Today, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a stay of execution to Hank Skinner, to allow for the testing of DNA evidence which Skinner says could cast doubt on his guilt. Skinner was scheduled to be executed two days from now, on November 9. In March of last year, Skinner came within a half-hour of execution before receiving a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court. (Read more about the case here and here.)
Since 2008, Hank Skinner has been writing dispatches from his cell on Texas’s death row in the Allan B. Polunsky Unit, under the heading “Hell Hole News.” These dispatches appear on the website maintained by Skinner’s supporters. Many of them deal with his case, but several describe conditions on death row, where prisoners live in near-complete isolation while awaiting execution–a condition some human rights and civil rights groups have identified as torture. Excerpts from three of Skinner’s dispatches appear below–including one describing what were to be his final hours last year. To read all of Skinner’s “Hell Hole News,” go to this web page and scroll to the bottom.
October 27, 2008
…I’ve lost every friend I ever had here. Texas killed them one by one. They leave here. They never come back. I read in the paper what they said and how they died, how many minutes it took them to die, what colors they turn as the chemicals course through their veins, how they strangle, gurgle, rasp, snore and die, die, die. So, trust me, I’ve got experience here with death. Thirteen (13) years of it. 322 executions worth. For all the terrible things some may have done, I’ve never encountered any of the “monsters”, “demons”, “sociopaths”, “super predators” or “deranged killers” the D. A.’s and news media are always talking about. I’ve seen only human beings some wretched, true but mostly just twisted and broken by dismal lives and upbringings they themselves had little or no control over. I’m not seeking to lessen their responsibility, I’m just saying, it could happen to anyone and, it has.
Acceptance and realization of the enormity of the deed of causing death has affected so many so profoundly that we’ve had quite a few suicide attempts and completions. Others drop their appeals, but that’s suicide too, in my eyes. The most recent was Michael Rodriquez of the Texas. The isolation, desperation, sensory deprivation and the utter despair of realizing the enormity of what he’d done drove him to conclude that he’d rather die than continue to live in this misery, this man made purgatory called Texas death row. The media describes our conditions as “stark”. Ha/ha! What a malicious understatement. Look at the Walnut street prison “experiment” mentioned in the case of in re Medley, 1890 U. S. Supreme Court. This is a form of the “Pennsylvania System” which was instituted by the Quakers in mid 1800’s. It was known that as now, over 154 years later, that THESE CONDITIONS DRIVE MEN MAD, as Charles Dickens stated upon his visit to one of those SHU’s:
“The dull repose and quiet that prevails is awful. In his shroud [of a cell] is lowered an emblem of the curtain dropped between him and society, the living world; he is led to the cell from which he never again comes forth until his whole term of imprisonment has expired… He is a man buried alive; to be dug out in the slow round of years and in the meantime is dead to everything but torturing anxieties and horrible despair”.
So, with all that said, you know I’m qualified as a lay expert on these subjects. I’ve been all over death row in my years here and talked to countless men, some guilty, some innocent, some in the murky gray areas in between. I can tell you that when a man lays dying on that gurney and says his is so sorry for what he did, he really means it and, when he sheds a tear, it is for the victims, not for himself. We’re scared of death, as everyone is; but most of us who have any sense left view death as an escape from this torment. Yes, dying is bad. But it’ll be over in a few minutes and thus it’s the easy part when compared to all we’ve suffered and seen here.