Voices for Death Row Inmates to stage second, bigger London event

It’s great to know that coordinated support is growing in the UK for the abolitionist cause. The UK group Voices for Death Row Inmates are organising their second peaceful protest in London this year, this time to coincide with World Day Against the Death Penalty on 10th October 2010, whose primary focus this year is the USA.

The Facebook event page invites you to sign up to attend if you know you can definitely make it – and more details will become available closer to the day.

The October protest will build on the April event, which was supported by Abolition UK and speakers from overseas.

“The day was a fantastic success. Many friendships where formed and it was a highly emotional day.

To coincide with World Day Against the Death Penalty, Voices for Death Row Inmates will be holding another protest outside the US Embassy to show the US authorities that we do not agree with them murdering other men and woman as a punishment. We will stand in solidarity with others who do not agree with this outdated, cruel and unusual punishment”

Confirmed speakers are:

Michael O’Brien – wrongfully conflicted of murder, spent 11 years in jail.
Juan Melendez – spent 18 years on Florida’s death row.
Jo Berry – Jo talks about forgiveness. Her father was killed by the IRA in Brighton.
Connie Wright – Connie sat and watched as her husband was executed by the state of Texas.
Bente Hjortshoj – witnessed her good friend executed by the state of Texas.
Gabi Uhr – Gabi has witnessed two executions.
Susanne Cardona – Chairperson of the German Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
Sandie Blanton – witnessed the execution of her fiancée Reginald Blanton

Please join the action on 10th October and lend your voice to help support those living in intolerable circumstances in the USA, facing execution, often for crimes THEY DID NOT COMMIT. Taking a life for a life is always reprehensible, but not only are there significant risks in the USA of miscarriage of justice, but in many cases – such as that of  Jeff Wood – the sentence of death was brought KNOWING the defendant did not commit the crime, but under Texas’ capricious and extreme Law of Parties.

Other things you can do:

Voices for Death Row Inmates Ceramic Mug

Don't be a mug - visit the VfDRI website

Please visit the merchandise pages for Voices for Death Row Inmates and make a donation or buy an item. Money raised from merchandise sales are used to help fund the expenses related to mobilising speakers and continuing to raise the profile of the cause.

Visit Abolition UK’s pages and perhaps support or attend their summer events. Jo Royston, founder of Abolition UK, travels to summer Green fairs and Peace fairs to promote the cases of several prisoners facing execution. She (and others amongst us) can also be booked to speak at student and other events about the facts behind the death penalty.

Join The Optimism Club Facebook Group and see events and causes posted there – and feel free to add your own or contribute to discussions.

Hank Skinner: What should we hope for next?

It became clear on Wednesday night, as we celebrated (“crying AND doing the Happy Dance” as my friend Carol Crowe-Leonard said on Twitter), that there was a lot of remaining confusion about exactly WHAT had been granted to Hank Skinner and what that actually meant. It was a relief to see this clarification posted by Change.org. I urge everyone to read it. It looks like there are still a number of weighty ‘Ifs’ between Wednesday’s indefinite stay of execution and freedom for Hank.

Governor Rick Perry and smiling fans

Smiling Perry and fans

So – if the worst happens and the treacle of the American justice system becomes too thick for reason to prevail at the next phase – what chance remains for a reprieve? Well let’s not forget that even if the Supreme Court denies review, there is the final recourse to Governor Rick Perry to continue the stay for an additional 30 days, and to just TEST THE DNA. Would he give the instruction do so? Well, just as the Texas Board of Paroles is a closed and secretive body, it’s hard to read Governor Perry. Instinct would say it’s unlikely. He’s the beloved figurehead of the ‘Hang ‘Em High state’ after all, and he’s busy fighting the corner of his hardcore Republican fanbase on the matter of the healthcare reform bill right now amidst cries of ‘Lead us into secession, Governor Perry, save us from Washington!’. But those cries also mingle with the ones saying ‘Please, Governor Perry, run for President!’ Looking at his snakeoil charm and devout, if misguided, following, and coupling that with the past form of Texas Governors in acceding to the Presidency*, it’s entirely possible that his unstated ambition is that of one day becoming POTUS. And if so, could he in years to come enter into that race knowing that everyone in the Western world had watched him deny a man his last, earnest chance to clear his name?

