Honor all medical chronos issued from and approved by the chief medical officer. Custody staff should have no say so on any medical needs of prisoners. If the medical need of an inmate cannot be met in the AC, then the inmate should be housed in a unit where his medical needs can be accommodated.
The AC unit staff must not be permitted to impose unjust punishments upon prisoners who have proven a necessity for medical appliances. When it is deemed medically imperative for modified cuffs, staff puts the prisoner on leg restraints claiming “safety and security,” when in fact it is an attempt to discourage prisoners from seeking medical appliances by punishing them with unnecessary, painful, degrading and excessive mechanical restraints.

7) Clothing and grooming: The AC administration has been derelict in their duty to provide and exchange linen on a timely or regular basis.
  • Allow AC inmates to purchase their own white boxer underwear, T-shirts and socks from approved vendors.
  • Allow us to purchase rain jackets, since the AC seems unable to provide them to all AC inmates on anything other than “first come first serve” basis.
  • Allow us to have a mirror and comb, provided by the state, in the cell.
  • Allow us to shave when scheduled for a visit as is done in other SHU programs in California.
  • Allow us to order thermals from approved vendors.
8) Legal law library: Since the AC staff (the sergeant) has taken control of assigning and scheduling AC inmates for SHU law library, it’s been inconsistent.
  • Return the scheduling of AC inmates for SHU law to the SHU law clerk.
  • Scheduling and rescheduling AC inmates for SHU law takes too long. There are enough holding stalls when utilized that can allow an inmate (when he signs up) to be assured law library twice a month.
  • Provide regular access to the main library.
9) Hobby craft: We want to be allowed color pencils and pens and color paper.

Steve Champion is on California’s death row at San Quentin. Send our brother some love and light: Steve Champion, C-58001, San Quentin State Prison, San Quentin CA 94974. 
And read his book, “Dead to Deliverance: A Death Row Memoir,” available at amazon.com or Split Oak Press, splitoakpress.com.


Louisiana death-row inmate Damon Thibodeaux exonerated with DNA evidence

A little after 4 a.m. on July 21, 1996, Damon Thibodeaux, a deckhand on a Mississippi River workboat, cracked at the end of a nine-hour interrogation and confessed to the brutal rape and murder of his 14-year-old step-cousin, Crystal Champagne.

“I didn’t know that I had done it,” Thibodeaux said at one point, according to a police transcript. “But I done it.”

Before that day was over, Thibodeaux had recanted his confession, telling his court-appointed lawyer that he told police what they wanted to hear in response to threats of death by lethal injection and his grief over the death of his cousin. Nonetheless, Thibodeaux was later convicted of both crimes and sentenced to die.

Now, after more than 15 years spending 23 hours a day in solitary confinement on death row at Louisiana’s Angola prison farm, Thibodeaux is free.

Read the rest here.

Also check the Innocence Project’s page on Damon here.

There are many more people with innocence claims and who are wrongfully convicted, also with no DNA evidence available, who need to be released and compensated for the years they had to endure as innocent people in prisons, threatened with death.

Free the Innocent!

Plz Sign Petition to Commute the Sentence of Brett Hartman (execution date in November)

Dear Friends,

Please sign the petition for an innocent man on Ohio’s Death Row, with an execution date of Nov 13th! You can sign here:

http://www.change.org/petitions/governor-of-the-state-of-ohio-commute-the-death-sentence-of-brett-hartmann#

You can read about Brett and his case on the website his friends and supporters keep.

This is the intro from Brett’s support site:

Brett was a single man of 23 at the time
of his arrest. He shared an apartment and
living expenses with his mother, who had
just had hip replacement surgery, while
working as a chef for a well recognized
restaurant.

Brett has always been a compassionate
person, never confrontational, facing life
with great inner strength, a tremendous
sense of humor, and a thirst for learning.
He is a man with a ready smile, well liked
by all who know him.

On September 10th, 1997, Brett was arrested for the murder of
Winda Snipes. This was after Brett had made anonymous calls to
911 to report finding the victim There can be no doubt that the
brutal nature of her death made this a high profile case with an
urgency to be solved.

Brett’s trial started on April 14th, 1998.
He was found guilty on April 30th, 1998.
Brett was sentenced to death on May 22nd, 1998.
This is a very short period of time for a death penalty case.

Brett’s family and supporters have always known that Brett is
innocent. Much of his case has not been able to be looked at on
appeal because post conviction attorneys missed crucial filing dates.
His case contains many of the components typically found in
wrongful convictions.

We welcome the opportunity to share with you some of that
information.

Continue to the fast facts page.

Continue to the case synopsis page.
————-
Please Sign Brett’s petition for a commutation!!
Thank you.