I have a friend…well, someone who slides between the role of friend, mentor and pain-in-the-ass in my life and we have known each other for a very long time. A very long time in the old sense of the word, like over 20 years (not the new definition wherein 2 years is considered a decade).
We have been through thick and thin, fights (in which we stopped communicating for months), fights (where we would have been better off not talking for months), good times, bad times, and times like now – which are building times.
When either or both of us are in “building times” we function as each others mentors, advisers, critics, cheerleaders and devils. The last perhaps, is what has begun to make the nature of our relationship stronger and deeper of late.
We listen to what each other is saying or planning or thinking and then, find some way – not to challenge it for its truth or validity, but challenge whether or not we are planning or thinking far enough, or have we stopped someplace when we could go further.
My friend, as some of you are, is aware of what I am doing “off-line” and the nature of what it is I have spent 12 years building on-line and how the two are finally starting to follow paths towards each other that will eventually meet. It is a really…exciting process and one fraught with many, many mistakes, missteps and lots of successes.
But my friend, in watching one of the areas in which I am evolving, which is becoming more involved with abolition of the death penalty on an international, national, and local scale; decided it was time to be the devil in the details.
And no, the question raised wasn’t about some absolutely heinous crime committed by some heinous, person with no remorse or slightest question of guilt. It was a much more fundamental and basic one, although it came in several parts and delivered through her favourite medium, a suggested book.
The book was John Grisham’s The Confession. Which is a fictional story about that thing that happened in Texas where the judge said “We close at five.” and wouldn’t even look at a last minute appeal even though the office knew it was on its way and it only arrived a few minutes after five. The book is a typical Grisham romp and very enjoyable, but challenging as well.
I sat and thought about the whole thing after I read it and discovered, because she knows me well enough to know what switches to flip to start lights going off in my head, that there were several things about the whole concept of abolishing the death penalty that had to be considered that I hadn’t given thought to.
One, the safest, was a desire to abolish it out of a strong belief that our justice system is too hopelessly corrupt (and that in all sense of the word – from politics, to class, to race and on and on) to be relied upon to judge whether someone has the right to live or die.
Two, slightly unsafer, the belief that no one has any right to be the cause of another’s death no matter what the circumstances. Simply said, but that leads into convoluted and difficult territory that includes abortion, psychopathology, individual rights versus communal rights, euthanasia, income distribution, disaster relief, war, self-defense and on and on. It can be dealt with on a superficial level by simply saying that the “state” has no right no decide life or death, and shoot back to the safety of number one.
Three, now the woods surrounding the house have caught fire, the question of whether or not the death penalty includes the “other death penalty,” that of life without parole, a societal death of a human being.
There are four types of people who suffer societal death and are dismissed: the dying, the homeless, those in poverty, and those who have committed heinous crimes. All four types are “removed” from participation and not allowed in, or even acknowledged as having basic rights except in certain special circumstances. Those circumstances, for example, those who are in the last months of their life, are fought for by minority advocates. The society-at-large deems them non-participants except within their own sub-cultures. They are referred to as mass quantities (ie The Homeless) and treated in policy and philosophy as not part of the main community.
While it can be easy to say that a life saved is enough when it comes to life without parole versus an execution it negates a very powerful influence on society’s well being. These lifer’s typically form the elite of the peer system in prison and exert the most educational influence on those only temporarily incarcerated.
When we leave them without the kind of attention – the correspondence, the interaction that we tend to give to those on death row (because it is not nearly so justifiable an involvement) we contribute to a sub-culture that trains and educates people in ways that is not conducive to returning to society in a healthful way because it is based in sub-culture only.
My friend showed me that the reality of the death penalty is that it includes those who were never sentenced to be executed, but instead, buried alive in the coffin of prison. With naivete, we come to believe that their influence on non-prison society is now rendered harmless.
It is…not easy…but accepted to become involved in the abolition movement in regards to the more obvious role of the death penalty. It is very not easy to become involved in the abolition of societal death.
To choose to advocate on an international and national level for the life of someone for whom there remains a chance of innocence, a justifiable explanation of nature/nurture to bear part of the responsibility for creating them or a realistic evaluation of a corrupt and unreliable justice system is something we are prepared to do and have methods of doing.
To go into prisons, to form correspondence with prisoners who either meet the former or, are only temporarily removed from society is something we are prepared to do and have methods of doing and can justify through established explanations of hoped for cause and effect.
To go into prisons and form correspondence with those with no hope of ever re-entering society and possibly, no reasonable and justifiable risk defined for ever allowing them to do so – is something we are not prepared to do but it holds the essence of the struggle for human rights. For in forming those relationships we have decided that above all else, life has value and no life is to be dismissed from being a part of human society as a whole.
Love my friend, but like I said, sometimes she is an enormous pain in my ass.
Now, I am going to put a safety rider on this post, if you are so moved to reach out and begin a correspondence with a prisoner because of it, you need to stop right now and go talk to someone you respect who is willing to tell you when you may be about to engage in something that will not be good for you at the moment.
It is not something you should engage in if it could possibly be triggering to you, it is not something you should engage in should you have difficulties with boundaries and there is a strict protocol for writing to someone who is incarcerated on deathrow or for life. Above all else, writing to a deathrow prisoner or someone on life without parole is not something that you do “for a while,” it is a lifelong commitment.
If that is something that is beyond you for any of those reasons, there are other ways to become involved. Many other ways. Talk to someone you trust and define for yourself what you are realistically capable of doing at this point in your life, your capabilities will change, but work from where you are now.
And if so not moved, consider what has been said. Look for where you have chosen to stop your own thinking and see if you can think at least one step beyond.
c.2010. Cassandra Tribe. All Rights Reserved.