Ex-death row worker calls for death penalty to be abolished
Having worked for the summer along death row inmates he sees no benefit to the death penalty
With a total of 785 employees the Polunsky Unit stands five miles south of Livington in Texas. It is here that male death row inmates await their execution. With almost 3,000 inmates, 463 of which are awaiting execution, the correctional facility is the biggest employer in the area. Dannie described the prison as “emotionally draining” and “upsetting” as he detailed a typical day for a death row inmate.
“They (prisoners) are kept in their cell 23 hours a day, every day, until the day of their execution. Their cells are 10ft in length, and 6ft across. They are allowed one hour of recreation time each day, in which they are led to a cage, with a concrete slab, a basketball hoop and one basketball. They are kept in complete isolation from everyone, even during this recreation time.
“The only time someone will ever physically touch them is when the guard takes off their handcuffs. That, and the day they are executed. They are served breakfast in their cell at 3.30am. If they do not eat breakfast at this time, they are not fed for the day. They are strip searched every time they leave their cell (for recreation time, for showering, for visitors),” he noted.
Death row inmates are kept in complete isolation and experience little human contact while they await their execution. When he visited the prison Dannie admits that suddenly “everything became real”.The countless cases he had been tirelessly working on suddenly came to life before his eyes as he met and spoke some some death row prisoners.
One such prisoner was Patrick Murphy, whom Dannie spent over four hours speaking with.
“Patrick was convicted for rape in the early 1980's and had been sentenced to 50 years for such an offence. In 2000, with six other inmates, broke out from the Connally Unit, culminating in a state wide search that lasted six weeks.
“During the six week period, the seven escapees were involved in the killing of a police officer. While Patrick himself did not commit the crime, the law in Texas states that if the group of individuals are seen to commit capital murder as a "joint effort", then they can all be charged with capital murder. Patrick was such convicted and sentenced to die,” said Dannie.
“The atmosphere was a strange one. When I met the prisoners, they were just so happy to have someone to talk to. Yet the backdrop of the whole prison was emotionally draining,” he added.
For a $3 charge prison officials would take your photo with the offending inmate.
After witnessing prisoners living conditions, speaking with death row inmates and working extensively on their cases, Dannie was utterly convinced execution was not the solution.
“From a deterrent perspective - it simply does not work. Statistics show that murders actually increase on the day of an execution.
“From a human rights perspective, the conditions in which the inmates are subjected to are disgusting.
“Finally, from a justice perspective, the system in which the death verdict is given is nothing short of disgraceful - from the provision of ineffective legal counsel on behalf of state appointed lawyers, to the pedantic nature of some members of the Texas judiciary,” Dannie said.
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