Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Oklahoma Reviews Death Penalty

An Oklahoma commission recommended a continuation of a moratorium on the death penalty in that state.
The Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission recommended the continuation of a moratorium on the death penalty "until significant reforms are accomplished," Brad Henry, commission co-chairman and former Oklahoma governor, said Tuesday. The current halt on executions was put in place in October 2015.
This is the overarching recommendation of more than 40 announced by the bipartisan group, which has spent more than a year and a half reviewing every part of the capital punishment process, from arrest to execution. The recommendations are detailed in a 294-page report published in an effort to "ensure a fair and impartial process."
    The report addresses "systemic problems in key areas such as forensics, innocence protection, the execution process and the roles of the prosecution, the defense council, the jury and the judiciary," Henry said, adding that the commission members were "all disturbed by the volume and seriousness of the flaws involved in Oklahoma's capital punishment system."
    That includes his belief "that it's very likely that at some point, Oklahoma has executed an innocent person. I don't know that to be true, and I don't think we'll ever know."
    Commissioner Robert Alexander Jr., a trial lawyer, agreed, saying there are systemic flaws that could allow for it.
    Alexander said he was shocked to learn that eyewitness identification and forensic procedures are not reliable, based on the facts uncovered by the commission's investigation.
    "Two of the methods of conviction, or tools used in conviction that would intuitively be the most reliable, we found to be the most unreliable," Alexander said. The report recommends implementing forensic reforms that were adopted in 2013 but have not been put into practice. In addition, it calls for a strengthening of the qualification process for forensic experts.

    'Most humane and effective method'

    The commission also recommended the use of a single lethal barbituate protocol, rather than a combination of two or three drugs, saying this is the "most humane and effective method of execution possible." It did not identify which single drug should be used.
    Although the report did not focus on a single execution, the review of the process began in the wake of the 2014 botched execution of Clayton Lockett. Having been sentenced to death for the 1999 shooting of Stephanie Nieman, Lockett was scheduled to die by a three-drug lethal injection cocktail on April 29, 2014, at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. Thirty-three minutes after the administration of the first drug began, the execution was halted.
    "The doctor checked the IV and reported the blood vein had collapsed, and the drugs had either absorbed into tissue, leaked out or both," according to a previously released timeline. Lockett died of a heart attack 43 minutes after the execution began.
    In calling for reforms to the system, Henry said that more resources are needed to make sure the decision to give someone the death penalty is truly fair and impartial. "If you want to do this, it must be done right. Here are ways to do this," he said, referring to the more than 40 recommendations.
    The moratorium recommendation comes one day after Arkansas executed two men on the same night. That state's plans to execute eight death row inmates in 11 days using lethal injection have stirred debate over the death penalty.

    Wednesday, April 12, 2017

    How To Prepare To Visit Your Loved One In Prison



    It’s really difficult to prepare for visiting your loved one in prison because each time could be a little different depending on the facility rules and interpretation by the guards.  What will help you prepare is to be ready to expect anything.
    When you arrive at the facility you may need to wait in line to be processed in. When you visit your loved one, the facility may require sign in, fingerprint recognition, walking through a metal detector, and/or but not limited to body search. You are subject to searches both prior to and after you visit your loved one.
    The facility staff will let you know what you can bring into the visiting area. There may be a locker assigned to you to store your personal items or you may be asked to lock it in your car. It is a good idea to bring a clear container (purse or bag) for the items you can bring into the visiting area.
    If you have doctor prescribed medications you should let the guard know that you are storing them in the locker and what time you need to take them.  Only bring in what you will need.


    Know the rules for the facility that you are visiting when it comes to how close you can be to your loved one. Some facilities allow a hug and kiss, others will allow you to hold hands, others do not allow any physical contact. Also know that different facility staff may interpret the rules differently so if you are warned once not to have so much contact such as hugging too long, listen to them because it could be cause for you to lose your visitation rights (along with apparent reasons like contraband).
    There is also the possibility that there will be assigned seating or that you need to sit on a specific side of the visiting table.  This would typically be so that the inmate would sit on the side of the table that can be monitored by the guards or cameras.


    There is typically a limit to the amount of money you can bring into the visiting area, and whether you can bring bills and/or change. There may be a commissary and/or vending machines to purchase food and drink.  It’s best to bring smaller bills and change (whichever is allowed). Eating together is a great activity to share when you visit your loved one and it gives them an opportunity to have foods they may not have access too otherwise.


    Minors must be accompanied by an adult for visitation.  You may be required to bring the minor’s birth certificate, depending on his/her age.  Minors must be under control of the adults. There are typically cards or some type of games for children and adults that may be in a central area, or need to be checked out. It is advisable to select games for your visit as soon as you arrive.
    Check with the facility that you are visiting for requirements on documentation for the minor(s) that you are bringing with you.


    If you are traveling long distances to visit, check with the facility, typically the warden, if you would like extended visitation, e.g. dates or times other than typical visitation dates.  If possible, contact the prison prior to starting your travel to ensure that your loved one is still at the prison and confirm they are not currently in lock down.  Keep in mind they may not be able to tell you if your loved one is being transported (for security reasons).  In addition, the facility may not be in lock down when you call, however be prepared that something could of occurred while you were traveling to cause the facility to require lock down.  All this being said, it’s still good to check before you begin your journey.
    Some prisons are located in very rural areas and you may not have a large selection of hotels.  It may seem awkward, but try calling the local Department of Corrections or the facility inquiring about local accommodations while visiting your loved one.  They may also know of transportation available that will make it easier for your visit.  Sometimes it’s really difficult to drive after a visit.
    For information on what to wear when visiting your loved one in prison go to:

    Saturday, April 1, 2017


    Wednesday, March 1, 2017

    Prisoners turn playwrights in classes through OSU program

    The two actresses sat back to back, holding bundles representing babies while going through a courthouse scene where a girl may lose custody of her infant.

