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  #1  
Old 06-17-2003, 10:41 AM
softheart softheart is offline
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Default After Death Row, life can be tough sentence

ILLINOIS:


Twice a day, the heavy steel lock on Andre Jones' cell slips open and he's
free to slide back the bars and walk, unshackled, into the cafeteria at
the Menard Correctional Center.

But Jones never leaves. He waits fearfully for the lock to click closed
again, preferring to eat packaged snacks in the safety of his closed cell.

Like roughly 160 other inmates who were on Illinois' death row, Jones'
life was spared when former Gov. George Ryan commuted his death sentence
in January. Now, Jones and the other inmates face the new reality of life
in the general prison population.

It is a far different world from a condemned unit and the certainty of a
date with execution: a place where increased freedom of movement brings
greater danger; where the camaraderie among the condemned is shattered;
where creature comforts such as almost-daily showers and easy access to
telephones are gone.

Inmates like Jones, who are out of appeals, almost certainly will live the
rest of their years behind bars, in a droning daily routine that some call
execution on the installment plan. Those with appeals remaining can
continue to fight for reduced sentences or new trials, but say their
ability to do so has been hampered since they left death row.

"I'm glad I'm not getting executed; I'm not stupid," Jones, 46, said at
the prison on the Mississippi River in southern Illinois. "But then I come
here and there's nothing to do. There's nothing. This is reality for me.
I'm going to be here until I die."

On death row, life was highly structured and isolated, but the condemned
enjoyed certain privileges, such as access to a phone whenever it was
needed, daily visits to the prison yard and a cell to themselves. The
routine was designed to make death row more secure, but it also provided
comforts unique to the condemned.

More important than that, they received increased attention from activists
and attorneys to try to overcome their convictions or at least work toward
lighter sentences. They had ready access to state-funded investigators to
examine their cases and a sort of celebrity among those devoted to
abolishing the death penalty.

That is gone now, and the former death row inmates are just like any other
prisoners, thrown into the mix with men convicted of myriad offenses.

"We're applying the same firm, fair and consistent policies that we've
applied to all general population inmates" to the inmates coming off of
death row, said Illinois Department of Corrections spokesman Brian
Fairchild. Interviews with several of the former death row inmates reveal
that although many are thankful for the governor's commutation and
relieved to have their execution dates lifted, still others would prefer
the certainty of condemnation to their new lives. "I'm 42 years old and
I'm supposed to spend the rest of my life in prison," he said. "I liked
the finality of execution. People will say it's crazy, but you can't
understand if you're not in my shoes."

Like Kliner, inmates who hold on to the hope that they will one day be
released from prison say their fight through the legal system--for reduced
sentences or new trials--now has added obstacles.

Meetings with attorneys are more difficult to arrange and the number of
phone calls to investigators, lawyers, journalists and family members has
been severely curtailed.

Appolon Beaudouin Jr., an investigator with the state appellate defender's
office who worked on dozens of death row cases, said some of the formerly
condemned inmates worry about a lack of urgency over their cases now that
execution is no longer an issue.

"They have the same legal issues except for the issue of them dying. That
seemed to make everything different," Beaudouin said. "What I get from
them is they can't get to a phone. There's no communication."

James Westray, 32, who is serving life at Menard for the 1998 murder of
Elizabeth Opatt during a robbery outside Johnston City, Ill., believes a
state-funded investigator might be able to find evidence that a
co-defendant was the triggerman.

"I wasn't anticipating the problems I would have here that I didn't [have]
on death row," Westray said. On death row, he said, "You're considered
more of a priority."

Even before Ryan announced the blanket commutation, a number of Death Row
inmates fought against having their sentences commuted because they
believed it would sap resources and attention and decrease their chances
of getting new trials or reduced sentences.

Now in the general population, many of the men who fought hard on death
row to have their cases heard are giving up, Kliner said.

"We're trying to motivate each other to keep working on our cases," he
said.

Their work is interrupted by adjustments to unfamiliar rules governing
general population inmates.

Westray, who was not a problem inmate on death row and has not had any
disciplinary infractions since moving to the general population, was
recently classified a Level-E inmate, the highest risk for escape. He was
told his status had changed because before he was sent to Death Row, he
was accused of trying to escape.

Now Westray cannot have any contact with visitors, under general
population rules. He must see all visitors, including his attorney,
through a thick plastic screen, he said.

On Death Row, he was shackled to a chair during visitations, but his two
young daughters could at least touch him, he said.

"I'm sure they aren't going to understand why they have to see their
father behind Plexiglas," he said.

That change in his situation weakens his resolve and makes working his
case that much harder, he said. "I just can't handle it all myself," he
said.

If fighting death defined life on death row, monotony and danger are the
daily fare in the general population.

