Now I may be able to blog about rhetoric. I may be able to construct speeches and orate them, but this is the South and it is a story telling culture, and the fact is, I don’t have any great personal stories to share in regards to the death penalty. And a single story is worth every fact and statistic that I can throw out there.
Fortunately, there are amazing stories a-plenty, and yesterday a sitting on the floor, standing room only crowd at MTSU got to hear a few of those. A panel on women’s perspectives on the death penalty was put together for Women’s History Month (by the wonderful Dr. Amy Staples, aka, “Puddin Head” – see http://tcask.blogspot.com/2006/02/in-praise-of-puddin-head.html). This panel included Regina Hockett, whose daughter was murdered 10 years ago, and Joyce House (pictured below) , whose son, Paul House, has been on Tennessee’s death row for over 20 years and is innocent.
All four presenters did a fantastic job, but I want to talk particularly about Joyce. Our capital punishment system does everything it can to tell us that the people on death row aren’t people, they’re inhuman, or they’re monsters. Those kind of people don’t have families. They’re unloved and unlovable, we’re told. And within ourselves, we’ve each probably internalized some of that. So now picture a small, sweet woman standing in front of 90 people and saying very simply that the state is trying to kill her son, who is innocent and confined to a wheel-chair due to M.S., for which he is not receiving proper medication. Let Joyce tell you flat out, “The system doesn’t work,” because she knows from personal experience. Then try to think about the death penalty the same way.
These are the stories that have the capacity to change the way we conceive of the death penalty, by changing the way we conceive of in inmates. Saying, “I want to kill that animal” is one thing. Saying, “I want to kill Joyce’s son” is something completely different.
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