Opponents of the death penalty tend to look upon Texas as an almost unassailable mountain to climb – it does after all hold the record as the State with most executions under its belt, by a long way – but I can’t help but feel that whatever the outcome for Hank, we have turned a small corner. Perry is in a difficult position, the rationale of the TBPP has again been called into question, and the entire machinery of the capital justice system, which would allow a man’s life to be callously terminated while exculpatory evidence remains, MUST be under increased scrutiny…

So we need to hope that SCOTUS reviews the case for civil appeal. We need to hope that they agree that a constitutional right exists for Hank to have access to the DNA evidence thus far denied. We have to hope the DNA is conclusively in Hank’s favor. And we have to hope that the evidence of his innocence concludes rapidly with a full pardon and release. Above all, we must hope that everything that has happened in Texas since long before Tim Cole and Cameron Todd Willingham, right up to the present day, will be ringing loud and irrepressible alarm bells in courtrooms and police stations across the land.

That’s a lot of hope. I think we’re up for it!!!

Here’s a video interview with Hank’s daughter Natalie soon after we had news of the stay.

* Governor George W. Bush notoriously once claimed that not one innocent man had been executed on his watch.

Justice for Victims – perspectives from Geneva, 2010

The theme of victims’ rights was a common, distinct thread across all three days of the World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Geneva. It cropped up in different guises and from different angles in both open plenaries, in the workshops and roundtables, and came into its own during the incredibly moving ‘Words of Victims, Voices of Experience’ theatre evening.

Renny Cushing of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights told us that many speak of the death penalty as a way for those left behind to achieve healing, justice and closure, when in fact many of the bereaved reject the notion of ‘closure’ completely. Coming to terms with loss is one thing, retribution is quite another. Having sought opinions widely on this matter, Renny has been given many reasons which emphasise that the death penalty is the wrong solution for the victims.

Murder Victims Families for Human Rights parade with banner

Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights parade with banner

‘Having someone murdered by the State does not give me what I need,’ people say. ‘It would be better if the resources spent on maintaining the instruments of capital punishment were to be spent on other things: assistance for victims’ families and close friends, better crime prevention, resourcing for police, DNA testing to help solve unclosed cases.’ Now THAT is justice – diverting dollars away from needless vengeance and into resolution, and perhaps even more importantly, into reparation. Many people do not consider the burden cast on the families of those murdered. Renny himself recalls how, after his father was shot dead at point blank range, in his own home, his elderly mother, who had witnessed her husband’s killing, received an invoice in the post for the cost of the ambulance to take her husband’s body away to the morgue.

‘I can’t believe I have to pay for my husband’s murder,’ she said at the time. In short, there is little or no understanding of victims’ pecuniary needs after murder. There is the cost of the funeral to bear, the loss of income both from the victim and from the grieving family, and no form of compensation. To rub salt into the wound, it often seems like the State does not blink at the expense involved in an execution; yet gives no thought to the needs of those who have been harmed emotionally, pyschologically and financially by the wrongdoing. Renny, for one, believes the USA has this all wrong, when the (often very extensive) emphasis is on the death of the perpetrator, rather than the dignity of the victim and his or her family.

James Abbott, the New Jersey Chief of Police, agrees with him. ‘There is no way to fix the Death Penalty and make it right,’ he affirms. His sympathies in murder cases have always been squarely with the families of victims. The stress of the protracted appeals system does not in any way bring closure; it just gives almost celebrity-level attention to the perpetrator. ‘Just stop and think how many high-profile murderers you can name. Now name their victims,’ he says, and we nod in agreement.