"It's the same thing every day, and it goes on and on," Kliner said.

There are the two trips a day to the cafeteria, to the yard a few times a
week, perhaps a weekly visit to the library, a weekly hot shower, constant
television and a few phone calls."The only advantage you have to life in
population is you are around people," said Christopher Davis, 32, who was
convicted of the 1997 slaying of off-duty Chicago Police Officer Gregory
Young.

On death row, inmates are shackled whenever they leave their cellblock,
and they rarely have contact with each other. In general population, there
is considerably more mixing and freedom of movement. But even that has a
downside.

"There is a lot of danger," said Davis, who is imprisoned at Stateville.

On the condemned unit, fights weren't unheard of, but they were rare, and
inmates had a certain closeness born of their common circumstance. Life in
the general population is much more likely to be punctuated by violence.

And for someone like Andre Jones, already fearful, even paranoid, of
dealing with others, the change has made life hard to bear.

He appears haunted, his wide-open eyes flashing as he pulls at the long
tufts of gray and black hair that grow in unkempt funnels from his head.

"There's so many things you have to be on guard about," Jones said. "I try
to stay to myself. I think that's best."

At 47, he has spent half of his life in prison for the 1979 murders of
East St. Louis cleaning store owner Samuel Nersesian and mail carrier
Debra Brown.

Jones seems to have lost hope for anything other than being moved to
another facility, where he believes he can get mental treatment and,
perhaps, a slightly improved life.

"I believe I'm wise enough to try to keep the little sanity I have left,"
Jones said. "But to me, the way my life is now, without anything, just let
me die in peace."

(source: Chicago Tribune)
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Old 06-17-2003, 11:07 AM
toi_ama toi_ama is offline
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I have to be honest that this kind of rubbed me the wrong way. I'm an adamant death penalty opponent and feel that life without parole is a better alternative. But gosh, here these guys just got commuted----------and they're whining about it! What this says is probably all true for them, but what are we supposed to do for them? Make them some kind of special privileged class? For Pete's sake! There are thousands sitting on death row right now who would probably be glad to trade places with them!
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Old 06-17-2003, 12:19 PM
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I don't think he is whinning, he even says he is happy he isn't going to die. But it is a big ajustment for men or women to go from years on the row to GP. I think the article is trying to show what a completly different world the two places are.

I work with many many on the row and I know some that would wish for LWOP, but I know many who wouldn't.

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Old 06-17-2003, 02:24 PM
Rostonhall Rostonhall is offline
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I certainly don't think they are whining and, in some, cases have valid points. But then I am biased as my fiance was on the Row in Menard and was one of those who didn't ask for clemency. He was really worried that it would mean he would lose the level of legal represetation he had. As he has an 'actual innocence' appeal befroe the courts at the moment it looks as if he is to keep his legal team.

The violence exists and my man has been put into protective custody because of this. I'm not able to say exactly why because that could mean even more trouble for him but, believe me, his life is in danger if he is put back into the general population. He was safer on the Row and he knew that.

After spending nearly nineteen years on the Row he is happier he's now not facing that death but has to live with the fact that he may have to stay in p.c. until it is decided he did not, in fact, commit the murder that put him there in the first place.

Yes, we are pleased that he left the Row, but please don't forget they all lived very isolated lives there and now they are mixing with others it's very hard for them. They've lost the social skills they had and must be finding it very difficult.

I remember when I brought two dogs back to England from Australia how they reacted after spending 6 months in quarantine. They were frightened of everything and everybody. It took a lot of tender loving care to get them back to their old selves. How must these men be feeling after spending decades on the Row?
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Old 06-17-2003, 03:06 PM
toi_ama toi_ama is offline
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I'm sure they do have all the feelings, fears and adjustments mentioned in the article. It's to be expected. I was just being honest about how I reacted to it at gut level.

I also know that many on death row wouldn't want to do life without parole. Having studied at length about the death penalty, I found that there are some on death row for whom their own death doesn't mean the same as the prospect of our death would to us. They don't dread it like we would. That's why the death penalty isn't the deterrent uninformed people think it is.

