Friday, May 2, 2008

Death penalty mulled at forum

Michael Radelet

May 02, 2008

Michael Radelet had Ted Bundy’s ashes in his closet for several months. A little weird, maybe, but all part of a day’s job for one of the nation’s leading death penalty experts and activists.

Radelet, chair of the Sociology Department at CU-Boulder, has made it his mission to ask Amerians: Is the bang worth the buck? Are there other ways we can achieve the goals of crime deterrence and punishment, other than lethal violence?

On Tuesday evening, Radelet was joined by Sister Maureen Fenlon, national coordinator of the Dead Man Walking School Theater Project, to lead a forum in Ouray on the death penalty.

“Something has to happen to the American soul to rethink how we handle punishment,” Fenlon told audience members. “Punishment is always done in the name of the people. Do we, the people, think this punishment is a good one?”

While Radelet and Fenlon are accustomed to speaking in front of much larger audiences (Radelet’s last speaking engagement drew 800 people), Ouray High School drama teacher Nancy Nixon, who organized the forum, said that both were pleased with the modest turnout at Tuesday’s forum.

“They thought our community was receptive, and asked great questions,” Nixon said. “I just thought it was incredible. A friend told me it was life-altering for her. It was such a mixture of fact and act — a testament to the power of activism.”

Nixon organized the forum as part of the Dead Man Walking Theater Project, which culminates with student performances of the play “Dead Man Walking,” this Thursday and Friday at the Ouray School.

Radelet had to return to his duties at CU earlier this week. But Fenlon (who lives in New Orleans) has stayed on in Ouray, speaking with students at Ouray School, and leading a discussion with audience and cast members following each performance of the play on Thursday and Friday nights. Her main message is one of “activism through the arts.”

“It is the only way to provoke a discourse,” she said. “Knowledge is not enough to move people, and change history. When the human heart comes face to face with suffering; you don’t argue with that suffering. People are changed by having their hearts moved.” This, she said, is the reason she is so deeply involved with the Dead Man Walking School Theatre Project.

Radelet was trained as a medical sociologist, but soon found that “...hanging out in prisons was much more interesting than hanging out in mental institutions.”

He has since made a career out of studying the history and merits of the death penalty in the U.S., and has spent extensive time with prisoners on death row, as well as with their families.

The United States is the only western, developed country in the world which has the death penalty, (and one of only a handful of countries worldwide which executes juveniles). According to Amnesty International, in the year 2007, 88% of all known executions took place in the following five countries: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the U.S.

“These are not countries we generally share human rights goals with,” Radelet noted.

In the United States, the estimated cost of each execution varies from state to state. In Florida, as an example, it is $3.2 million, compared to the $600,000 estimated cost of life imprisonment without parole.

The proportion of Americans who support the death penalty is currently split right down the middle, according to a recent Gallup poll. Statistics indicate that it is not an effective deterrent to violent crime; states without the death penalty have lower homicide rates.

Actor, author and director Tim Robbins wrote the stage play “Dead Man Walking” in 2002 at the suggestion of death row activist Sister Helen Prejean, with the idea of having it performed for one year at several school and universities. However, the power of the story to stir discussion in local communities resulted in creation of the Dead Man Walking School Theater Project and the play continues to be performed at selected schools.

Ouray’s production is directed by Nancy Nixon, assisted by Alyssa Preston.

Cast members are Raquel King, Stephen Baker, Lyndsie Mayfield, Kirsten Hitchcox, Hannah Hollenbeck, Rachel Mhoon, Arielle Baker, Heidi Duce, Jake Abell, Kaleb Sackman, Jacob Knowles, Jake Stone, Brian Whitlatch, Peter Felde, Forrest Ruby, Tommy Stovicek and Cody Geist. The production crew is Ian Hebert, Stephanie Hanshaw, Katherine Gillis, Forrest Ruby, Tommy Stovicek, Kelsey Winfrey, Neil Pieper, Carol Hendricks and Shauna Davis.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Americans are backward, vengeful people who still carry out barbaric executions.