And then there is the cry for compassion: ‘My loved one(s) has/have already died. Why add to the death toll and create a world of suffering for someone else’s family?’

These are powerful messages coming from the mouths of people who have suffered the worst anguish imaginable. Fortunately, they have had an impact in New Jersey, where the death penalty was abolished in 2007. Chief James Abbott was part of the commission set up to report on whether the state should abolish. At the outset, he was personally pro-death penalty. He admits, he still has views which would favor it for certain crimes; but now he knows that capital punishment is not a workable form of criminal justice. Often, he is asked ‘But what if it were a police offer who was killed?’ His answer is still that execution is not the answer. He would not want any officer’s family to suffer the way he knows others have, forced to be reminded through a protracted and flawed appeals process of their tragedy, while simultaneously being ignored in the aspects where it matters. Instead, a system which guarantees that the guilty party is behind bars for life, and which provides support for the family of the victim, is a far better solution. LWoP (Life without Parole), he adds, is fairer on a socio-cultural basis, prevents the risk of wrongful execution and assists families to recover.

 John Van de Kamp

John Van de Kamp, former Attorney General of California "Redemption opportunities exist"

John Van de Kamp, former DA of Los Angeles and Attorney General of California, has always been an opponent of the death penalty, but spent many uncomfortable years in prosecution, condemning many to death. Today, he is free to state his mind. He knows that in California, popular support for the death penalty is high, but his experience shows that this is largely down to society’s fear of recidivism.

‘People don’t believe that Life without Parole truly means life. And yet there are no examples of LWoP prisoners being released, other than as a result of exoneration.’

Polls show a huge drop in favor of executions when people are offered the alternative option of ‘guaranteed real life’ (LWoP). This is even higher when LWoP + work-based restitution is an available choice (i.e. make convicts work to earn their keep and deliver compensation to victims’ families).

But what about other countries, where vengeance is de rigueur? We heard in Geneva from Toshi Kazama, a Japanese photographer, and survivor of a murder attempt in which he was left for dead and was unconscious for three days. Toshi had already been responsible for photographing victims’ families, inmates, execution chambers in the USA and has met many families who have shown compassion to perpetrators. This, says Toshi, helped him to get through his own experience. However, if he were at home in Japan, reconciliation  through compassion would be nigh-on impossible.

‘There, as with many Asian communities, it is a collective society,’ explains Toshi. ‘You have to fit the accepted framework. You must HATE the perpetrator.’

In Japan, it is most unusual to support the perpetrator and ask for clemency, and it leads to the victim becoming an outcast; indeed a victim twice over. Those who do not seek vengeance against wrongdoers are treated as outcasts, and become subject to bullying and intimidation. Often families are forced to separate so as not to have one person’s desire for clemency reflected in punitive social actions being meted out against those closest to them. Voicing free opinion and compassion is simply taboo, having a contrarian view in capital punishment goes against culture. Although many victims will say in private that they do not want the death penalty brought in their case, they continue to argue it in principle. It is a similar story in Taiwan and in China, where the same issues arise from the collective nature of society. So it is virtually impossible for individuals to find peace through open forgiveness, as this would almost certainly lead to their own victimisation.

Toshi believes education is very important in this respect. He take victims’ families groups, including Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights (MVFHR) to Japan and Taiwan. In 2010 a further tour is planned, during which Toshi hopes to tell many people ‘It’s OK – the victim’s family can react how they want to react to handle their pain. They don’t have to adhere to the framework and norms.’

Elsewhere more sympathetic measures are being taken to help victims on the road to healing. Mariana Pena of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) spoke to us of victims’ rights at the international level. In France, victims have a legal right to act in partnership with law enforcement and criminal justice elements to bring about justice for their case and seek reparation. Reparation can include both restoration – coming to terms with what has happened, often via reconciliation with the criminal; and satisfaction, meaning the honouring of the victim. Opportunities are increasingly given for the victim to participate in justice, and this is important because it impacts the victim on many levels: emotional; psychological and financial. In too many countries, the victim is ignored. Acknowledgement of suffering can help with the psychological healing process although it can be very traumatic for the victim… and requires psycho-social assistance from the state or NGOs.

