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When Happiness Becomes Hollow

May 13th, 2011 by Alison · 5 Comments · Oregon, politics

Happiness and quality of life are core themes in my blog, not just for me, but for everyone. Those are in short supply for Gary Dwayne Haugen, on death row here in Oregon. Unlike many of the hundreds of inmates on death row in the United States, he has dropped the appeals process and is expected to ask for an execution date today.

Last night I met Katherine Ginsburg,  a board member of  Oregonians For Alternatives to the Death Penalty. A poised, dark-haired young woman, she has an M.S. in criminology and is working on her doctorate in that field. “You know, what upsets me even more than the death penalty is torture,” I remarked to her, thinking not just of numerous foreign countries but our own country’s practice of waterboarding, and President Bush’s stout defense of it a few years ago.

“People on death row experience psychological torture,” Ms. Ginsburg replied evenly.  As they await death year after year, “their friends and family pull away from them, so that the only people left in their lives are other people consigned to be killed, and the prison guards, who despise them. The exception is prison chaplains, who are amazing. Amazing,” Katherine emphasized. I believed that, having family and friends who are ministers.

If you’re a practical sort, consider that it costs Oregon $20 million per person on death row in legal fees and other costs, including mandatory appeals. I am practical and thrifty, besides humanitarian, and would have life-sentences without parole be the strongest punishment

A friend from Oregon who now lives in Italy tells me that Europeans ask her, “Is it true that the U.S. government murders its own citizens?” The question implies they find our death penalty barbaric.

Of course, it can be argued that the crimes of Gary Dwayne Haugen and other death row inmates are barbaric. I think that evil does indeed exist, and that a civilized society has to defend itself against it. But our happiness and quality of life are hollow when we turn our backs on state-sanctioned psychological torture. We scrape away our own humanity when we empower our government to kill its own citizens. A culture doesn’t teach people to not murder by committing murder, itself.

I just made an addition to books I love that speaks to how we constantly affect each others’ happiness and our own with the choices we make.

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5 Comments so far ↓

  • Tess Giles Marshall

    In the UK, we got rid of the death penalty in 1969 and I simply can’t imagine how it would be if it were reintroduced. It would change fundamentally the culture of our country. The writer Elizabeth Goudge once said (I paraphrase, can’t find the exact quote) that she feared for the souls of the executioners almost more than those being executed because of the deliberate nature of this cold act of taking human life, which is different from, for example, soldiers at war and other situations of huge pressure.
    I’m not naive. I know that there are people in this world who are really evil, and I believe I would find it in myself to kill in self-defence or direct defence of others.
    People tend to ask “well how would you feel if it was your loved one who had been murdered?” I expect I’d feel like killing them. Which is precisely why that decision should not be left to me.
    And that doesn’t even touch on people who may have been wrongfully convicted.
    State-sanctioned vengeance can’t be right.

  • Alison

    Well said, Tess. I especially agree that wronged parties can easily feel like killing someone. But controlling violent and aggressive impulses is exactly what makes a society civilized.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  • Jen Patterson

    It boggles my mind that people can see the death penalty as an option in 2011, in the United States, in a civilized society of people who say they value life. Thanks for writing about this- it is an issue we need to keep bringing up.

  • David McGourty, Ph.D.

    I would like to converse with anyone who may have had direct contact with Mr. Haugen’s parents, his wife and child, and his wife’s mother
    (The victim).

    • Alison

      David, I’ve never had contact with Mr. Haugen or anyone in his circle. But I wish him well, and you too, assuming you want contact in order to be of service.

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