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June 2019
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2002-10-30 Death Row Hell

Welcome to this hell's purgatory for the "discarded waste of society awaiting society's incinerator".


Welcome to Hell (by Death Row activist and Lifelines founder Jan Arriens) is the book which inspired me to strike up a correspondence with a Death Row inmate in Arkansas in 1995.

I had always wondered how you could teach someone not to kill by killing them? I believe no-one has the right to take another persons life and find an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth one of the most Un-Christian beliefs in the Bible.

If, God forbid, someone close to me was brutally murdered, would I be filled with a desire for vengeance? Life without parole, if it really means life without parole is a far greater sentence when a killer is a danger to society.

There are murderers, rapists and serial killers on the Row, but there are also innocents who have been electrocuted, hung, gassed or injected with a lethal cocktail of drugs, depending on which state they were unlucky to find themselves in.

The figures are shocking. One third of Death Row prisoners are mentally retarded. 98.5% are men; most are black.

Apart from Illinois and California, the death penalty is exclusive to the Southern States. The high crime/ murder rate proves that the death penalty is not a deterrent.It is politically, economically and racially motivated.

Most Row inmates are poor (unable to afford legal representation), lack education and have endured horrific childhoods. For some, paradoxically, Death Row is the first period of stability in their lives. So the black, the poor, the undereducated, the retarded (some totally insane) are most at risk.

The US is one of a handful of countries (including Iraq) to have executed juveniles. America is killing the weak ones, the mistakes. Deprived people get death and yet 95% convicted of murder do not. Of 25,000 murders in the USA , around 250 get the death penalty. The State is a murderer, so the murderer lives on.

A BBC documentary called 14 days in May followed the last 14 days of the life of Edward Earl Johnson as he awaited his execution. Edward was a quiet, honest, simple American who had always protested his innocence.

I felt physically sick as I witnessed this process of dehumanisation. At the end, prisoners have contact visits- no more leg shackles and handcuffs.

Moved on the last day to a cell next to the execution chamber, they choose their special final meal. Edward was posthumously proven innocent.

My good Scottish pal Jan recently came to Dublin for a break with her friend Kerry Max Cook. His story is being told in the form of a play in New York at this time, with Richard Dreyfuss playing the role of Kerry. Kerry was sent to Texas Death Row at 19 charged with a brutal rape and murder.

He had watched as 141 fellow inmates were killed while he continually protested his own innocence . Twenty-two years later, DNA was matched to the original suspect, thus exonerating Kerry. During those 22 years, his father died from cancer, his brother was murdered and the world changed.

As Jan, Kerry and I walked in the Dublin mountains, Kerry saw his first heather, his first live waterfall as he inhaled the scents pervading the mountain air.

Eric Nance, on Arkansas Row wakes up each day in his 8 x 6 cell to the knowledge that the State is also trying to take his life. Writing to Eric has been an inspiring and humbling experience.

He constantly protests his innocence. How do these guys cope? Many are raped constantly, most turn to God as the only constant, and for the majority, their minds are the first to endure a slow death.

It is not uncommon for a prisoner to have four execution dates in five days, or to get a 3-hour stay of execution while strapped in the chair. What sort of mind can push the button?

Seven years on, I continue to write to Eric every week, and our friendship deepens. I remain on his visitors list and speak to his mother on the phone. Lets hope the US soon recognises its double standards?