Our laws are written and our penalties and punishments inflicted with the idea in mind that people are always able to do right and that man is always able to control his conduct - to choose freely between right and wrong. I suggest to you that in assessing punishment, you have to take into account the nature of human beings. We all know something about human nature. We all know something of ourselves. Consider the power of temptation, the pressure of peers, the force of habit, the effects of heredity, the limitations of intellect, the domination of want, and the effects of poverty and helplessness. Until we understand these things, until we know that human beings are capable of always doing right, we should not bind and kill those who do a dreadful act. Our very own ignorance should make us merciful. Until we understand a persons thoughts, passions, fears, sorrows and weaknesses, we should not assume that what he did was done with cold deliberation and contemplation.
Its been over 60 years since the public could watch an execution in the United States. One of the last public hangings occured at dawn, August 26, 1936, when a man named Raine Bethea was hanged before a raucous crowd of 1000 in Owensboro, Kentucky.
In a vivid on the scene account by a Time magazine reporter, we learn that the spectators had spent the night before Bethea's death drinking and attending hanging parties. Through the early hours of that day "hawkers squeezed through the crowd selling popcorn and hotdogs. Telephone poles were festooned with spectators."
By 5:00 am "the crowd grew impatient and began to yell, lets go, bring him out. At 5:20 am, Bethea, his stomach bulging with chicken, pork chops and watermelon, was pushed to the base of the platform. At 5:28 am there was a swoosh and a snap. Soon the spectators crowded in and eager hands clawed at the black death hood...the lucky ones stuffed the bits of black cloth in their pocket. "
As Will Rogers wrote in 1925, "Anybody whose pleasure is watching somebody else die is about as much use to humanity as the person being executed." Its exactly this sort of spectacle that makes us recognise that an execution doesn't have a sobering effect on the public or the crime rate. Indeed, one might even make the point that executions lead to the disregard of human life. Its the classic case of violence begetting violence.
Fundamentally, the only question is whether death is the only solution. I recall other people in history who thought the only solution was killing. Adolph Hitler thought the only solution was to kill the Jews. The Romans thought the only solution was to kill the Christians. Everytime I think of death in terms of a state authorized killing it turns my stomach.
Doesn't it seem a bit hypocritical and insincere that we who value life most should commit homicide ourselves? Lets be homest, what are you doing when you vote to have someone strapped down to a table with a vein exposed so that he can be intentionally injected with a needle full of poison? It sounds like the final chapter of a horror story or a tale of Nazi atrocity. Is the destruction of any human being so necessary that we can approve of this type of gore?
Our latest technological refinement in execution people is to poison them with an overdose of drugs. The idea is to be humane. Ask yourself, why is our society trying to kill people in a humane way? Isn't it because we are trying to reassure ourselves about something we know is wrong? Would you say Hitler was humane when he sent Poles, Jews, and Slavs into the gas chamber, having them believe they were going into showers?
Some people call giving the death penalty a noble thing. But lets recognize it for essentially what it is - revenge. Retribution in the form of revenge is what we are talking about here. Capital punishment is vengeance. We don't rape a rapist. We don't burn arsonists. We don't stand drunk drivers in the middle of the road and run them down.
The long struggle of the human race has been filled with violence, war and homicide. It probably will be for many years to come. We are trying to make a nonviolent society. The goal is fine. But it doesn't make a lot of sense to use the death penalty - a clear act of violence - as our solution. The easier it becomes to impose the death penalty and kill in the name of the law, the less valuable human life becomes. When our prisons become nothing but rivers of blood all life becomes cheap. When our government condones killing a man because he doesn't deserve to live , it teaches its citizens that they too can kill those they don't like.
There is something more than the physical side of the death penalty. We tend to forget the mental torture that accompanies it. It has been said that we all live under a suspended sentence of death. How many would retain their sanity if we knew when that date where fixed by day, hour and minute. How far greater would that torture be if you knew you were being executed for something you didn't do? Plus, what of the mental tortures being forced upon these guys by prison officials ?
These officials are already in charge of everything, your food, water, mail, visits, and recreation. What purpose does it serve to have a guard enforce rules that carry no true peneological interests ? Such as allowing a gaurd to make derogatory remarks. Even allowing sexual comments go unchallenged by gaurds and directed towards an inmate waiting to be killed by the state. This is the level of civilized society we have obtained for ourselves. One has to really wonder is this the direction we're headed into the new millenium ?
MARTIN'S PENPAL REQUEST:
33 year old white male, 6 ft, brown eyesand hair (long), heavily tattooed, 175 lbs. Currently serving a nightmare on death row for a crime I didn't do. Need helpdrastically. Anyone who would care to write just to pass timeis welcome. Please, no head games, plenty of that in my liferight now. Also anyone into computers who may have the skillor desire to reconstruct a scale drawing of a crime scene to helpprove my innocence. Computer illiterate myself. Former tattooartist, machinist. Harley motorcycles and anything associated with the biker world. Pen and ink artists and artists who draw with pencils. History, mythology, and things pagan are all interests of mine. Family and friends have all come down with out of sight out of mind disease I don't receive any mail so being in a cell 24 hours a day 6 days a week with the only recreation being 5 hours once a week, I can sure use correspondance to help pass the time. Any and all will be welcome and answered. Not allowed to work so funds are very tight but will write back. We're not allowed to take photos here so I can't send photos of myself. Definately not Qausimodo but not the handsomest man either, your appearance isn't important, nor your age, as long as you're sincere and not into head games I'd appreciate hearing from you.
Mr Martin M Woolley
P O BOX 711
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