Archive for September, 2011

Proliferation-Paul Rucker-US Prisons


Green Dots: 1778-1900

Yellow Dots: 1901-1940

Orange Dots: 1941-1980

Red Dots: 1981-2005
symbiosism1 1 year ago

Nathan Eyring – Animation
Aaron Bourget- Video Editing
Rose Heyer – Research
Troy Glessner – Music Mastering

Special Thanks:
Blue Mountain Center- Prison Issues Residency
Fellow Activists of the Prison Issues Residency
Peter Wagner
Prison Policy Initiative
Prisoners of the Census
Washington State Arts Commission/Artist Trust Fellowship
Cornish College of the Arts
Jess Van Nostrand

Today marks the third day of a new hunger strike at Pelican Bay State Prison, where 1000 inmates in the supermax Security Housing Unit (SHU) are warehoused for lengthy periods of time and deprived of human contact and communication.

Keramet Reiter, University of California, Berkley, Department of Jurisprudence and Social Policy has written an excellent article titled Parole, Snitch or Die. There are now thousands of human beings in the United States locked in long-term sensory deprivation cells called solitary confinement cells. The article focuses on California in particular because two of the first and largest modern supermaxes, Pelican Bay and Corcoran State, are in California. California’s supermaxes can house more than 3300 people in extreme conditions.

Sumermax proliferation began in the late eighties. Now, almost every state has a supermax facility that is either some portion of a retrofitted prison or a structure designed specifically for that purpose. County jails also have sensory deprivation isolation cells and holes.

In Frog Gravy, I often mention ‘Harry.’ Harry was a mentally ill man in an isolation cell in the jail. None of us ever saw him. We would have seen him if he were allowed recreation in the outside cage because he would have walked down the hallway and by our small cell on the way to recreation. He had been in the isolation cell for many months with no human contact. He apparently smeared feces on the wall. The jail staff pepper sprayed him in the cell. I only knew the man existed because he shouted for help, all hours of the day and night.

It is difficult to estimate how many people are locked in these cells in this country. The paper estimates as many as 100,000. The detention is anything but brief.

Sometimes people liken these cells to Alcatraz. For example, ADX Florence, which is an all supermax federal prison in Colorado is sometimes called ‘The Alcatraz of The Rockies.’ However, today’s supermax sensory deprivation cells are actually worse in that the engineering and design includes soundproofing and disorienting entombment in steel and concrete.

Supermax prisons across the United States detain thousands in long-term solitary confinement, under conditions of
extreme sensory deprivation. They are prisons within prisons, imprisoning those who allegedly cannot be controlled
in a general population prison setting. Most supermaxes were built in a brief period, between the late 1980s and the
late 1990s. In 1988 and 1989, California opened two of the first and largest of the modern supermaxes: Pelican Bay
and Corcoran State Prisons. Today, California houses more than 3,300 prisoners in supermax conditions.

The original idea behind supermax detention in Pelican Bay State Prison was to address gang violence. There is, however, no conclusive data that correlates long-term sensory deprivation with a reduction in violence.

Placement into these extreme conditions is determined by prison staff and not by any court. If an inmate, for example, is believed to be a gang member, that alone can result in isolation detention. The criteria are not set, nor is the length of time that an inmate will spend in isolation.

Lengthy isolation detention is psychologically devastating. The damage is permanent.

Psychologists, psychiatrists and anthropologists have
documented the mental health impacts for prisoners consigned to supermaxes; all have found
dramatic and irreparable deterioration in mental health for prisoners in supermaxes, after even a
few months of solitary detention (Haney 2003; Kupers 1999; Rhodes 2004). Rehabilitation,
however, is not the goal of the supermax.

Supermax detention lengths are increasing. Eighteen months is not uncommon; multiple years are not uncommon. The only human contact is rough handling by guards. The only time outside cement is one hour each day in a different cage. (Actually, the one hour per day is not the case in many jail isolation cells.) Light torture is 24/7/365. Often, isolation inmates are deprived of glasses and stationery.

It is also interesting to note that many inmates are paroled directly from their supermax isolation cell into the community. How in the world can one who had been entombed in cement for months and years at a time with no human contact be expected to integrate into society?

Definitions of ‘gang’ membership are vague and entirely discretionary. Disciplinary infractions that result in isolation detention can be as minor as spitting to as serious as attempted murder.

