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Murder Is Our National Sport

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Posted on May 12, 2013
AP/Danny Johnston, File

A television camera mounted on the ceiling of a witness room is pointed toward a prison death chamber.

By Chris Hedges

(Page 3)

“Yesterday the prison was locked down all day for the standard ‘mock execution’, the practice run which occurs a week prior to the actual premeditated killing,” he wrote to his sister in February 2012. “For the mock execution they lock down the joint, bring in an array of big wigs, and go through a dry run to make sure the death machine is in working order, everyone on their toes. The big wigs are just voyeurs, here to vicariously kill someone while allowing themselves the bare moral cover of not actually pushing the knife between the ribs. Their minions do the actual dirty deed while they can go home with technically clean hands. These mock executions are as depressing as the real thing, in the sense that it’s dispiriting to watch an entire organization (a prison, with all its constituent parts) so seriously dedicate their time and energies to practice killing a fellow human being, as if this is a good and natural thing to do. It takes some peculiar mental (not to mention moral) gymnastics to justify this to oneself, but we humans have proven ourselves immensely adept at self-delusion and hypocrisy, especially when we bring religion into the equation. We are really, really good at killing others in the name of God. We are a strange species, aren’t we? To those who argue that the death penalty isn’t killing (or murder, which is merely a legal definition) because it is all done ‘according to the law’, I’d remind them that the Nazis did everything they did ‘according to the law’. The Nazis, for all their terrible deeds, were sticklers for following the law; they found their refuge in the law, meticulously following the letter of the law before they enslaved and/or executed their victims. ‘We were just following the law’ is a lame excuse when you are the one writing the laws in the first instance. ...”

In prisons, he writes, time merges into a long, seamless monotony broken up by periodic and often explosive acts of tragedy and violence—an execution or death, a stabbing with a “shank,” beatings by the guards, mental breakdowns, rape and suicide.

“The search team came and tore up my cell last week,” he wrote in January 2012. “It was a surgical strike (they came for me alone) and I was later told that ‘someone’ wrote a snitch kite on me claiming (falsely) I had a weapon in my cell. I’m fairly certain it was someone trying to get a DR (disciplinary report) dismissed by dropping a dime on me on the hope they’d shake me down and find something, any kind of contraband, and the rat would then get credit for it. But I had no contraband so the snitch struck out. If the administration had any integrity they’d write the rat a DR for ‘lying to staff.’ I spent several hours putting my cell back in order; it looked like a hurricane came through, all my property scattered everywhere. This is the kind of bullshit you have to put up with in prison; it’s the nature of the beast. Hell, it happens on the streets, too, though. Informants are master manipulators and the police routinely play their game even though they know the rats often fabricate stories and evidence to their own ends. ...”

He wrote earlier this year about the rapid decline of another prisoner, Tom, who “just 4 months ago had a hale and hardy soul and “now [is] a mere envelope of cancer-gnawed flesh and bones.” He “was removed from his cell by wheelchair, too weak to offer anything but meager protest, and transferred to the one place he dreaded going to, our notoriously filthy, blood spattered clinic holding cell, consigned to die in pain-soaked isolation. The image of him, barely able to croak a few words, weakly waving goodbye to me, his sunken, lingering eyes reflecting his recognition that he was going to his death, will forever be imprinted on my memory.”

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“I confess that it is tiring to be surrounded by so much death—the dead and yet-to-be-dead—these past two decades, a struggle not [to] be drenched in negativity, with precious little to mitigate my disappointments,” he wrote. “Each day requires an act of will to wake up and set myself with a purpose, to believe this mortal life is more than just a play of shadows in a shadow box. ...”

“My old pal Tom died on Friday, Feb 8th at 4:10 pm, alone in the clinic isolation cell at UCI,” he wrote to his sister a little later. “I hate that he died alone, locked in a tiny cell with no property (no radio, TV or anything to occupy his mind) and nobody to converse with, just laying on his bunk, staring at the ceiling, waiting for his final escape. His loved ones, who were able to travel from Texas and North Carolina to visit him for three hours just two days before he passed away wrote and told me that he was very weak and gaunt, could not keep down any food or liquids, but was lucid enough for a meaningful visit, though just barely so. Although I know his death was inevitable and imminent, I’m surprised at how much it has affected me. I’ve seen an awful lot of death during my many years in prison (way too much death, in all its myriad variations), including some friends, but Tom’s has knocked the wind out of me. I still catch myself starting to call over to him when I read something interesting or see something on TV that would pique his interest, and I sometimes swear I hear his voice calling me. A part of me is happy for him because I know he’s finally free, but I can’t lie; I really miss him.”


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