Retribution: the need for vengeance is primal, a gut reaction to being hurt or seeing a loved one harmed. Many, many victims know this is not the solution to their grief. However in some countries and regions, vengefulness is seen as the norm; here, it can be difficult for a non-conformist to ever come to terms with loss. FIDH hopes that advocacy for legal reforms at international level will lead some countries to replace the death penalty with more reparation and support for victims.

Rehabilitation and Redemption: both James Abbott and John Van de Kamp spoke of the need for opportunities for offenders to seek redemption through work and rehabilitation. One such way would be for reformed LWoP prisoners to undertake to assist in education programmes for young people.

Reparation, satisfaction, restitution and compensation, remedy and redress: these are all things that the justice system could help to achieve for the victim’s family.

Restoration and reconciliation: we heard in the previous post how Bill Pelke of Journey of Hope has found peace through forgiveness. Restorative justice clearly has a role to play here and it will be intersting to see whether the success which some countries have seen in this area, particularly with young and first-time offenders, might ever have an effect on the scale of murder and life imprisonent. It would be nice to have a chance to find out, but we’re going to have to ditch the death penalty first!

Say No to the Death Penalty! Geneva, Day 2, Evening workshop

Elaborating arguments to convince public opinion

Influencing public opinion was acknowledged across the 3 days of the World Congress to be a key challenge facing the abolitionist movement. In some countries, and States of the USA, even those which are currently without the death penalty, point-in-time polls have revealed staggering public support for executions. There are some massive caveats around this which we’ll revisit in other posts in coming days, however the point is that some governments are hiding behind ‘the will of the people’ to refuse to even begin to negotiate on terms for abolition. Furthermore, we mustn’t forget that even in Europe, where we are lucky to have almost total rejection of capital punishment at statutory and constitutional level, this remains an emotive topic; so popular that it’s not inconceivable pressure could increase to reinstate it in some regions ‘for the worst crimes’. Of course in Europe this would never in all likelihood gain traction given the steadfast position of the European Union on Human Rights; but it remains important to consider, as a general theme, arguments which we can draw on to remind people or persuade them that the death penalty is a bad thing. So it was useful to hear in this session about two very personal perspectives which campaigning groups are drawing on to attempt to remind the public at large why the death penalty makes no sense.

Wrongful conviction, exoneration and enlightenment

In this workshop we heard from Joaquín José Martínez, a former death row inmate of Florida, now exonerated and living in Spain, and from Bill Pelke, co-founder of  ‘Journey of Hope’, whose grandmother was murdered. The panel was moderated by David Lindorff, a freelance journalist and author of ‘Killing Time’, a report on the facts surrounding the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Joaquin Jose Martinez

Joaquin Jose Martinez

Joaquín told us his story. He had once been an arrogant upstart, a supporter of the death penalty and blessed with a good upbringing and education. He used to say things like ‘Why wait to execute ’em?’ He was a successful business man in his early twenties with two young daughters, and already going through a somewhat acrimonious divorce. Now, he looks back and knows, from what happened to him, and from what he witnessed while he was on death row, just why he was so wrong.

In 1996 a double homicide in Tampa, Florida, occurred. There was a huge public outcry to find the killer and see justice served, augmented by the fact that the victim was the son of a local sheriff. Altogether 12 suspects were arrested in connection with the killings, and Joaquín was one of them – but why? It transpires that his estranged wife decided to incriminate him out of spite, perhaps not fully cognisant of the potential outcome. She told police that he had given her information which would appear to implicate himself, and that she had it on tape. In short, Joaquín was convicted on the basis of an alleged confession, and one way or another the police managed to stitch him up completely with ‘lost’ evidence, inaudible recordings and the unreliable testimony of his embittered ex-wife. In his arrogant naivety, and given the lack of any evidence anyway, Joaquín had not really believed that he would come badly out of his trial and had engaged his personal business lawyer to defend him, rather than spend decent money on a fully competent lawyer.