Short-term disciplinary detention for violent acts and behavior problems is being replaced with indefinite torture. The outcome criteria- better or resolved behavior- are not met. In other words, the data does not support torture.

Why is this country planning more supermax facilities and more jails and prisons and jails and holes within prisons? There is no ‘correction’ in torture. In fact, there is no ‘correction’ or rehabilitation goal in America’s so-called correctional facilities today.

This is now day 4 of the new hunger strike
and the state of California is threatening discipline for inmates joining the strike in solidarity. I suppose that means that a few thousand more people will now be tortured with the hole for an indefinite period.

This is an updated version of a post that you may have seen in August.

Michael Cavlan RN August 21st, 2011 at 1:54 pm «
One more thing to remember.
Seek out those of us who have been arrested multiple times. You will be frightened to all get out. We will assure you that things will be OK. You will discover that getting arrested is no bid deal.
Then the next time you get arrested, you can be the one calming the “new kid” down. Being arrested for your beliefs is an exhilarating experience and you WILL have some deep political discussions on things while in lock up.
See you all October 6th in DC.

ThingsComeUndone August 21st, 2011 at 2:34 pm «
Bring a soft cover book to read hard cover might be considered a weapon. Bring a lefty book or two and give it away if people are interested in reading it don’t expect to get it back but hey educating people has a cost and its worth it there is nothing to do but read tv channel selection sucks.
Bring a deck of cards and or a chess and checkers board it might be let in make sure the deck is new and never been opened.

CarolynC August 21st, 2011 at 3:08 pm «
Was arrested by the park police on the same charges as the Tar Sands demonstrators and I will tell you one thing about the park police. If you complain that your cuffs are too tight they are likely to do nothing for you. One woman near me complained and was recuffed — only this time it was tighter. We got the message: don’t complain about your cuffs. Just keep your hands as motionless behind your back as possible, breathe deep, and stay calm.

lechero August 21st, 2011 at 6:31 pm «
To the organizers of such peaceful protests, I say, get good publicity.
The people peacefully protesting the closure of St Vincent’s Hospital in New York only got “police blotter” coverage during their arrest.

marty59 August 22nd, 2011 at 7:43 am «
Something else to consider is because jails are kept a nice toasty 62 degrees to “keep down on germs” make sure you’re wearing WHITE long johns and a WHITE thermal shirt even if it’s 100 degrees out there and you’re sweating like a pig.. Once inside you’ll want to wrap toilet paper around your limbs to stay warm..Even if they dress you in those pile of plastic straw they call a mattress and the thin wool blanket won’t help so make sure you have your long johns on.. Most jails will let you keep them but ONLY if they’re white with no markings or designs on them.

DWBartoo August 22nd, 2011 at 9:29 am «

Being prepared is nine/tenths of maintaining one’s “cool”.
Be prepared, be ready, be calm, and be certain.
‘Tis a grand jouney we are all embarked upon, have no fears, no worries, and no doubts, your sacred being is inviolate.
Keep your mind serene and your eyes and ears open.
Keeping your wits about you is a wonderful good experience.
Such experience strengthens, confirms, and inspires.
Embrace the moment, for it is yours, in ways which you cannot imagine until you have been “there”.
To understand the weakness of institutional “power” you must be present to the experience of self. And to the strength and companionship of others.
It is a very good place to make real and genuine friends.

Given the news of arrests at peaceful protests, it is not unrealistic to assume that if you attend a peaceful demonstration of any kind, you may be arrested and taken to jail.

Here are a few things to consider:

–There will be a delay before you can make a phone call, and during that first call, arrange for the person on the other end to obtain a jail telephone calling card. Alternatively, outgoing calls are collect. There are no incoming calls, and, all calls are recorded. Also, they really do listen to these recordings.

–If you have pets, make arrangements for their care prior to attending a peaceful protest, just in case.

–Do not carry a lot of cash. Many jails simply take all of the cash you have on you, and keep it.

–If you are on medication or if you have a medical condition, have your medications and the schedules with you, and know that many jails simply deny all psychiatric medication outright.

–Do not expect to be read your rights or know your charges or be provided with an attorney: Those days are gone, except in the movies.

–Tell someone else who you wish to be notified, if you are arrested and taken to jail.

