The SAFE California Act to replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole will be on the November ballot in California. Here are the perspectives of three men on San Quentin’s death row.
SAFE California Act: No thank you
by Kevin Cooper
I have been asked what I think about the “SAFE California Act,” which is being pushed as a real alternative to this state’s death penalty. [It would replace the death penalty with a sentence of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP).] I have been asked by activists, death row inmates and certain family members of death row inmates. I have also asked myself this same question. After all, it is our future which is being voted on by the people of California in November 2012.
I must add this. At no time was I or, to my knowledge, any man or woman who resides on death row within this state asked our opinion about the SAFE California Act by the sponsors of this initiative, the people who bankrolled it or the people who collected signatures in support of it. I wonder why that is?
At no time was I or, to my knowledge, any man or woman who resides on death row within this state asked our opinion about the SAFE California Act by the sponsors of this initiative, the people who bankrolled it or the people who collected signatures in support of it.
I am personally against this initiative, and I do not support it for a couple different reasons. First and foremost, this “act” is just another version of the death penalty. We who will be affected by it will still be living in inhumane conditions.
We who are on death row will also lose our legal habeas corpus appeal process that we have and are currently entitled to under the law. So we are in fact taking a step backwards in our ability to challenge our convictions. We are also having to take our fight for our collective human rights to another level.
What I mean by this is, Level IV prisons [to which LWOP prisoners must be assigned] within the state of California are some of the worst prisons in the world! They are worse than death row in terms of the violence that takes place and the lack of programs, including educational programs. Also, they stay on lockdown, and many families cannot get to these isolated prisons to visit their loved ones.
I also look at this through the historical eyes of how people of African descent have been continually locked up within this country. For example, those of us who know the truth about this country’s history and acknowledge this truth have to admit the following.
When President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation into law freeing the slaves, he did not free any person who was duly convicted of a crime. He left them in slave status. There has never been an amendment to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in order to change this passage. Therefore, here in the 21st century, every man, woman and child who has been duly convicted of a crime is still a slave and is living in the same status as a slave.
When President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation into law freeing the slaves, he did not free any person who was duly convicted of a crime. He left them in slave status. In the 21st century, every man, woman and child who has been duly convicted of a crime is still a slave and is living in the same status as a slave.
What does this have to do with the SAFE California Act? This 21st century act requires, just as slavery did in the 18th and 19th centuries, that we who are imprisoned will have to work for basically nothing. The majority of any money that we make will be taken from us against our will and given to the state.
Any money that our families, friends or attorneys may give us – money that is not even ours – will not be given to us in full. The majority of it will also be given to the state without our permission! This is not fair to our families, who are poor people as we are! Isn’t taking our families’ and friends’ money and giving it to the state without their permission called theft?
We are expected to live the rest of our natural lives under these conditions. My ancestors had to do LWOP – life without parole – on the thousands of plantations in this country back in the day. They didn’t like it then, and I ain’t going to like it now!
These modern day prisons are just as nasty and inhumane as the plantations of yesteryear, and just as deadly. The system and the people who run and control them are just as cold hearted and unforgiving as any plantation owner or overseer. Yet we are told that times have changed! This lock-‘em-up-and-throw-away-the-key mentality is as old and as cold as this country. If this becomes the law of this state, we cannot expect for it to change. We will be out of sight and out of mind.
Whenever that happens, human beings in our situation always have their human rights violated by the powers that be. Please don’t get me wrong, as I have my say concerning this SAFE California Act. I am not in favor of capital punishment either! But I do know that there has to be a better way to end capital punishment within this state than the SAFE California Act.
I am not in favor of capital punishment either! But I do know that there has to be a better way to end capital punishment within this state than the SAFE California Act.
As a person who reads and studies African American history, I can honestly say to you that this is déjà vu. History is repeating itself with this act. The vast majority of slaves felt that life on those plantations was a fate worse than death. I wholeheartedly agree, because life within this modern day plantation is too! But not only are we to spend the rest of our lives living and working in this place called hell, we are going to have to pay for it with our own monies as well!
To this and all else within that SAFE California Act, I say no thank you!
Kevin Cooper was sentenced to death in 1985 and maintains his innocence. In 2008, five federal judges of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals signed an 82-page dissenting opinion that begins: “The State of California may be about to execute an innocent man,” 565 F.3d 581. He has exhausted all his legal remedies and, should the lethal injection litigation settle in California, Kevin is one of the 14 currently in line for imminent execution barring the governor and California Supreme Court granting him a pardon or clemency.
