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.