Total Pageviews

24 September 2011

Why I Oppose the Death Penalty

Fundamentally, I oppose capital punishment because I believe that no human being is beyond redemption, and I believe that only God has the right to take a life.

My opposition to the death penalty is not based on sympathy for the convicted, nor apathy toward victims of horrific crimes.  However, the belief that killing the convicted criminal will somehow bring "closure" (whatever that means) to the victim's family is dubious due to the lengthy appeal process and the misguided, although natural, notion that somehow revenge will take away emotional pain.  I have no illusions of changing anyone's mind on the subject, but I feel strongly enough about it that I've taken time to study it.

Sister Helen Prejean wrote, "An execution is ugly because the premeditated killing of a human being is ugly. Gassing, hanging, shooting, electrocuting, or lethally injecting a person whose hands and feet are tied is ugly.  And hiding the ugliness from view and rationalizing it numbs our minds to the horror of what we are doing."

There is nothing noble or dignified about putting a person to death, no matter how heinous or reprehensible their crime(s) may have been, no matter how justified we feel in doing so.  Life without the possibility of parole is an effective means of protecting society from violent criminals.  The chance of a convicted murderer escaping to kill again is less than the chance of a wrongful conviction for a capital crime.

To be most effective, justice should be swift and sure.  The death penalty is neither.  According to the National Death Penalty Information Center, a neutral educational website, the time between sentencing and execution has steadily risen since the reinstatement of capital punishment from an average of about 5 years in the late 1970's, to about 15 years today.  Thomas West, the most recent person to be executed in Arizona, was put to death 24 years after the commission of his crime.

The idea that capital punishment serves as a deterrent has been shown to be a myth.  Murder rates have not risen in states that have abolished the death penalty, and they have not fallen in states that have increased executions.

As long as human beings are capable of making mistakes, we will be capable of executing an innocent person.  There have been seven instances of wrongful execution in the U.S., and two exonerations of men on Death Row.  The death penalty is preeminently irreversible.

Two thirds of the world's countries and 16 or the united states have abolished the death penalty altogether. The United States is lumped with an unseemly minority of countries who continue to allow this barbaric practice, nations like China, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, etc.  Countries who no longer permit state-sanctioned, premeditated killing are Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Finland, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and even Mexico.

Lastly, the application of the death penalty as practiced in America is random, discriminatory, and capricious at best.  It is not the "worst of the worst" who are ultimately put to death, but rather the unlucky, the under-represented, the poor, those with chemical dependency and mental issues.  Politics plays a huge role in determining who lives and who dies.  No politician wants to appear "soft on crime," and so the least in our society pay the price with their lives.

I am opposed to the death penalty, but I favor justice.  Punish the convicted with confinement and hard labor where appropriate, but do not cast the stone unless you are without sin.

Unnatural death is wrong, no matter who does it.
(Antoinette Bosco, whose son and daughter-in-law were murdered, author of the book "Choosing Mercy".)