–It might be good to have a meeting place, a group of friends, or some sort of gathering schedule, to check on each other during a protest. If someone goes missing, think hospital and then think jail.

–You may or may not be allowed to have glasses. If you use reading glasses, assure the jail staff that they are prescription, and that you cannot function without them. Have your optometrist write a prescription and put it in your wallet, even if it is for +1.75.

–You may or may not be “dressed out” in jail attire. One way or the other, expect to be cold. If you protest during the colder months, wear something loose and warm, that will be relatively comfortable, on a cement floor.

–Get plenty of sleep before you protest. You won’t get any in jail.

–If you are claustrophobic, come up with a plan to handle close, overcrowded quarters. You will experience everyone else’s bodily functions through three senses.

–Do not expect any recreation times in the beginning.

–Expect the atmosphere to be loud and expect the fluorescent lights to be on, at least partially, all the time.

—Women: You can use Kotex pads to make your own eye coverings. This helps with the light torture. You can also use the stuffing to make ear plugs.

—If you have never been to jail, expect a cold delousing shower (if you are headed to population) and a humiliating squat-and-cough and bodily search, in front of total strangers. As a protester, you may remain in a holding cell, where you may be allowed to remain in your street clothing.

Other Notes

Pepper Spray

From wiki:

Pepper spray, also known as OC spray (from “Oleoresin Capsicum”), OC gas, and capsicum spray, is a lachrymatory agent (a chemical compound that irritates the eyes to cause tears, pain, and even temporary blindness) that is used in riot control, crowd control, and personal self-defence, including defence against dogs and bears.[1] Its inflammatory effects cause the eyes to close, taking away vision. This temporary blindness allows officers to more easily restrain subjects and permits persons using pepper spray for self-defense an opportunity to escape.

Although considered a non-lethal agent, it may be deadly in rare cases, and concerns have been raised about a number of deaths where being pepper sprayed may have been a contributing factor.[2]

Tear Gas (wiki):

Tear gas, formally known as a lachrymatory agent or lachrymator (from lacrima meaning “a tear” in Latin), is a non-lethal chemical weapon that stimulates the corneal nerves in the eyes to cause tearing, pain, and even blindness.

Please be careful and know that it is possible to plan a bit, for any event.

(On my screen right now, this website is blinking and flashing. I am unable to read or navigate. Why is this? It must be my screen. Again. Is this happening to others?)

The DOC DC Jail site.

Wheat (Triticum aestivum L.)

Photo by Dag Endresen on flickr under Creative Commons

Little Red Hen The Ninety Niner Without A Job lived in a
barnyard rural American town where most of the small business buildings were boarded up. She spent almost all of her time walking about the barnyard walking around the town diving dumpsters for food, and scratching everywhere for the
worms maggots off the food packages when her husband was not looking because the food was still perfectly good.

She dearly loved fat the food she found, and since it was nutritious, she fed it to her children.

“Chuck-chuck-chuck!” she called to her chicks hungry children, when she was lucky enough to find food.

When they were gathered about her, she would distribute choice morsels of her tid-bit latest dumpster raid. A busy little body was she!

A cat Democrat who was about as useless as a screen door on a submarine usually napped lazily in the barn door between rounds of golf at various upscale resorts, not even bothering himself to scare the rat Republican who ran here and there as he pleased.

And as for the pig banker who lived in the sty on Wall Street—he did not care what
happened [to anyone] so long as he could eat and grow fat [and rip people off, especially if they were poor.].

One day the Little Red Hen Unemployed American Citizen Who Used To Have A Job found a Seed. It was a Wheat Seed, but the Poor People In America waswere so accustomed to bugs and worms that they had nearly given up on finding anything good about their lives any more. She bit it gently and found that it resembled a worm in no way whatsoever as to taste although because it was long and slender, a Little Red Hen might easily be fooled by its appearance waited to die, thinking that she might be eating some Monsanto-created Coming Plague, but she didn’t die and the seed was a good seed.

Carrying it about, she made many inquiries as to what it might be. She found it was a Wheat Seed that poor people work hard and are kind and that, if planted, it would grow up and when ripe it could be made into flour and then into bread.

