From behind bars in Clinton's America


I've been a prisoner at the Huntsville Texas Walls Unit for nearly ten years and during that period probably close to one hundred men and one woman have been strapped down to the gurney in the death house, and had the life snuffed out of them by lethal injection. Undoubtedly, some of these people were on death row for perpetrating heinous acts and undoubtedly, some totally innocent people have been put to death.

Almost invariably though, these prisoners come from working class backgrounds, with limited funds to afford defence for their lives against the political state which has unlimited funds to make their prosecutions. Often state appointed lawyers are appointed to defend people accused of capital cases who cannot afford high dollar attorneys like the rich use. State appointed lawyers usually are novices, with inadequate experience for defending a person's life.

Many are also covertly pro-death penalty, as are the judges in the courts where they work. Often state appointed lawyers are sucked up to these pro-death judges and in order to curry favour with said judges will put up a paltry defence, effectively allowing their client to be sold down the river. All this while keeping up the facade of impartiality and giving the client whose life is on the line the illusion of a stringent defence.

Death row prisoners have to try to learn enough about the law to defend themselves in appeal courts. Federal laws passed by Clinton have effectively curtailed access to courts for death penalty cases and the judges in the courts don't seem to want to render justice fairly either.

There have been cases where new evidence has come to light which would incontrovertably show the innocence of a death row prisoner and judges have ruled that justice was served and the prisoners were sent to their deaths anyway. So the courts are not concerned with justice and even a person whose live hangs in the balance cannot get a fair shake in the courts of 'the land of liberty'.

Whatever the crimes of prisoners on death row, their crimes are relatively small in comparison to the crimes perpetually committed by the boss class on a global scale; including genocide, wars of economic acquisition, decisions which result in massive starvation misery and environmental destruction.

Yet members of the boss class commit these crimes with impunity and never risk the possibility of execution for their actions. This is the class nature of capital punishment as it is applied only against people whose conditions are conducive to them lashing out in frustration, and this type of application serves to displace the focus from the real killers in society - who maintain the violence perpetuating capitalist system - onto the small criminal who gets caught up in that system.

Also imbedded in this power monolith stacked against working class prisoners are the state guard-dogs who run these prisons, as well as other law enforcement personnel. Proto-fascist prison guards ensure that every facet of an execution is carried out, even administering the lethal chemicals to the condemned prisoner.

Executioners no longer wear hoods to conceal their identities but hide behind a curtain. Three prison guards are hired to administer the lethal chemicals comprising Sodium Thiopental, Pavulon and Potassium Chloride which stops the heart. The three executioners are paid a few hundred dollars for each execution, and it is rumoured that it may be the same guards performing the executions each time.

None of them are supposed to know which one is administering the Potassium Chloride, much as blank rounds are issued to a firing squad to cast doubt on which participant actually causes death. It's safe to assume that if the same three guards are carrying out these state murders that they've all been the actuaters of death and probably don't give a damn.

One recent execution in May '98, of J. Cannon, shows the brutal attitude of executioners to death row prisoners. After sitting on death row for some 21 years, Cannon was transported to the Huntsville Walls Unit and strapped down to a gurney awaiting death with needles in his arm.

The anonymous screws behind the curtain had pumped up the injection apparatus to such a degree that the chemicals were released with such force that his vein literally blew and formed a haematoma.

It was fifteen minutes before another vein could be found and everything re-organised for resumption of J. Cannon's execution. During this time his mother, witnessing this protracted horrible spectacle, reportedly collapsed in anguish in the viewing room.

Not only is capital punishment applied on a classist basis, it is also applied in a racist fashion with a disproportionate amount of people of colour filling America's and Texas' death rows. In Texas it seems that racism also extends to family members of the condemned.

Also in May this year Pedro Cruz Muniz, of latino heritage, was put to death by Texas State. Shortly before his execution some of Pedro's family members were told they would be allowed into the viewing room to see him off.

Once inside the building, it was noticed that Pedro's family members were of mixed race including Mexican, Black and a red haired white skinned person. All of a sudden the rules changed and Pedro's family were told they would have to wait out in the street while he was being killed.

Upon announcement of Pedro's death, which some of his family had to hear in the street, Texas Dept. of Corrections guards who were congregating in the street were reported to be laughing boisterously within earshot of Pedro's family.

In the prison kitchen, where I work as a cook, we are always aware of when an execution is scheduled because some of the more slavish bootlick type prisoners help facilitate these events by cooling up all sorts of doughnuts, cakes (German chocolate) ham 'n' cheese sandwiches, cinnamon rolls - the works for all the guard-dogs of the state to gorge themselves on while they wait for a person to die. As if it's a festive occasion. This seems somewhat symbolic of the bigger picture where our rulers feast while we are sacrificed on capital's altar.

For all the prisoners here who are ambiguous about capital punishment or who just plain don't care, there are many of us who for various reasons are for its abolition. We hope that, through international solidarity and direct actions, someday we can quit watching the black hearse drive in to collect the bodies of our working class brothers and sisters. Perhaps one day we will bulldoze the walls of all prisons and smash the forces of domination that build them.

Kevin Glover

US politicans rule that poor people are more deserving of the death penalty:

Recently, the Governor of Pennsylvania signed Senate Bill 423 into law,which forbids a death penalty appeal based on:

a) claims that blacks are more likely to be executed for the same crime than whites.

b) claims that a pennyless defendant is more likely to be executed than a rich one.

c) claims that a death sentence is excessive or disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases.

If ever we needed more proof that US 'justice' values white life over black life, and proclaims the inherent worth of the wealthy over the poor....

This article is from Workers Solidarity No 55 published in October 1998