Subsequently, in 1997, Joaquín ended up on death row. Even as recently as that, the default method of execution in Florida was the electric chair. Joaquín tells how the prison would test the chair every week, and the effect that had on the inmates. The row would be quiet and still; he recalls hearing inmates crying as the lightbulbs dimmed along the block. Is this not mental torture?

Eventually, with the help of his parents and family back in Spain, Joaquín managed to raise enough money (about $1 million) for a ‘proper’ defense and his case was eventually appealed and overturned. Through the love of those who believed in him, he managed to gain the support of senators, press, and a retrial at which the maximum sentence available would be life in prison. But he was freed.  He now lives in Spain, but stays in touch with his daughters, speaking to his ex-wife daily.

Joaquín understands the emotions that someone feels when you lose someone to violent crime. Hate, rage, desire for vengeance, these are all things he himself had the misfortune to endure when his own grandfather was later killed. But he acknowledges that he could have seen the perpetrator electrocuted a hundred times over and the pain of loss would not be lessened. Today Joaquín tours, speaks and campaigns against the death penalty.

Forgiveness vs revenge

Bill Pelke pointed out that exonerees are not saved by the system, but in spite of it. He said the death penalty is cruel and it is unnecessary, not just to the condemned, but to their families as well.

‘As long has human beings make decisions, they will make mistakes,’ he said. ‘But people will listen to other people’s stories, it’s very compelling.’

Bill Pelke with Sister Helen Prejean and Susan Sarandon

Bill Pelke with Sister Helen Prejean and Susan Sarandon

Journey of Hope knows that if you can touch people’s hearts you can change their minds. So it is murder victims’ family members who lead the association, which also includes families of the condemned, of the executed, exonerees and general activists. They undertake speaking engagements and tours to reach out to communities, schools and other groups, to help them to understand that there are no number of retaliatory deaths that can replace a loved one. He quoted that the death penalty is nothing more than the ‘animal instinct for gut-level, bloodthirsty revenge.’

Bill and his colleagues believe  that  love and compassion is the answer. Healing is what victims need, not revenge. Bill himself lost his grandmother to murder… And knew that she would have been horrified to think her murderer would perish in turn. Forgiveness is what has helped Bill to heal.

Bill told us about his grandmother’s killer, Paula Cooper. She was only 15 in 1985 when the murder occurred, but this was prior to the introduction in the USA of legal prohibition of the execution of minors, and so she was sentenced to death. At first, Bill was glad, and wanted nothing more than to see his gentle grandmother’s killer executed; but then upon reflection he came to realise that his grandmother, a Bible teacher, would have wanted compassion. After her conviction, news of the young girl being condemned reached Italy, and a campaign was begun there to petition for Paula Cooper’s life. Bill could scarcely believe the strength of compassion coming from abroad, as in his home state of Indiana everyone wanted the girl dead, and as soon as possible. Ultimately, the state legislators were extremely embarrassed by the international attention and raised the age limit for death eligibility to 16; but no mercy for Paula. Eventually, with Bill speaking out at every turn to say he did not want the girl to be executed, the sentence was commuted to 60 years in prison.

In 2014 Paula Cooper will become eligible for parole. She committed her crime and was condemned at 15. Upon release she will be 44 and a completely different person. Bill has remained in close touch with her over the years, and knows she will need tremendous support and rehabilitation to re-enter the outside world.

‘On the day Paula is released, I will meet her at the gates,’ said Bill. ‘She has already agreed to come with me wherever I want to go. “You saved my life,” she tells me’.

Bill has plans to take Paula touring with him and Journey of Hope to continue telling their story of violence, hurt, lives lost and lives saved, and the reconciliation that has ultimately enriched and directed Bill’s own life.