But back to what my reaction was-------I'm sorry to seem callous. The article may be meant to educate, but there will be death penalty proponents who could use it to say "why bother?" too, in response to people who want to abolish the death penalty. And don't forget, either, that the people on death row who did commit their crimes aren't nice guys and often the aggravating circumstances that got them the death penalty aren't looked well on by others in GP. Probably they should have a wing where these people could be housed away from mainstream GP and then have their own GP area provided, but the prisons aren't likely to be that benevolent.
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Old 06-17-2003, 03:48 PM
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toi_ama.... I understand your "gut" reaction and agree that many others will likely think the way you have described.... what concerns me a great deal is the fact that the REASON these guys are having such a difficult time re-adjusting to GP is because of the psychological effects of that kind of isolation and sensory, intellectual, social, etc. DEPRIVATION.... JD has never been on death row, but has been housed in the same unit with the "condemned" inmates at Menard CC in IL.... he has been in segregation for a year and a half with another year to go..... I worry about his ability to readjust and wonder if I can provide him enough through letters and through our 2 hours a month to keep him somewhat sane?!?
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Old 06-17-2003, 11:14 PM
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I wrote a letter to one of them, formerly at Menard. He said he was happy of course to be out of death row but said sharing a cell after many years of being alone in a cell was a big adjustment. However, for the men who have lost their social skills, and had mental health problems from lack of human interaction, surely staying alone won't solve the problem. I think Jones needs a staff to take him by the arm, perhaps with a safe inmate, and take him to the lunch room. He needs to venture out a bit at a time, when it is safe, and with a little help and prodding.
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Old 06-17-2003, 11:16 PM
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JD's wifey can you share why he is in segration for so long?
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Old 06-18-2003, 12:31 AM
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Makes me think of my son and others with years in the SHU, maybe 10 or 20, maybe more,and these are people who will get out.How will they make it in society? I don't know if it's anything like DR,but I know they don't get the attention from the activists that was talked about,and I can't even imagine the psychological effects.There is no prison reform, no education,no job or social skills and they wonder why these people return to prison.
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Old 06-18-2003, 06:00 AM
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I've said it before and I'll say it again..

Never underestimate the power of the Life Penalty.

If this is the place that you'll live out your days, it IS your world and your tomorrow and your future.
Helluva thing to wake up to if you're in a particularly crappy place.

When I was dealt mine, I had the good fortune of being in a place where to some extent I could participate in my future, participate in the spirit of community such as it was, and had half a chance at least to be productive,--even if I was just spinning my wheels.

Not losing any more ground is an accomplishment to a Lifer.

Odd sense of humor I had, and have,... I put a sign over my desk... "Today is the first day of the rest of your Life Sentence,.... and if it ISN'T,---stop WHINING."

I suppose the post script would be.. If you have the Life sentence,... You'd better be 'participating'.
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Old 06-18-2003, 09:25 AM
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Holley....
JD got six months in seg for "dangerous communication" for their suspicions that he was developing a personal relationship with me while I worked within the walls... While he was doing that seg time, he went through a phase of extreme depression and was placed in health care on a suicide watch.... one day he was not responsive to CO's orders to come to the door, so a cell extraction team went in to cuff him.... supposedly when they rushed in and grabbed him and threw him up against the wall, he kicked an officer.... He SWEARS that he didn't... but they call it "staff assault"... and he got another two years.....
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Old 06-19-2003, 07:55 AM
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I spoke too soon about Tony keeping his legal team. I had a letter today telling me the attorney he had while on the Row has had his funding withdrawn and will no longer represent him for the appeal.
This is one of the reasons so many didn't want to leave the Row, their legal representation was of a better quality. I know it should all be the same but the fact is, when faced with death they did have it better, and who can blame them if they are now a bit resentful.
They have been deserted and just left to get on with it. The general opinion is 'Well, you're not going do die so be happy with that'.
There are still alot of innocent men locked into the system. Why should any of them just grin and bear it?
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Old 06-21-2003, 07:05 AM
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Hi toi_ama,

I just read your post to the reaction you had regarding the men on death row who sentences were commuted to life. Everybody has a right to their opinions. But you claim these guys are whining about being sentenced to life now. They are not whining, they are scared to death, literally!! I have learned over the last 5 years since my ol man was also on the Row, to try and reverse the situation. Imagine you are on Death Row locked up in a cell 23 hours a day. A cell not big enough to stretch you legs in. Visits are in handcuffs tight enough to stop your circulation, chained and shackled to a table. Can't even stand up to stretch. You have to feed your ol man because the cuffs are too tight and they are demoralized. Imagine how that feels if you are on the Row and DID NOT commit the murder you are in for. Then all of a sudden you are in population like the rest of the guys, whether you are guilty or not. What those guys are saying is, they are scared. Plus, they are ALL programmed to what time they eat, how they think and how they breathe. I know I would not be able to survive like that.. Like I said, all I have to do is reverse the situation, I'd go nuts.....
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Old 06-26-2003, 10:15 AM
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I write to someone in Illinois who used to be on DR. He has always expected that all sentences would be commuted and, even though he is convicted of murdering several, including 3 children, he has hope that he will someday be released. He said he pretty much keeps to himself in general population. He is almost child-like, but I don't know if that is how he was when he left the free world, or how he is because of spending almost two decades on the Row. He calls me knucklehead, which I haven't heard used since I was a kid. Just an example of how time kind of stands still when you spend your life in isolation.
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