    The story is about the prisoner who wrote the piece. She was also one of the performers on that stage in front of a full room of fellow inmates.

    Through playwriting, Cyndie Jones, from McAlester, spoke about having a child at age 14 after her own early years were filled with violence and neglect. She described her 8-year-old self running from a man who ended up catching her by the hair, backhanding her to a split lip then whipping her with an electrical cord.

    “So many women who got here have these stories, and they are not being heard,” Jones said.

    The hour-long performance Friday evening at the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center for women was the culmination of the writing and acting program ArtsAloud, offered through Oklahoma State University. It is also held at the Jess Dunn facility in Taft and the John Lilley center in Boley.

    At the end of the performance, three OSU theater students put their own spin on the works produced by the inmates.

    As Jones listened to the words of her life coming from the actors, she put her elbows on her knees, breathed deeply and sobbed. It was that overwhelming.

    She had no regrets.

    “The best healing is to let people know what happened, and that will also help others,” Jones said. “I was so angry when I came here, but I’m trying to trust the judicial system. I want to be an advocate for the women here. I believe people deserve a second chance.”

    Budget woes: Oklahoma has a well-earned reputation for locking up its residents.

    The state has the second-highest incarceration rate in the U.S. For more than 25 years, Oklahoma has been No. 1 in the incarceration rate of women, with only brief moments at being No. 2.

    In December, the DOC announced that for the first time in 49 years, the population of people incarcerated, on supervision or currently in a county jail awaiting transfer surpassed 61,000.

    Last week, the Governor’s Task Force for Judicial Reform reported that at this rate more than 7,200 inmates will be added in the next decade. That would bring an additional cost of $1.9 billion to construct three more prisons.

    All this is at a time with drastic revenue shortfalls including a state budget failure last year. Funding has not kept up with the increase in prisoners.

    Programs to rehabilitate and to transition inmates into the community were cut from the budget years ago. What is offered falls largely to volunteers.

    Jodi Jinks, artistic director of ArtsAloud and the Mary Lou Lemon endowed professor for underrepresented voices, imported the program from Austin, Texas, four years ago. It fulfills the research mission of OSU and provides ongoing education and a creative outlet for inmates.

    “The emphasis is not on the way they perform. The emphasis is on writing the story then performing it,” Jinks said. “Because this is autobiographical, it is their story, there is an emotional attachment to it.”

    Each session develops differently. As the prisoners write from prompts given, a theme emerges. On Friday, the performance was called “Happiness.”

    “The goal is to break down the walls for those on the inside and those on the outside,” Jinks said. “This allows for increased empathy, understanding and self-empowerment.”

    ‘Human again’: OSU senior Peyton Meacham beat back tears several times watching the prisoners perform. She was most moved by this line: “I’m from rolling hills verging on the mountains but not quite.”

    “I was wanting to meet her so much and let her know how that line changed me,” Meacham said. “It’s beautiful.”

    It was written by inmate Geneva Phillips within a poem filled with poignant metaphors of her upbringing.

    “ArtsAloud is life-giving. This is not a place of life, but arts is life,” Phillips said. “So many creative people are in prison. I don’t know why the ratio is so high in prison like that, but it is. This allows us some small moment each week to be human again. Day in and day out, we aren’t allowed to be human.”

    Bonding experience: The performance swayed between bouts of laughter and tears dredged from depths of sorrow.

    After Jones suddenly stopped her narrative when detailing the taste of blood as the cord lashed her backside, the other prisoners urged her on.

    “Come on girl.” “You got this.” “You can do this.”

    She continued, ending with her mother’s response to the question as to why she couldn’t protect her daughters from dangerous men. “Some women aren’t meant to be mothers.”

    The silence of the room was only broken by a few “mmm hmms” nearly whispered in sympathetic solidarity.

    In a well-timed turn, the next vignette told of learning to make fried chicken, only to cause a fire that banned her from her godmother’s kitchen.

    The 12-woman ensemble of inmates sang a version of the original “Mouseketeers — Mickey Mouse March,” danced to jingles and created whimsical novelty songs. Women noted their love of fishing, puppies, children and grandchildren.

    A woman belted out the television show theme to “In the Heat of the Night,” and an El Salvadoran prisoner had an ongoing joke about not being Mexican.

    “I’m also American and I love this country,” she said.

    Drama punched between the comedy. An inmate recounted memories of her best friend, who died after a 10-year-old suicide bomber killed him. A woman claimed being from “a heartbroken man with whiskey bottled-up rage.” A prisoner serving life for murder grievously pondered whether she would “outlast the punishment they deemed.”

    In an ode of gratitude, a prisoner shared her fears at age 15 being sent behind bars, where she has stayed. With no outside support, her fellow inmates became her family.

    “Even though you had your own kids, you had a hand in raising me,” she said. “I thank you for allowing me to grow up and wanting to help me.”

    The final act shifted the tenor of the room into one of inspiration and motivation by taking on the theme “What we want the world to know,”

    “We’re human, not a number.” “World peace starts with one person.” “Love a little, love a lot.” “Everyone deserves a second chance.”

    The rousing ending featured the theme song to the television show “the Golden Girls.” It’s hard not to be uplifted while clapping and singing, “Thank you for being a friend.”

    After the show, OSU junior Cody Finger talked about the lessons learned through the project. “It’s eye-opening, and it makes you think twice before judging people,” he said. “And, they really do have very good writing.”

    Ginnie Graham 918-581-8376