So in conclusion, the theme of the session was to set the scene for an elaboration on a few of the reasons why the death penalty needs to be abolished, via a pair of extremely close-up and poignant perspectives.

  1. The innocent man condemned, who escaped death, and has learned to forgive and completely turned his youthfully ignorant views on their head.
  2. And the victim’s family member who not only forgave his grandmother’s killer, but was instrumental in saving her and is a role model for reconciliation and restoration.

Poem – “On the Row” by O’Della Wilson

Introducing O’Della Wilson as a contributor to The Optimism Club.

ODella Wilson

O'Della

As a small child, I was fascinated by our legal system. As I grew older, my fascination turned to dismay as I witnessed more and more injustice and corruption. That ignited a fire inside of me, a drive towards finding justice that is equal and unbiased. Hopefully I can do my small part to make this world better – through the power of the written word, one of the many gifts I received from God.

Life is a learning experience full of lessons, to live and learn. What it all boils down to – attitude! Our attitude towards life in general is what we “choose” it to be. We take with us from that and thus, pass along those attitudes to every other person we encounter in life. I choose to look at life with optimism, taking the good & positive with me and sharing them, learning from the bad & negative so as not to repeat and pass those on to others. There is something good in everything, no matter how bad the situation. We have to choose to find it first, before we can learn from it.

I got active in fighting against the death penalty in the early 90’s, as a result of the Federal Death Penalty expansions of 1988’s “Drug Kingpin Statute” and then, the 1994 “Crime Bill Expansion” which I felt would result in targeting the underprivileged and minorities. Little did I know at that time, I would find my own child sitting on Alabama’s Death Row in the year 2001, convicted under Alabama’s ‘complicity’ law. Suspecting for years there were many innocent persons sitting on death row, I learned firsthand how some of these wrongful convictions were occurring. And, I can personally state it is a nightmare for everyone involved – not just the murder victim or accused, but the many ‘invisible’ victims who share that sentence of death.

“We can NEVER return the lost years of those wrongfully convicted.” Think about that for a moment, then think about this: error rates are as high as 68% in some areas. Which supporter of the Death Penalty wants to be the first to volunteer to draw those odds? While I cannot go into my son’s case, I can tell you as a result of that, I met other Death Row inmates on a personal level. That led me to developing/publishing one of their newsletters. The newsletter “Dark Faces of Justice” is written by the inmates on Alabama’s Death Row. “Wings of Hope” is the mother publication that inspired the newsletter.

Esther Brown

Esther Brown of the PHADP

When the Chairman of PHADP, Darrell Grayson [executed by State Sanctioned Murder on July 26, 2007, 6:35 PM] sent me the first package of article contents, he told me to contact a woman named Esther Brown. She would have a profound impact on my life, as I’m sure she does with everyone she meets. Esther Brown is the public voice and driving force behind “Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty”.

“Execute Justice not People” is the motto of  www.phadp.org and I couldn’t agree more. Esther Brown is a selfless, tireless person dedicated to educating anyone willing to listen, anyone willing to learn the real facts surrounding the Death Penalty. Most people are misinformed and unless personally affected, never know the reality of what the death penalty entails. You can learn more about Project Hope by visiting their website.

I have learned a lot about many of Alabama’s Death Row Inmates over the years – several since executed – and have my own opinions on the guilt and innocence of each. But, one of the most prominent lessons I have carried with me over the years would be “One moment in life cannot define the character of a person, anymore than we can judge the value of our own lives or future worth by any single act.” Are many of these people guilty? Sure. Are some of these people innocent? Absolutely! Either way points to the overwhelming, problematic failure of Capital Punishment; and both of which are affected by its failures.

Death row

Death row, Alabama

I would also like to say, that another prominent lesson I learned – even more important: there is no such thing as “Justice” when it involves the Death Penalty. There are flaws in every system that are numerous and involve too many passions. As humans we all have passion and emotion, that in itself creates biased implementation of the death penalty. And the death penalty requires infallibility which humans lack by nature.

