Archive for December, 2006
2006 has been a good year for TCASK. We saw the re-emergence of the Memphis chapter, the developments of working groups in Jackson and Pulaski, the first ever Justice Day on the Hill, and the formation of the TCASK Student Caucus. We’ve established and strengthened our relationships with a number of great lobby partners and with folks at the grassroots all around the state. And we’ve had fun doing it. It’s been a pleasure to share a lot of that fun with you all right here on this blog.
But this will be the last blog post of 2006. Because as much fun and as productive as this year has been, it has also been exhausting. We’ve worked long hours, driven many many miles (seriously, I don’t even want to think about what I’ve done to the ozone layer in the name of abolition), so for the week from Christmas to New Years the TCASK office will be closed for some much needed rest and relaxation.
In 2007 we’ll be back, and you’ll be hearing from us. We’ll be making a serious legislative push to pass moratorium and study legislation, and we’ll be developing our outreach into the rural areas of the state, so that our efforts can be truly state-wide. So stay tuned and get pumped, because 2006 was a good year, but 2007 is going to be great!
Happy Holidays to everyone, from TCASK.
So I don’t know who was listening to WPLN at 6:04 or 8:04 this morning, but if you had been, you would have heard a terrific piece on the Paul House case and TCASK’s efforts to fight for his relief after 20 years of imprisonment for a crime that all evidence now points to his not having committed. The report features a terrific interview with TCASK Executive Director Stacy Rector.
The wonderful folks at WPLN were nice enough to email me the story. You can hear it here.
Now you probably think that the answer to the question is, “Are you kidding? None!” But don’t be so sure.
Foundations are awesome. Let’s just get that out in the open up front. I mean a foundation’s sole purpose is to give away money. In fact, to even be a foundation, you need to give away 5% of your holdings each year. So they are literally funds with lots of money waiting to give it away to worthy causes who ask for it. And many foundations are just wealthy individuals or families who want to give something back to the community and the world.
Now, of course, there is no dearth of worthy causes out there, and that’s why it pays off to know people (or know people who know people) who administers foundations, particularly in-state foundations (where we at least don’t have to compete with every other abolition group in the country). TCASK got its first staff after a connection to a wonderful in-state foundation solidified the revenue stream enough to make full-time staff a possibility. Since that time, we’ve continued to diversify our funding stream, but since Stacy has arrived as E.D. she’s been really focusing on developing our fundraising within the state. And that brings us back to the title of this post.
Recently, I sat down with a friend and dedicated abolitionist for lunch. We talked about all sorts of things, but in the course of the conversation he mentioned a foundation that a good friend of his administered and he was happy to broach the subject of funding TCASK to his friend. So today I finished a $15,000 grant proposal to go to this foundation that’s already heard good things about us.
A member of Downtown Presbyterian Church comes from a fairly well off family which has a family foundation. Downtown Presbyterian hosted TCASK for our Free Paul House Concert last week, and this member was so impressed that we were told that night that we have a check from their family’s foundation coming to TCASK.
Two different other personal connections of Stacy’s have recently pointed us to two other small foundations that they are connected to. So we’ve been working on developing our asks for those foundations as well.
So think about it. You might be surprised. How many foundations do you know?
An execution touches so many more people than the offender who the state has decided to kill. Certainly we can never forget the victims of violent crime and their families. Losing a family member to homicide is perhaps the most horrible thing that I can imagine. But the ripple effects of a state killing go further still. Because an execution is also legally classified as a homicide, and there is another family to think of, that of the person who is being executed.
This week, the NCADP blog has begun a ten part series, Creating More Victims, with Murder Victim’s Families for Human Rights, a group founded by murder victims families which has opened itself to the families of the executed as well. The series examines the experiences of the families of the executed and is a penetrating look at these hidden (and ignored) victims of the death penalty.
Check it out here.
Sunday afternoon, several TCASK volunteers began making phone calls to our membership asking that they call the Governor requesting that he grant a full pardon to Paul House. Our hope is that we generated enough messages on the Governor’s voicemail that upon his arrival to work Monday morning, he was greeted with a full box. If you didn’t make a call to the Governor, it is not to late. You can call him at (615) 741-2001 and ask him to grant Paul House a full pardon so that he can spend Christmas at home with his mother for the first time in 20 years.