Don’t miss the recently released true crime story, “Scapegoat: The Chino Hills Murders and the Framing of Kevin Cooper,” by J. Patrick O’Connor, editor and publisher of Crime Magazine. Available online through major booksellers.
Send our brother some love and light: Kevin Cooper, C-65304, 4-EB-82, San Quentin State Prison, San Quentin CA 94974.
SAFE California Act: Pine Box or Ballot Box
by Donald Ray Young
This is our time to abolish capital punishment in California via the ballot box. If we allow this killing machine to resuscitate, we can expect executions of the more than 725 death-row prisoners at a rate that will send shock waves throughout Texas.
Which side are we on? We cannot stand in the middle of the road this time. Abolish capital punishment in California or support government sponsored premeditated murder of death-row prisoners. We have over 14 people with fully exhausted appeals. The sole protection that stands between them and a pine box … is our vote.
We said, “I am Troy Davis.” Many of us said that we were Stanley Tookie Williams. Cameron Todd Dillingham was another innocent person on death row; the Texas criminal justice system executed him in our name. If we had abolished capital punishment, all three of these men would still be alive, able to prove their innocence to the world. No one enjoys a prison sentence of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP), but it definitely keeps Mumia Abu-Jamal speaking truth to power.
No one enjoys a prison sentence of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP), but it definitely keeps Mumia Abu-Jamal speaking truth to power.
Before being distracted debating how cruel LWOP is, let us complete the urgent business of abolishing capital punishment with our votes. Death penalty proponents have revived their rhetorical corporate media fueled propaganda campaign.
Californians, putative abolitionists and death penalty opponents: Keeping death row intact when given the option to abolish capital punishment is nothing more than subterfuge – covertly supporting what we claim to loathe and despise. Take out the fear and face the facts: Most life and lengthy prison sentences end with the prisoner dying in prison.
As it stands, prisoners convicted of murder – innocent or guilty – face capital punishment or LWOP. The SAFE California Act will convert all 725 death sentences to LWOP, making LWOP the harshest punishment for convicted murderers. The right to appeal convictions to the state and federal courts will still exist, with the same constitutional guarantees afforded LWOP prisoners. And after all appellate issues are exhausted, they do not kill the appellant.
While many disagree with certain aspects of the SAFE California Act – for example, $30 million a year for three years given to municipal police and prosecutors, coupled with the SAFE California Acts’ florid pro-prosecution language – if this road takes capital punishment off the table, we must travel. The United States has executed over 1,290 prisoners since 1977.
If this road takes capital punishment off the table, we must travel. The United States has executed over 1,290 prisoners since 1977.
The future belongs to us and step by step we will seize power. After winning this highly contentious battle, we will join resources to abolish all forms of permanent imprisonment. All prisoners should have the right to be released if they are not a threat to society.
Since 1978, capital punishment has left California with a fatally flawed system. Over $4 billion was wasted, 13 executions and 3 exonerations. This is our once in a lifetime opportunity. Let us choose the ballot box – or the pine box will choose us.
I look forward to your contact and communications.
Send our brother some love and light: Donald Ray Young, E-7B474, P.O. Box E-7B474, San Quentin State Prison, San Quentin, CA 94974. He can also be reached on Twitter at SDonaldRayYoung and online at donaldrayyoung.wordpress.com.
SAFE California Act: We don’t want it
by Correll Thomas
The Savings, Accountability, and Full Enforcement for California Act (SAFE California Act) is an atrocity and I question the author and sponsor(s)’ motives behind the initiative. Who are they really working for? Who are they really working with?
Life in prison without the possibility of parole [which would replace the death penalty in California if the SAFE Act passes in November] is no more of an answer or accomplishment than is the addition of the word “rehabilitation” to the California Department of Correction’s name.
In my personal opinion, it’s obvious that the people responsible for the SAFE California Act don’t give a damn about those of us affected by their decision or, more importantly, about the fact that what they are proposing possibly pits us against one another.
There are at least 14 men who have exhausted all of their appeals. For a few of them, this initiative preserves their lives, for now – only to torture them slowly. There are hundreds of us condemned men as well as several condemned women awaiting representation who have never had an opportunity to have our cases reviewed for possible innocence, constitutional violations, ineffective assistance of council or any other circumstances that would demonstrate justice was not served.