The poem “On The Row” was inspired by my involvement with these very real people, many of whom sit “on the row” for crimes they did not commit. I am of firm belief that each one of us, has the power and obligation to stop the barbaric practice of Capital Punishment. We are the children of God, not God himself.

If after reading “On The Row” you have been moved emotionally, I ask that you get involved: Take action, start writing your legislators, demand this barbaric practice be stopped – once and for all. Thank you.

ON THE ROW
In my room of only eight by six
time slowly moves too fast
Smoking on my cancer sticks
reminiscing on my past.

Mama tried to tell me back then
the dangers of this life
Choose wisely in choosing friends
even wiser in a wife.

Be careful with the words you speak
and whom you might want cursed
Our motives we must learn to seek
weighing consequences first.

As I sit here savoring the taste
of my coffee brewed in tin
I think of my future with haste
and all of my past sin.

I watch the smoke rise from my lips
as it floats overhead
And as I try to come to grips
I pray I wake not dead.

One day the truth to be told the world
as the guilty might confess
All lies and secrets be unfurled
the facts finally egress.

Written/Copyrights Retained by: O’Della Wilson AKA Alhavakia
©February 13, 2005 All Rights Retained

An interview with Jonathan Flinner

The Optimism Club has the pleasure of interviewing Jonathan Flinner, whose father, Michael, is a condemned prisoner living on death row, San Quentin, California. Michael’s story can be read here: he has continually protested his innocence since his arrest for conspiring in the murder of his fiancée in 2000. Jonathan, now 20 (2010), has launched himself as a young adult into action to help clear his dad’s name and ultimately see him freed.

Jonathan and Michael Flinner

Jonathan and his dad, Michael, at San Quentin

Q: Jonathan, you’re 20 now, but you were 11 when your dad, Michael, was taken from you and later condemned to death for the murder of his fiancée. Did you understand then what was happening?
A: No. I was just about to turn 11 years old, I don’t believe any child at that age can actually take something like that and grasp it fully, it’s completely mind blowing. I was educated enough at the time to see that something “bad” had happened but nothing to this severity, I just always felt so depressed and alone cause I couldn’t understand it.

Q: What’s your favorite memory from the time you were together?
A: I remember two great days, my father loved to go boating and jet skiing and that was my first time. We had an awesome father/son day out at the beach: it was amazing. The second thing was when we used to play catch, I don’t know why that makes me so happy but I loved playing ball with him just because our bond was so strong at that time.

Q: How often do you get to see your dad?
A: I have seen him ONCE in the past 9 years, due to my location compared to his. I love my father and I wish I could see him more but I’m a full time college student and just don’t have the funds to go out to California. It’s depressing to say the least.

Q: Tell us a little about Michael’s accommodation and his days spent in San Quentin.
A: My father lives in a tiny cell, approximately 5 and a half feet by 9 ft, and spends most of his time praying and writing to his close friends, followers and family. He likes to keep in shape to stay mentally and physically fit.

Q: What aspect of your dad’s existence on Death Row do you find most hurtful?
A: The fact that he is an INNOCENT man. I cannot believe the things that have happened in my life, I’m 20 years old and I have probably lived through more problems than three 80 year olds. Nobody deserves to be on death row, especially the innocent. I haven’t had a father most of my life because of the ignorance of others. I will never get this time back.

Q: What makes you most proud of Michael?
A: His intelligence and his passion. You would think any man on death row would be depressed and upset 23 hours out of the day. My father has a gift of intelligence which he uses every single day, he is a writer and a soon to be published author. The other thing I love about my father is that he never gives up, I love that. It must run in the family.

Q: And how about you? You are studying right now?
A: At the moment I am attending a community college, still doing pre-reqs but I’m leaning toward a degree in the social sciences or in law. I’m doing well, hanging in there. Really cracking down on making this Twitter site all it can be.