Our Free Paul House concert last Thursday evening generated over 100 hand written letters and postcards which the Governor should be receiving this week, in addition to other letters written at chapter meetings and thousands of postcards mailed from all over the state. Hand written letters are powerful tools in any campaign as officials often count one letter as representing the sentiment of somewhere between 30 to 50 constituents. Hopefully, we have gotten the Governor’s attention.
As Paul House’s lawyer, Steve Kissinger, reminded us at the concert, the citizens of Tennessee must demand justice for Paul House if he is to ever be released from prison. The resistance of the courts to move quickly demonstrates that we cannot wait for them to act. This government is our government–the government of the people. As taxpayers and voters, we have a profound stake in the way our government works. The whole point of the justice system is to ensure justice is served and that securing the truth is always valued more than securing a conviction. When a mistake is made, the justice system must be willing to correct it. It is our duty as Tennesseans to demand justice for Paul House and to ask our Governor to show courageous leadership by granting Paul a pardon. To that end, keep those letters and phone calls coming.
Yesterday’s Washington Post carried a good piece on the stripping of the federal courts’ ability to grant habeas corpus relief to prison inmates. The habeas stag of relief is often the best chance for death row petitioners to get a fair hearing of their claims – federal judges are not elected and therefore do not risk their jobs (by not looking “tough on crime”) by granting justice to people convicted of crimes.
The article begins by focussing on the detentions at Guantanamo Bay, but then brings up several more examples including Tennessee’s own Paul House: DNA testing showed that the semen on the victim’s clothes came from her husband, and that the blood on House’s jeans came from autopsy samples that spilled in the crime lab. Whoops.
Read the whole article here.
If anyone can get their hands on a copy of yesterday’s post, copy the article and send it Governor Phil Bredesen. Ask him if this is the kind of national attention he wants Tennessee to get.
There is so much happening. We’ve been so busy here in Tennessee working to Free Paul House, that we haven’t had a chance to talk about all the incredible work that is happening around the country, and all the amazing progress that has happened as we struggle for abolition.
It started last week, when the Death Penalty Information Center released their end of the year report on the use of the death penalty in the Untied States. What did it show? The number of executions across the country are down, the number of death sentences are down, and there are fewer people on death row. Perhaps more importantly, a national poll now reveals that the majority of Americans prefer LWOP to a death sentence. Even as our policy-makers are slow to pick up on the fact that the death penalty doesn’t work, juries and people around the country are deciding that we’d prefer an alternative to death and vengeance. Now a Houston prosecutor on NPR told reporters that this doesn’t demonstrate any change of heart on the death penalty, but we know that our message is getting out (it really helps that our message is the truth).
Then last week in Florida, we saw another horrendous spectacle in our nation’s killing machine. As the state of Florida killed Angel Diaz, the execution took 34 minutes and an extra dose of the lethal chemicals. The result? Another barbarous demonstration that no matter how much we try to sanitize the death penalty, it will always be cruel and unusual. But the upside of this tragedy is that Governor Jeb Bus (a big death penalty supporter, by the way) has put a hold on all executions in his state until a commission reports on the lethal injection procedure and what went wrong. So California and Florida now have stopped execution temporarily. Read more here.
So a lot has happened and the New Year looks brighter than the old one. We hope to put a halt to executions in Tennessee next year, and who knows how many other states will follow suit. Executions, death sentences, and the death row population will continue to drop and public opinion will continue to swing our way as we learn about innocence cases like Paul House and the arbitrary and racist practice of the death penalty. So even as we struggle here in Tennessee, remember that around the country we are winning.
The candlelight danced in the stained glass windows of Downtown Presbyterian Church last night as artists sang melodies of hope to the crowd gathered for the Free Paul House Concert. Over 150 people gathered to hear the incredible line-up of artists and to learn more about Paul’s case. Joyce House, Paul’s mother who was adorned in her red Christmas sweater, opened the evening by expressing her thanks and speaking on Paul’s behalf, sharing how much it meant to him just to know that people care.
