This Thursday, my class had the opportunity to attend an event called "Windows on Death Row" with USC's Vision's and Voices program. The event was a lecture by Sister Helen Prejean on her experience working to abolish the death penalty. She first got involved a couple of decades ago when she became the spiritual advisor to a prisoner on death row, and the inhumanity of the whole process got her interested in fighting to abolish it. Throughout the event, she discussed how prisoners were unfairly given poor lawyers not interested in helping them. I was pretty shocked to find out how there was only one person on death row in Colorado as compared to 750 in California. She also talked a lot about how many prisoners are wrongfully convicted and put on death row in solitary confinement for years on end. Another on of the speakers was actually a former prisoner who spent 20 years on death row and another 8 years embroiled in actually being released from jail after it was determined that he was wrongfully convicted. He talked about how he turned to painting and art to distract him from being all alone and to channel his emotions into something productive. I think that with the death penalty, the punishment is not so much actually being killed (as horrible as that is), but the psychological impacts of being alone in a confined space for years on end with no human contact. Biologically, humans are social creatures, and even introverts thrive on contact with others.
While I appreciate all of Sister Prejean's experience and the work she's doing, I felt that at times, the discourse did was a little too biased toward the problems with the death penalty. I know that I don't know enough about both sides of the debate to have an opinion, but I felt that the information was presented a little unfairly. I felt like they focused a little too much on innocent people sentenced to the death penalty, which has nothing to do with the death penalty in and of itself. Rather, it is a failure of the justice system. It's horrible that innocent people were sentenced to death and had to spend years in prison, but that's because of a justice system built against them. I'm definitely interested to see how this will play out in the 2016 elections in California, since the death penalty was almost abolished in 2012.