When she discovered that, she knew it ought to be planteddecided to become an activist humanitarian. She was so busy hunting food for herself and her family [and gas was so expensive and money was so scarce that, naturally, she thought she ought not to take time to plant it.

So she thought of the Pig Banker—upon whom time must hang heavily and of the Cat Democrat who had nothing to do, and of the great fat Rat Republican who sat on the golf course smoking cigars and drinking single malt Scotch, and she called loudly:

“Who will cares enough about people to plant the Seed?”

But the Pig Banker said, “Not I,”

and the Cat Democrat said, “Not I,”

and the Rat Republican said, “Not I.”

“Well, then,” said the Little Red Hen Teeming Masses Of Poor, Underemployed, Unemployed, Uninsured, Tired American Citizens Who Were Fed Up With Being Taken Advantage Of, “I will.”

And she they did.

Then she they went on with her daily duties through the long summer days, scratching for worms and feeding her chicks struggling to scrape by and barely feed their families, while

the Pig Banker grew fat,

and the Cat Democrat grew fat,

and the Rat Republican grew fat,

and the Wheat grew tall and ready for harvest.

So one day the Little Red HenStruggling Starving People Including Veterans And Children, by the way, chanced to notice how large the Wheat was and that the grain was ripe, so she they ran about calling briskly: “Who will cut the Wheat?”

The Banker said, “Not I,”

the Democrat said, “Not I,”

and the Ratepublican said, “Not I.”


then butter my butt and call me a biscuit,” said the Little Red Hen People Who Were Beginning To Lose Hope,

I We will.”

And she they did.

They got the sickle from among the farmer’s tools in the barn and proceeded to cut off all of the big plant of Wheat.

On the ground lay the nicely cut Wheat, ready to be gathered and threshed, but the Little Red Hen Only People In America Who Were Actually Doing Things That Matter had a family to raise and she did not know if she they had the time to harvest the wheat.

Poor Little Red Hen People Who Longed For The Days When The Country Didn’t Suck! SheThey felt quite bewildered and hardly knew where to turn.

HerTheir attention was sorely divided between her duty to her children and her duty to the Wheat, for which she they felt responsible.

So, again, in a very hopeful tone, shethey peacefully called out, “Who will thresh the Wheat?” And again, when the Wheat was ready for threshing shethey called out for help, and each time shethey called for help, they got the same answers:

The PigBanker, with a grunt, said, “Not I,” and the CatDemocrat, with a meow, said, “Not I,” and the Republican, with a squeak, said, “Not I.”

So the Little Red HenTired And The Downtrodden, looking, it must be admitted, rather discouraged, said, “Well, I we will, then.”

And she they did.

Even as she they sleepily half opened one eye, the thought came to her them that to-day that Wheat must, somehow, be made into bread.

Feeling that she they might have known all the time that she they would have to do it all herself, they went and put on borrowed a fresh apron and spotless cook’s cap from the town bread baker, Bill Egnor. First of all she they set the dough, as was proper. When it was time she they brought out the baking tins, kneaded the bread, divided it into loaves, and put them into the oven to bake. All the while the Democrat sat lazily by, giggling and chuckling.

And close at hand the vain Ratepublican powdered his nose and admired himself in a mirror.

In the distance could be heard the long-drawn snores of the dozing PigBanker.

At last the great moment arrived. A delicious odor was wafted upon the autumn breeze. Everywhere the barnyard citizens sniffed the air with delight.

Although she they appeared to be perfectly calm, in reality she they could only with difficulty restrain an impulse to dance and sing, for had she they not done all the work on this wonderful bread to make the world a better place for everyone’s children and granchildren?

Then, probably because she had acquired the habit, the Red Hen People Who Worked For What They Believed In called:

“Who will eat the Bread?”

All the animals in the barnyard were watching hungrily and smacking their lips in anticipation, and

the Pig Banker said, “I will,”

the Cat Democrat said, “I will,”

the Rat Republican said, “I will.”

But the Little Red Hen Passing Public That Consists Of People Who Have Some Sense said,

“No, you won’t. I We will.”

And she they did.

Help Japan Brighton University Peace Cranes

Help Japan Brighton University Peace Cranes by Dominic’s pics on flickr under Creative Commons. These cranes were made by a group of Brighton University art students in support of the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami victims. (more…)

Note: Masoninblue wrote this article in response to some questions at another site. I am posting it here because it is informative. For those of you who do not know this, Masoninblue is my husband; I have his permission to publish his full-text articles at this site. Masoninblue is a former death penalty lawyer and law professor.