And the music…Julie Lee, a gifted musician and member of Downtown Presbyterian Church, who organized the concert after learning about Paul’s case, was overwhelmed by the artists’ response when she made those first phone calls to see if any of them wanted to participate. When all was said and done, 19 different artists were on hand to share their gifts and to encourage concert goers to support a full pardon for Paul House. The artists performing included Julie Lee, Jodi Haynes, Pat McGrath, Rob Ickes, Casey Driessen, Zane Williams, Sarah Siskind, Kenny Meeks, Elizabeth Foster, Nathan Phillips, Kenny Foster, David and Sarah Masen Dark, Peter Barbie, Chris Burke, Max and Dave Perkins, Joy Lynn White, Tom Kimmel, Michael Kelsh, David Olney, Mindy Smith, Lex Price, Darrell Scott, and a special surprise appearance by Beth Neilson Chapman. Soul-full music filled the sanctuary as it filled those gathered with the hope that Paul will someday go home.
Stephen Kissinger, Paul’s attorney who drove down from Knoxville, spoke to concert-goers of the courts’ endless rehashing of the same old arguments as time continues to pass. Though Steve expressed his deep frustration with the court system and its inability to see that justice is served, he asserted his firm belief that ultimately, we–the citizens of Tennessee–are the only ones with the power to see that Paul gets home.
And so we demonstrated that power by writing letters to the Governor, right there at the concert, to ask him to pardon Paul. Folks were more than happy to spend ten minutes writing letters asking our Governor to step up and do the right thing. We hope that such letters are being generated all over the state inviting the Governor to demonstrate true leadership and courage by pardoning Paul House.
Perhaps the most moving part of the evening occurred when all the artists gathered on the stage together to sing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Of course, the crowd joined in the singing as the sanctuary swelled with the prayer that Paul would not spend one more Christmas in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. The harmony and power of all those voices joined together as one reminds me that it will take all of our voices–all of our actions, all of our prayers, all of our peristence–to makes Paul’s freedom a reality. Beth Neilson Chapman sang a song wich included a line saying (and I paraphrase) “only those who believe will see what they dream.” My dream is freedom for Paul and for an end to the death penalty in Tennessee. Thanks to all of you and to all of the artists who believe in that dream too.
To see a slideshow of the photos taken by Harry Simpson last night, click here.
“Since he (Paul House) was diagnosed with M.S. several years ago, he’s received minimal medical treatment in prison. These days his health care regimen is limited to a vitamin in the morning and a Tylenol PM to help him sleep at night.
“Our question is, what do Gov. Phil Bredesen and Attorney General Bob Cooper take to sleep at night?”
So goes today’s editorial by Liz Garrigan in the Nashville Scene, which also includes a huge announcement of our Free Paul House Concert (tonight at 7:00pm at Downtown Presbyterian Church). It’s a terrific piece that I strongly suggest that everyone read.
If only the rest of the Nashville and Tennessee media could report with the insight an integrity of the Scene, maybe we could get Paul House home for his 45th birthday (on December 19th) and Christmas with his mother!
Tomorrow evening I hope to see a big crowd gathered at 7:00 p.m. at Downtown Presbyterian Church for the Free Paul House Concert. Julie Lee, musician and member of Downtown Presbyterian, has organized an incredible line-up of artists to share their musical talents with those who gather in that beautiful sanctuary. I am just sorry that Paul House won’t be there to enjoy the music himself, but he will very much be on our minds. We will hear from Paul’s mom, Joyce, who after 20 years of waiting, is ready for Paul to come home. We will hear from Paul’s attorney, Stephen Kissinger, who is driving down from Knoxville to share his feelings about this case.
To say that where we currently find ourselves concerning Paul House’s case is frustrating is something of an understatement. I hear myself joining the prophets of old who wail, “How long O Lord, how long?” as I ponder the excruciatingly slow pace at which the courts seem to move. The Governor is our best hope to get Paul home anytime soon, and time is of the essence as Paul’s MS continues to worsen. And, one would think that the request to pardon House is not unreasonable. The U.S. Supreme Court says that no reasonable juror would have lacked a reasonable doubt. The new evidence is solid–DNA, confession by another person, spilled blood evidence. Other than a neon sign dropping down from heaven blinking “Paul House didn’t do it,” I don’t know what else the courts could want in determining that he should go home. And yet here we are, Christmas 2006, still waiting for justice.
I hope everyone who is in the Nashville area will come out for the concert. We need to show the Governor that a decision to free Paul House would have our support. The Governor’s decision would not be a pro or anti death penalty decision but instead would simply acknowledge the truth which the evidence reveals. Please continue to write to the Governor and ask him to stand up for justice, for fairness, and for truth…send Paul House home for Christmas.