23 June 2011


     I thought I was, metaphorically speaking, well-dressed with good vision, and wealthy.  People, places, and things keep reminding me that really, biblically speaking, I am naked, blind, and poor.  There is a recurring theme, a thread running through these days that extinguishes my spirit.  It makes me feel crazy.  Angry.  Fearful.
     I'm trying really hard to have a gentle peace as a backdrop to my life.  The words "serenity" and "tranquility" come to mind.  This is day 19, 844 for me.  At various markers along the road, I thought I could manage my life through the right combination of chemical additives, but the body has not evolved for quick fixes.
     People talk about "triggers," things that activate a sort of Rube Goldberg machine of dysfunctional behavior for them.  I'm beginning to see, slowly, painfully, that I'm not a person who handles threats, perceived or real, very well.  A threat makes me angry, and when I am angry I know there is something behind the anger, and it is almost always fear.  I'm afraid I'm going to lose something I have, or not get something I want.  Fear is the polar opposite of faith.  They have an inverse relationship, like voltage and current in an electrical circuit.
     So it starts with a thought, the thought that I've been threatened.  The thought eventually manifests itself in words, because I have a need to talk with another person about how I'm feeling, hopefully someone who has felt like I do.  And sometimes talking about it only reinforces the thought, the sense of being threatened.,  The fear increases, like the proverbial snowball rolling downhill.  The thought has now become words, and with upward spiraling intensity, the words beg for some kind of action.  It's uncomfortable, and it feels like action, any action, will take away the discomfort.  In has been my experience that action born of this kind of thinking and speaking begets a new problem, a kind of guilt/shame cycle.  The original problem can multiply, so that I soon find myself wishing I had only my original "problem" back, because now I am fighting a war on multiple fronts and it is clear I am losing.
     I am learning who to go to for help and who to avoid with certain issues.  Those who have thoughts and words helpful to me are few, they are vital, and they are also people who are busy helping others.  We all have problems, and we all help each other if we are living honestly with an open mind and the willingness to change.  We triage our fellows, sorting the victims and victors of life's drama according to the severity of their need.
     Some days I feel angry, fearful, and resentful and I want attention to my painful condition.  I want those with the right thoughts and words to be mindful of me, because I think I am bleeding profusely and I don't know how long I can hang on.  It is in living through times like these, and coming out the other side, that I realize that God is good.  Nothing explains everything, and no one can "fix" what's really wrong with me.  We can only run from person to person, assessing the need and pointing others toward faith.
     Please, point me toward faith when I'm in fear.  Point me toward faith when I am angry and resentful.  Without you, I am by myself to find God.  He has found me, but I have the most difficult time sometimes  in seeing the obvious, and recognizing Him in my circumstances.

12 June 2011

Unfair Fights

   I'm thinking about life.  My life, your life, and the kid on the shore of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala 20 years ago who ran circles around me, singing, "Un quetzal la foto, un quetzal la foto!"  Translation: "Give me a penny and I'll let you take a picture of me!"  It's thinly-disguised begging.
   I used to ride my bicycle on the streets of Phoenix, mostly commuting to work.  Invariably, a vehicle would speed by me at 50 m.p.h., leaving a comfortable (for him) three inch gap between his 4000 lb. vehicle and my 30 lb. bike.  This situation would spin me into an insane and alternate reality, much like I'd imagined "black-outs," described by recovering alcoholic/drug addicts (until I mixed tranquilizers and vodka I'd never experienced that kind of a black-out).  Instead of seeing black, however, my world would go deep red, deep red mixed with black.  Toxic rage would fill my body, livid adrenaline causing my legs to pump the bicycle pedals furiously in an effort to catch up to the offending vehicle (sometimes a city bus), drag the driver out of the vehicle, pummel the life out of him, or die trying.  To describe my condition as angry, would be like describing a tsunami as strong.  When the rage subsided, I felt only fear and disbelief that I was capable of such an intense emotion, and that it could manifest so quickly.
   As I've heard others share their life stories in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, I've realized that life is not a fair fight.  It's not fair for any of us, worse for some than for others, but unfair nevertheless.  Some of us think we've found a weapon to level the playing field in the form of alcohol and other reality-changing substances.  This works for a while, at least in our perception, but it's a cruel deception.  We are only temporarily diverted from the problems life presents us, and in the end our chemical arsenals turn on us, and the battle becomes even more one-sided.  It's like the burglar who takes the baseball bat out of my hands and proceeds to bludgeon me to death, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, but the end is the same.
   Across the ages men have found a way to make the unfair fight of life a fair one, and that is to cease fighting.  Acceptance of a power greater than ourselves and submission to life on life's terms are all that's needed to level the playing field, because, in the end, the real battle happens in the space between our ears, and nowhere else.  If I am able to calm and still my spirit and ask for help, the bullies drop their sticks and stones and wander off to find new victims.