Although states vary in their definitions, the majority of states define homicide is the unlawful killing of a human being. Killing a person in self-defense is a lawful killing of another person. Therefore, it is not a homicide.

There are four degrees of homicide which vary according to the actor’s state of mind when he or she commits an act that causes the death of another person. The four degrees of homicide are:

1. Murder in the First Degree (premeditated intent to kill another person). Note that premeditation is defined as forming the specific intent to kill before committing the act that causes the death of another person. There is no established minimum amount of time, but the actor must have had an opportunity to reflect on the decision to kill before committing the act that causes death.

2. Murder in the Second Degree (intentional murder). In effect, the actor forms the specific intent to kill another person and acts immediately such that the formation of intent and the act occur simultaneously or so close together that there is no opportunity to reflect on the decision. Murder in the Second Degree typically involves killing another person in the heat of passion.

3. Manslaughter in the First Degree (reckless killing). The actor engages in conduct knowing that there is a substantial risk that the conduct will cause the death of another person. The typical example is playing Russian Roulette with another person. There is no intent to kill, but a death results nevertheless.

4. Manslaughter in the Second Degree (criminally negligent killing). The actor causes the death of another person while committing an act that he should have known would likely cause the death of another person and his failure to know that constitutes a gross deviation from the standard to act with due care to avoid injuring others.

Depending on whether a state has the death penalty, there is another category called Aggravated Murder, which is a premeditated murder with aggravating circumstances.

Aggravating circumstances are defined by statute and typically include the premeditated killing of another person to conceal the commission of another crime. For example, a rapist kills the victim to prevent her from reporting the crime and identifying him. Other examples include the premeditated murder of a cop or a judge. In each case the aggravating circumstance is the purpose behind the premeditated intent to kill.

The death penalty is not automatically imposed upon conviction of aggravated murder, no matter how heinous or depraved. Instead, a sentencing hearing is held after the jury convicts the defendant of aggravated murder in which the same jury that convicted him considers evidence submitted by the prosecution in aggravation of the offense and evidence offered by the defense in mitigation of the offense.

Author Masoninblue wrote this, in response to some questions at other sites. It is informative, so I am posting it here with permission. For those of you who do not know this, Masoninblue is my husband. I have permission to print his full-text articles and comments at this site.

Evidence in aggravation includes the evidence the jury already heard about the offense in the guilt phase, a statement from a friend of the victim or member of the victim’s family who testifies regarding the impact of the victim’s death on the witness or family, and evidence of the defendant’s prior record of criminal convictions, if any exists.

Evidence in mitigation is evidence about the defendant, such as organic brain disorder, limited intellectual functioning, mental illness, victim of childhood sexual abuse or assault, or the defendant’s role in committing the murder (e.g., an accomplice who assisted another person to commit the murder but who did not commit the murder and may not have even been present when it occurred) that in fairness or mercy warrants a sentence of life without possibility of parole instead of the death penalty.

In Washington State where I handled all of my death penalty cases, the final instruction given to the jury after both sides rest in the penalty phase is as follows:

Having in mind the crime of which the defendant has been convicted, are you convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that there are not sufficient mitigating circumstances to merit a sentence of less than death?

The jury also is instructed that the law presumes that the appropriate sentence is life without possibility of parole unless the prosecution overcomes that presumption with proof beyond a reasonable doubt that there are not sufficient mitigating circumstances to merit the life without parole sentence.

The jury must be unanimous to impose the death sentence.

Van Crushing

Van Crushing by Proggie on flickr under non-commercial creative commons.

A few days ago, a friend and neighbor of ours asked for directions to the metal recycle center. He needed some extra money and he had some aluminum that he wanted to exchange for cash. Our friend has an excellent job as a cook at a national chain steakhouse that consistently receives excellent Zagat ratings. He is married, with one young daughter.

Our friend is uninsured, and his family receives food stamps because, even though he has a good full-time job, the pay is insufficient for the family to live on.

When our friend returned from the recycle center, he was ecstatic, as a first-time visitor to recycle always is, because it is fascinating, and also because he had received just over four dollars for his clean piece of aluminum. By “clean” I mean that the aluminum was not mixed with other metals, and there was no plastic attached to it.

