In a surprising turn of events, Texas Governor Rick Perry granted clemency to death row inmate Kenneth Foster. Foster's death sentence has been commuted to life imprisonment. Until the reprieve came, things were not looking good. As the San Francisco Bay View put it in an email message a few days ago:
Five of the seven members of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles must recommend clemency for Perry to even consider granting it. But Perry appointed the board members and, while it officially operates independently, the board is known to respond to pressure from the governor's mansion.
"It's my belief that if this does not become a political issue, then I have no chance," Kenneth wrote shortly after receiving his execution date.
He's right. Rick Perry won't spare Kenneth out of the kindness of his heart. Having overseen 159 executions since he took office in 2001, Perry has outdone even his predecessor George W. Bush. This summer, Texas will carry out its 400th execution.
In rejoicing over the saving of Kenneth Foster's life, we should remember two things:
- Texas is the most murderous state in the in US, with an incredibly alarming rate of executions since Governor Perry took office.
- Kenneth Foster is a member of the D.R.I.V.E. movement, which organizes death row inmates to practice non-violent resistance against the state's severe violations of their human rights.
After being moved to Polunsky, the men on Texas' death row lost virtually all the privileges they enjoyed at the Ellis Unit. The new facility keeps the inmates in 23-hour administrative segregation inside 60 square foot cells with sealed steel doors. They have lost all group recreation, work programs, television access (some inmates are allowed radios), and religious services. There are no contact visits allowed at Polunsky, meaning that the men on death row will never make physical contact with anyone other than prison staff as they move toward their execution date. Inmates are only allowed one five minute phone call every six months, their mail is often censored, the quality of food is particularly low, and they are given inadequate health and dental services.
For a detailed account of life in the Polunsky death row unit in Texas, read "Actions and Re-actions" by inmate Derrick Jackson:
I am an insulin dependent diabetic and I am forced to be administered my shots in areas where chemical agents are being sprayed and body waste of others is thrown and not cleaned. If one man is gassed all those in the immediate area suffer as I have at many times. Often the chemical agents used are in excess and are not necessary and protocol in use is not followed. Inmates who are secure in their cells, at the whim of an official can be subject to the use of chemical agents by simply refusing to be harassed by officials in any number of ways. I have been forced to live in cells with the body waste of the previous occupant (and not allowed nothing to clean with as all personal property had been confiscated and held in the property room and no cleaning supplies were made available to me). I have been forced to live in cells that flood when it rains outside (and leak as well). I am forced to live in cells where the ventilation system doesn't work, plumbing doesn't work - all because of my aggressive behavior (writing this is the most aggression I've shown about all of this thus far). I have a big box on my cell door (designed to keep inmates from throwing on guards) and my food is placed in this box for me to eat. I am not supposed to be allowed to clean it and the guards won't clean it but it is filthy with food, juices, coffee, etc. from previous meals - very unsanitary. My aggressive behavior merits this I guess.
(Read the rest.)