July 20, 2000

Column 27

Recently, I received a letter from someone who mentioned seeing a report on TV about a man who was being executed (see the Letter Section) and talked about how shocked he was at the behavior of the victims family. It started me thinking about some conversations I have had with a various people about the subject of closure, for the victims families, when a person ondeath row is executed. I wanted to talk about closure and address a few thoughts I have regarding that subject.

First of all, I have a problem with the way closure is used, when people talk about the death penalty. In my opinion it is one of those catch phrases used by the pro death penalty people (as well as the newsmedia) as a sort of anthem that has no real meaning, but is used as a button they push in order to get an emotional response from people. Over the years, I have had the chance to do a lot of studying and reading of law books and case law related to the death penalty. Never in all that time have I seen the word'closure' mentioned in the text of- any law books I have read. Yet, usually when you see a Prosecutor or pro-death penalty advocate discussing the death penalty, they almost always use the word closure. Inevitably they usually use the word Justice in the same sentence, as if the two were a related in some way. It seems to me that closure has become a word which really means revenge and the last time I looked, revenge was never mentioned in any of the legal books, I have been able to read, either.

I have written before, about how the Prosecutors and Police use the families of victims in advocating the death penalty, so I don't have to get into all that again, but it has become a very effective and efficient alliance which has managed to garner a lot of political influence over the years. You can see the effect of that every time it is an election year. All these politicians seem to be trying to outdo each other on how they are tough on crime. Some of the ridiculous ideas they propose as solutions to fighting crime would be laughable, if it didn't effect the lives of so many people.

Having said that, I would like to talk about another group of victims families that you don't hear about very often. This is a group of families who have suffered losses as terrible as any that the pro-death penalty families have, yet this group of families fight against the death penalty and speak out against the government taking a life on their behalf. There is a organization which these families have formed called 'Murder Victims Families For Reconciliation'.
I first heard of this organization after I had gotten to know one of the guys here on death row. One day when I was in the visiting room on a legal visit, he introduced me to a woman who had come to visit him. I was a bit distracted because of my legal visit, but later when we had a chance to talk again, this man told me this woman was the Mother of the person who he was convicted of killing. I was shocked when he told me this and I asked him why she would come here and visit with him. He told me she was with this group, 'Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation', (MVFR) and she was a strong anti-death penalty advocate. She, and others in her organization travel all over the USA (and to other countries)to talk about their experience and work to abolish the death penalty.

After hearing about this group, I tried to learn more about them. I've been impressed with what I've seen and have an enormous amount of respect and empathy for them. On the other hand, I have also observed the pro-death penalty families. The contrasts between them and the reconciliation families are quite remarkable. The pro-death penalty families seem to be consumed with hatred and anger, but the MVFR families seemed to be calm and at peace with themselves. It is really an amazing difference.

I think the obvious conclusion is by forgiveness and moving on with life you get as close to closure, as is possible in such a terrible situation, but when hate and anger fester inside, you can't have the healing and closure that is so important.

Since I'm on the topic of victims and families, I would like to talk about another group of families who are also victims. The forgotten victims. These are the families, friends and loved ones of those who are killed by the government. The families of those on death row havenít done anything wrong, yet they also suffer the loss of someone they love. Not only do they lose a loved one, but they also are subjected to the hate and anger of the victims rights groups. They also have to deal with a prison system that treats them like second class citizens because they have a loved one sitting on death row. I have seen the faces of the loved ones of someone who is about to be executed and I know their pain is as deep and horrible as any other family who has lost a loved one. Not only do they suffer the loss of their loved one, but in many cases, they are also there standing by helplessly and watching in horror as their loved one is being killed I can't help but wonder how these people will be able to find closure. That is all I have to say about that topic, so I will move on to other things.

One of the questions people asked me about quite often is, how can they get involved in the fight against the death penalty. There are a number of links on this site which will help direct you to various other websites that are actively involved in the fight against the death penalty. You should check out those sites if you can. Also, in most communities there are activists groups which you can get involved in. The ones that come to mind are'Abolition Now' and 'Amnesty International'. Here in California, you can get involved with'Death Penalty Focus', which has groups in various parts of the State. There are also groups that are active in the reform of Prisons and the legal system, so you can get involved with those groups as well. There is a group called'The Prison Reform Unity Project' and they are a nation wide group. I don't have an address for them, but the URL is http://www.prup.us, or you can call this number in California and ask them if they can direct you to a group in your area. The number is 415-789-3863. This number is also a number that is for 'The Campaign to end the Death Penalty'. So you can get more information about that, at this number.
I would also suggest that you write letters to your Senators and Congressman. They probably won't pay attention to you, but you can always make your point when it comes time to vote.

I would like to thank those of you who have taken time to write with your comments and points of view, as well as the messages you have sent. My regular mailing address is on this site, so you can write via snail mail as well. I'm out of here for this one.