The working poor are now collecting scrap metal to get by and this is a recent trend. This man’s example is just one of many that we have seen in the past three to four months.

‘Our’ dumpsters that were once bounties of riches that we had mostly to ourselves are now harvested so often that we can no longer expect to find anything; the practice of collecting recycle scraps no longer is limited to the unemployed. At recycle we have witnessed everything from people on foot or in wheelchairs or pushing grocery carts to well dressed people in high-end vehicles.

What is scrap metal?

For the purposes of this discussion, scrap metal is salvaged metal that can be recycled. The most popular scrap metals are copper, aluminum, brass, stainless steel, iron, chrome, steel, bronze and shreddable sheet metal.

Copper, aluminum and iron are elements, listed in the Periodic Table with symbols Cu, Al and Fe. Copper and aluminum do not stick to magnets. Sometimes it is easy to be fooled. I have taken coils of shiny, beautiful copper wire to recycle, only to find out that the wire is copper coated or copper color, over a basic layer of sheet metal.

Magnets are essential to distinguish between types of scrap metals. In a pinch, a small old car stereo speaker makes a pretty good magnet.

Copper and aluminum are money metals, with copper being the most valuable of all scrap metals. Copper is perhaps most often associated with wiring. Anything that plugs into the wall will have copper, and so, appliance cords are popular among scrappers. Some wires are easy to strip and some are not. If I cannot strip a wire easily with box cutters, I turn it in at recycle as insulated copper, at a reduced rate. We do not burn wiring, nor do we condone it, although some people do.

The electricity grid, because of its high copper content, is sometimes the target of thieves. High-end plumbing pipes are made of copper. Metal theft often involves plumbing.

Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. Brass is a high-quality money metal that does not stick to a magnet and, due to its unique composition and sound conduction, it is a metal of choice for musical instruments. Most of our brass comes from door knobs, drawer pulls, lamps, and discarded items from the electrical grid. Some lamps can fool. Die cast can look almost exactly like yellow brass. Match Box toy cars, for example, are die cast. Die cast brings a fraction of the price of real brass.

Stainless steel, or corrosion resistant steel is a steel alloy with at least 10.5% chromium. Steel is an alloy of mostly iron, combined with a small percentage of carbon or other elements.

The term “money metal” is a common slang term for those metals that bring the most money for the least amount of weight. Stainless steel is a money metal that is often overlooked by the scrapper and tossed onto the sheet metal pile at the back of the yard.

Things marked “Stainless steel” can either be magnetic or not. This depends on the atomic arrangement. Perhaps a reader can explain the metal chemistry and physics better here. For the scrapper’s purpose, if it sticks to a magnet, the scrap yard will most likely consider it sheet metal, and the scrapper will receive a reduced price, or scrap price. However, the difference between high-grade stainless and reduced-rate scrap is significant.

By the way, just so you know, what happens to be stamped on a metal does not necessarily mean it is what it says. I have had items marked “14K” that were not gold. The exception to this is silver. Silver items are stamped, somewhere on the item, on a rim, a ridge, somewhere not very visible, with the symbol “925,” meaning 92.5% elemental silver by weight. If you are not looking at such a symbol, you are not looking at silver. You are most likely looking at silver plate or stainless. So, if you are thinking of cleaning all of the silver out of the thrift stores and flea markets, take a magnet (silver does not stick) and a really good magnifying glass, because for now, anyway, silver plate is essentially a scrap metal.

Another note on silver: Consider hanging onto it if you can. Silver is generally increasing in value. Here is a precious metal prices ticker.

Bronze is an alloy of mainly copper. It is not a common metal for a scapper to encounter; bronze is used, for example, in the manufacture of truck gears. Bronze chemistry is interesting. (My sister is a bronze foundry foreman.)

Metals that do stick to magnets bring “shreddable sheet metal” prices, which in this area is currently between ten and twelve cents a pound. Sheet metal is valuable to the scrapper due to its collective weight. For this reason, it is nice to have a long-bed pickup truck. Our truck is a reconstructed 1995 Dodge Ram 1500 that we got from a salvage yard, and it is perfect for hauling metal scraps.

