Through the mail, Michael Wayne Hunter receives Minutes Before Six posts and reader comments. He was moved to respond to a question posed that Thomas discussed in his post titled “Scars and the Path Northward.”
by Michael Wayne Hunter
I read on Minutes Before Six where a woman basically asked, “If prison is so terrible, why would condemned prisoners fight so hard to get their sentences commuted to life without possibly of parole?” She also essentially said if she found herself sitting on Death Row for a crime she didn’t commit, she’d fight like heck for her freedom, but if she did commit the crime, she’d want to be executed as soon as possible.
I appreciate that in his response, Thomas directed readers to my writing on Minutes Before Six where I have written about life in prison after Death Row. I hope he will also allow me to address aspects of the issues posed by this thoughtful woman and I want to thank her for her interest.
Although doing life in California prison is far from paradise, if you choose, you can make a life here. I read, I write, I hang with my hoodlum friends, I go to work in various jobs I’ve had since I left San Quentin’s Death Row in education, the library, and now as the lieutenant’s clerk. I’m not unhappy as I make my way through my day to day. When I’m tempted to drift towards some sort of pathetic self-pity, I think about random cruelty throughout the history of humans, people who have been imprisoned or killed not because of what they’ve done but simply because of who they are, such as the victims of the killing fields of Cambodia, Rwanda or Hitler’s Europe. What did the people in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon do to justify their tragic deaths? Seems to me all they did was go to work to support their families. Any injustice I’ve experienced pales into insignificance in comparison to the harsh realities of September 11, 2001. Viewed in this context, I feel humbled by the opportunity I have to live my life albeit in grim circumstances, and find myself choosing life and optimism over death and despair.
When I was on Death Row, many prisoners said they wanted to be executed much like the woman who posed the questions. In California, state appeals are automatic and can’t be waived. This means a prisoner must remain on Death Row for at least a decade before they can voluntarily waive their federal appeals and allow the execution to go forward. I wrote about this embrace of death in a published article titled Dave and I will ask Thomas to allow Dave to be posted on Minutes Before Six if readers are interested. Of course more than a dozen California death row prisoners committed suicide during my eighteen years, but in my opinion very few took their own life due to a reasoned, rational analysis of their circumstances as suggested by the woman who posed the question that Thomas answered. I believe most gave into despair and depression and then ended their lives, but that’s just my opinion. One really never knows precisely what’s going on in someone else’s head.
Reading Thomas’ answer, it seems to me what keeps him going is trying to become the change he wants to see. My motivation is much more mundane: curiosity. I have so many authors I still want to read and words I still want to write describing in my simple way the world I move through each day. And most of all I just want to hang around to find out what’s going to happen next.
To read a letter about a Death Row suicide written by Willie Johnson, a resident of San Quentin’s Death Row and contributor to Minutes Before Six, click HERE
© Copyright 2012 by Michael Wayne Hunter. All rights reserved.