Q: What’s the Twitter site?
A: I have a Twitter ID, @DeathRowInmates, aimed solely at raising awareness of my father’s situation

Q: And how is that going?
A: Really great, I have built a following of over 1000 in just one month! So a good audience to tell my father’s story to.

Q: What are your father’s hopes and dreams for you?
A: He hopes that I never get tangled up in a situation like him, he wants me to be happy anyway that I can and hopes that I graduate from college and settle down and get married, he has told me when I have kids he hopes he can be out so he can spend time with his grandchildren.

Q: You spend a lot of time working to raise awareness of your father’s situation – on Twitter and elsewhere. Do you get any time just for yourself?
A: Believe it or not I do! I actually have a lot of free time, time to spend with my family and my little brother, my best friends, my girlfriend. I love to travel and ride my quad and just stay happy. You would think since I’m always online I’m never doing anything for myself but I do, all the time!

Q: Jonathan, it seems like you have suffered many times over. From the loss of your mother, and then of Tamra, and then in a way, of your father too. And yet you seem so full of life, energy and determination. What support do you receive? Where do you find the strength to carry you through all of this?
A: I have done my unfair share of suffering, this whole fiasco started when my mother passed away when i was only 7 years old. Since then my whole life really took a turn for the worse. I wake up every morning and put a smile on my face, I know that there are better things in life to look forward and to be happy about. I find the best things in life and I love them, I surround myself with the most amazing people and I do my share to make sure I am happy and everybody I know is happy. I grow from every negative thing in my life, it makes me a stronger person, it makes me who I am today.

Q: Tell us about Michael’s book “A Portion of Thyself: Essential Reflections From Death Row”
A: This book is one of many he is writing, my father is an amazing writer. This book really captures his way of living now, his everyday thoughts and how he responds and reflects from being on death row, I know you all will love it. It’s due to be published later in February 2010.

Q: What is next for your father? Where is he in the appeal process?
A: More book writing! We aren’t completely sure when the process will begin but I hope to start a campaign to raise money for a really good lawyer for him. That is the main goal at the moment.

Q: If you could ask the people reading this one special favour, what would it be?
A: To pray and spread the word of this campaign, its all about networking and who you know, every little thing counts and I really want to get my father off of death row. These past 10 years have been so terrible for my family and I, constant crying and sobbing, we could really use your prayers.

Q: What words of comfort or advice do you have for others whose parent or loved one is condemned or in peril?
A: Stay strong and never let your head down. I know life is tough, life is going to throw nasty curveballs at you and you have to overcome. There is no time in life to let down your guard and give into depression’s temptation, you are a wonderful individual and you are meant to be happy. Keep smiling and never stop doing what you’re doing, especially if you believe in it.

Q: A final thought to leave us with?
A: I’d like to say “thank you”, this journey I have been on has been a crazy one, to be given this opportunity is absolutely amazing and I thank everyone who supports me, my wonderful grandparents, my awesome friends, my amazing girlfriend. Thank you for always being by my side when I needed you the most, I love you all.

Thank YOU, Jonathan.
For more details about Michael Flinner’s case and the ongoing effort to provide a voice for condemned prisoners, see DeathrowInmate.org.

Author’s note regarding San Quentin: the State of California is currently under moratorium – executions have been on hold since 2006 pending a thorough review of the protocols for the lethal injection procedure. In January 2010, the California Department for Corrections and Rehabilitation issued a deadline for the latest public scrutiny and comments. A number of organised campaigns led to the receipt of over 12,000 comments challenging the procedures, each of which must be taken into account and responded to ‘substantively’ by the State. In the meantime, Governor Schwarzenegger has pledged to cut prison spending in the State vs Higher Education budgets, having last year been criticised for continuing to spend on expanding the prison system, including plans for a new block for San Quentin’s death row, which already houses around 670 condemned prisoners, taking the capacity to over 1200 with proposed double-celling.

We believe Governor Schwarzenegger should encourage legislation to repeal the death penalty statute altogether for California and save the State billions of dollars which could be channelled into more appropriate public spending