In a future post, I will talk about the steps in metal recycle, from the initial scale to the mill.

I encourage everyone to visit their local metal recycle center, because it is fascinating. For example, in addition to the brass urn with someone’s ashes inside (the owner of the ashes eventually retrieved the urn), we saw a coffin, among other things, including a train engine car without the engine and a perimeter wall made of school buses.

Hat tip to Masoninblue, my scrapping partner, for editing this post.

The author of this post is Masoninblue and it is cross-posted at and, as well as Masoninblue is my husband, and the full-text article is published here with permission.

I am opposed to the death penalty in all cases. Period.

I have many reasons. Here are a few of them.

First and foremost, I oppose it because it is immoral. That it is imposed following a jury trial and appellate review, does not wash the defendant’s blood off the jury’s hands and, by extension, our hands because state sanctioned premeditated murder is still premeditated murder. No government ever should be in the business of killing its own people.

Second, death penalty cases typically cost more than three times the cost of incarcerating a defendant to life without possibility of parole.

Third, the death penalty has no deterrent effect. It does not reduce homicide rates. In fact, the opposite is true. Homicide rates are highest in the states that have a death penalty and lowest in the states that do not have a death penalty.

Fourth, our criminal justice system is so infected with racism, corrupt, and broken that it is impossible to know for certain if any given defendant committed the crime charged and, if he did, whether he deserves the death penalty, as opposed to life without parole.

Most people do not know that under our laws there is no murder, however heinous or depraved, that automatically results in a death sentence. When a jury convicts a defendant of a death eligible offense, the case proceeds to a sentencing phase in which the jury ultimately must decide whether the prosecution proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the aggravating evidence (typically the murder and the defendant’s prior record, if any) so outweighs the mitigating evidence (evidence about the defendant and his role in committing the murder) that the defendant should forfeit his life. Assuring consistency that similarly situated defendants convicted of committing similar murders are consistently sentenced to life without possibility of parole instead of death, or vice versa, has proven to be impossible within states, let alone between states.

In Callins v. Collins, 510 U.S. 1141 (1994), Justice Harry Blackmun dissented from the United States Supreme Court’s denial of review in a death penalty case stating,

From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death. For more than 20 years I have endeavored — indeed, I have struggled — along with a majority of this Court, to develop procedural and substantive rules that would lend more than the mere appearance of fairness to the death penalty endeavor. Rather than continue to coddle the Court’s delusion that the desired level of fairness has been achieved and the need for regulation eviscerated, I feel morally and intellectually obligated simply to concede that the death penalty experiment has failed. It is virtually self-evident to me now that no combination of procedural rules or substantive regulations ever can save the death penalty from its inherent constitutional deficiencies. The basic question — does the system accurately and consistently determine which defendants “deserve” to die? — cannot be answered in the affirmative. It is not simply that this Court has allowed vague aggravating circumstances to be employed, see, e. g., Arave v. Creech, 507 U. S. 463 (1993), relevant mitigating evidence to be disregarded, see, e. g., Johnson v. Texas, 509 U. S. 350 (1993), and vital judicial review to be blocked, see, e. g., Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U. S. 722 (1991). The problem is that the inevitability of factual, legal, and moral error gives us a system that we know must wrongly kill some defendants, a system that fails to deliver the fair, consistent, and reliable sentences of death required by the Constitution.

He concluded,

Perhaps one day this Court will develop procedural rules or verbal formulas that actually will provide consistency, fairness, and reliability in a capital sentencing scheme. I am not optimistic that such a day will come. I am more optimistic, though, that this Court eventually will conclude that the effort to eliminate arbitrariness while preserving fairness “in the infliction of [death] is so plainly doomed to failure that it—and the death penalty— must be abandoned altogether.” Godfrey v. Georgia, 446 U. S. 420, 442 (1980) (Marshall, J., concurring in judgment). I may not live to see that day, but I have faith that eventually it will arrive. The path the Court has chosen lessens us all. I dissent.

Justice Blackmun was a conservative Republican who believed strongly in the death penalty when he was appointed to the Supreme Court. As you can see, he finally reached the conclusion that it is impossible to fairly and equitably decide who lives and who dies. I reached the same conclusion, based on my 30 years of experience as a lawyer specializing in death penalty defense and forensics.

Justice Blackmun died in 1999.