The authors of this initiative know that, combined with the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), the courthouse doors will be slammed forever. They are attempting to force us condemned men and women to accept another death penalty without any habeas corpus review of our sentences. And the few condemned men and women who currently have representation today, unless they have the funds to retain council for representation, would automatically be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) and lose their representation.
They are attempting to force us condemned men and women to accept another death penalty without any habeas corpus review of our sentences. And the few who currently have representation today, unless they have the funds to retain council for representation, would automatically be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) and lose their representation.
So, for all those on death row I’ve spoken with, I say, “WE DON’T WANT IT!” We’d much rather continue to appeal than, as this initiative would have it, be fed as well as locked into the grips of this racist, antagonistic and retaliatory slave-driven establishment disguising itself as a department of corrections.
Again, who are they really working for? Who are they really working with?
People, we are talking about groups and organizations who are proposing continued job security for a system that is broken and for those who enjoy oppressing others. This can’t be for us. We’ve never been contacted by anyone representing this initiative. With a name like Death Penalty Focus, one would think their purpose would be to assist and shed light on the continuous violation of human rights, constitutional rights and civil liberties in prison.
In writing this initiative, in all actuality, they are in support of this country imprisoning its citizens for their natural lives, without parole. That is to say, they believe they are endowed with a supreme power to determine one’s redemptive value or decide that one has no redemptive value.
But wait a minute. Maybe I’m the one mistaken here. You see, I was under the impression that Death Penalty Focus was an “anti-death penalty” organization. Maybe I’m wrong about that. And if I’m wrong about that, I’m wrong about everything I’m saying here. I don’t think so.
About a year or so ago, give or take a few months, Death Penalty Focus hired former warden of San Quentin State Prison, Ms. Jeanne Woodford, as the director of their organization. Jeanne Woodford has no problem admitting that she participated in four of the 13 state-sponsored murders here on California’s death row. She has no problem telling everyone that now, all of a sudden, she’s had some miraculous change of heart and no longer believes in murdering us.
Let’s say, for the sake of this piece, that she’s telling the truth – though I don’t believe it one bit. I happen to know a guy by the name of Kevin Cooper who, on Ms. Jeanne Woodford’s watch, came within three hours of being her fifth victim. You will hear Ms. Woodford talk about many things, but you will not hear her talk about Kevin Cooper. Why is that? Kevin Cooper was almost murdered by this state, Ms. Woodford and her then death squad henchmen.
Has anyone ever heard Ms. Woodford expose the treatment of death row inmates? I’m curious to know, with all her talk about how her position has changed, how she feels, what her mission is now and why she hasn’t acknowledged those facts. Will she admit we are treated like animals here? Will she admit her former role?
Has anyone ever heard Ms. Woodford expose the treatment of death row inmates? I’m curious to know, with all her talk about how her position has changed, how she feels, what her mission is now and why she hasn’t acknowledged those facts. Will she admit we are treated like animals here?
And please, people, don’t be fooled by Ms. Woodford’s lack of dialogue about her ties and connections to law enforcement agencies. Why is that so important, you might ask? Well, if you take a good look at the proposed initiative, you’d see that someone thought it might be a good idea to give $100 million to law enforcement as an incentive. And wouldn’t you believe this is so they will support the initiative?
If Death Penalty Focus is an “anti-death penalty” organization, why is it that their initiative mostly favors law enforcement? Does law enforcement really need more money to lock up more innocent people, shoot and kill more unarmed minorities? Why couldn’t Death Penalty Focus propose putting that $100 million towards education? Why not support the 99 percent? Maybe because they’ve been infiltrated? Then again, maybe not.
Maybe I’ve had it wrong all along in believing that Death Penalty Focus was in support of what was in my and all death row inmates’ best interests. Why have my family voted in support of those who are trying to kill me? Whatever way you look at it, WE DON’T WANT IT!
Supporter’s note: Correll Thomas is one of numerous men and women on California’s death row, who are currently unrepresented and wait for counsel to be appointed. You will often hear the pro-death penalty forces talk of the “years” it takes to find justice, but most people are unaware of the years many prisoners wait as witnesses disappear, memories fade, evidence is lost and they even die awaiting justice. And they have no counsel appointed to represent them. If the SAFE California initiative passes this November, these men and women will most likely never have their cases reviewed.
Send our brother some love and light: Correll Thomas, P-55743, San Quentin State Prison, San Quentin, CA 94974.