Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Kerry Max Cook, "Chasing Justice" (2007).

As if I didn't have enough stuff to think about, I continue to struggle with my support for the death penalty. It's not that my perception of humanity has altered in any significant way. I still run up against the thorny juxtaposition of my diet (which includes many animal products) and my belief that people are simply animals (albeit a bit more sophisticated in their brain development). If I'm willing to eat something, then I have to be willing to put it to death, or at least be responsible for its slaughter, right? Sure, I'll take a pass on the feast of the dead criminal- but that doesn't mean I'm willing to forgo his/her passing. All "god's" creatures die, one way or another... and we all have a hand in that process.

Yet I'm not altogether comfortable with the company that this particular position puts me in. All too frequently I find myself at odds with death penalty advocates on just about every other political issue. And on an intuitive level, I usually don't want to be associated with them. On the other hand, the majority of those who would seek to abolish executions are folks that I respect and sometimes even admire. Why wouldn't I want to throw in my lot with them? On the other hand, I can't seem to transcend my repulsion toward the idea of out-of-control homo sapien proliferation. I guess it's akin to the way most people feel about cockroaches. There's just too many of them, and they overwhelm environments once they take root.

That doesn't mean that I don't love individuals. I can usually find something to care about in everyone, once I get to know them a bit. I'm definitely not a misanthrope on a personal level. It's only the idea of humanity that bothers me. Anyway... so yeah, why not just eliminate those who are clearly beyond redemption? Pluck them from society so they don't perpetuate their behavior? I don't find many of the counterarguments convincing. The ultimate penalty is unfairly applied, but that's a systemic issue. The appeals process is costly, but once again it comes down to management. These are problems that must be addressed. However, they aren't sufficient to convince me that capital punishment is "wrong".

What does give me pause is the reality that the innocent are sometimes executed. Since techniques to establish DNA comparisons have become cheaper and more accurate, over a 100 men have been released from death row. Kerry Max Cook is just one of them. He spent 20 years in Texas prisons (notorious for being among the worst in the nation), and he put everything he had along the way into establishing his innocence. Incredibly, the very conservative Texas Court of Appeals reversed his conviction three times. There was so much corruption in Smith County (where Cook lived) that prosecutor misconduct caused a long series of injustices. Reading this man's autobiography is a harrowing experience.

Kerry Cook was a young, sexually ambivalent man when he was charged with raping, killing, and mutilating a woman who lived in the apartment complex where he was staying. There was scant evidence that Cook was guilty, but it was used to build a distorted version of the tragic events that took place. The depictions of the courtroom dramas that sent Cook repeatedly back to prison are troubling. Perhaps even more so are the accounts of horrid abuse Cook faced while incarcerated. Chasing Justice seems like a reasonably objective retelling of the author's experiences, and lacks the pretension that often plagues convict memoirs. It certainly makes me think twice about allowing such a thing to occur in our "open and democratic" society.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a kid I watched the lights in the prison dim during an execution. I did then and still do think that it is an ignorant waste energy. That guy could have spent his life training seeing eye dogs etc etc etc - JM

7:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you seen, At the Death House Door"? i reccommend it highly.



11:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, but no thanks. It is not something that I want to think about. JM

1:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Only killers at heart want to see innocent men executed ...

Now here is a thought: if a prosecuting attorney tampers with evidence or bribes a witness in a death penalty case, that attorney should be charged with attempted murder of the defendant ..

12:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How does Merge Divide know Kerry Cook was "sexually ambivalent" at 21? Has Cook said so? I never once felt he was ambivalent while reading his book ... in fact, it was pretty dang obvious he did not want sex with men.

12:51 PM  
Anonymous Kerry Max Cook said...

My name is Kerry Max Cook. I am touched by the dialogue my book, CHASING JUSTICE, stirred in debut.

I sure wished I would have known: I would have stepped in here long ago to answer some of the post that were made.

2:55 AM  

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