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Volunteering for Death

USA Today reports on the number of death row inmates in the U.S. refusing to appeal their sentence. One of every eight persons on death row is now volunteering to die.

Death row volunteers account for 123 of the 1,041 executions carried out since capital punishment resumed in 1977, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a group in Washington, D.C., that opposes the death penalty. That rate -- about 12% -- has held constant for nearly 30 years.

This year, five of the 37 murderers put to death were volunteers. Two of the remaining 14 prisoners scheduled for execution have asked to die. Some volunteers, such as Elijah Page -- scheduled for execution in South Dakota next week -- give no reason for their choice.

Why do the condemned volunteer for death?

Death-penalty opponent Robert Nave argues that isolation on death row and anxiety caused by years of appeals produce mental instability that causes volunteers to make an "essentially irrational" choice.

I don't think it's an unreasonable choice, even for the mentally stable. What would you do in that situation?

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    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#1)
    by Sumner on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 12:42:21 AM EST
    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#2)
    by roxtar on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 01:48:01 AM EST
    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#3)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 05:21:30 AM EST
    With the advent of DNA testing, most of the traditional grounds for appeal have been eliminated. "Just do'in time," just doesn't make much sense anymore when the odds are against a successful appeal. I applaud death row inmates (whose convictions have been confirmed though DNA testing) for "volunteering," to die. It is the most respectful and cost-effective thing to do for society.

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#4)
    by kdog on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 06:38:02 AM EST
    It is the most respectful and cost-effective thing to do for society.
    That's sick...what about society being humane? That being said...I'd choose death too....a cage for eternity is a worse fate.

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#5)
    by HK on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 06:40:48 AM EST
    roxtar, I would take issue with your statement about the inmate's consciousness being 'humanely and mercifully extinguished'. There is much evidence that no execution method hitherto used in the US has been humane. But the rest of what you write makes a lot of sense. urright, I would argue that while a DNA match would confirm that a particular inmate committed a crime, it gives no indication of whether that inmate received a fair trial, if that inmate had more or less culpability than a co-defendant or if the jury had been made properly aware of mitigating circumstances. Science alone does not present the full picture when dealing with human situations. I can fully understand why death row inmates volunteer for the execution chamber. I cannot imagine myself doing so, though. While I have no first hand experience of death row, as an Atheist I feel that even if faced with such dismal circumstances I would rather hold onto the 'something' I had rather than exchange it for the 'nothing' that I believe would follow death. Many of the points made in both the post and the comments that follow show how far the death penalty is from justice.

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#6)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 07:02:42 AM EST
    kdog/roxstar: When DNA evidence confirms the guilt of an accused "beyond a shadow of a doubt," the fact that the guilty party is entitled to a trial is a courtesy gesture of a civilized society - an expensive one for the taxpayers at that. There is nothing more humane than to remove these individuals permanently from society. The accused who brutally murdered my brother-in-law and his twin son this past July didn't see fit to extend either of them any courtesy before repeatedly shooting one in the head and slitting the throat of his son just to steal a car. How humane shall we get in return?

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#7)
    by HK on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 07:19:44 AM EST
    I am genuinely sorry to hear of your loss, urright. Maybe the most fitting thing we can all do in response to the brutal deaths of your relatives is to consider how to make society a better place rather than contemplating how to match the inhumanity that currently occurs outside the law. You must still feel very raw emotionally. The Journey of Hope website features people who have been where you are now. You will find similarly inspiring stories of dignity and fortitude at the MVFHR website. I have never had the horror of losing someone in such a way. I hope you find peace within yourself, the strength to carry on and, eventually, the positive energy to be the change you want to see in the world.

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#8)
    by Che's Lounge on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 07:31:42 AM EST
    urright, So sorry about your loss. Do you have any local on line articles that I could read about this tragic event?

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#9)
    by kdog on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 07:33:47 AM EST
    My condolences as well urright. Don't let the bastards take your humanity too.

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#10)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 07:45:10 AM EST
    Your thoughtful comments are appreciated. Che, if you google www.theleafchronicle.com and type "vasquez" in the archives search at the top of the page, you can read the grim reality of it all.

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#11)
    by Sumner on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 07:59:08 AM EST
    I am similarly sorry to hear of your loss, urright.
    Maybe the most fitting thing we can all do in response to the brutal deaths of your relatives is to consider how to make society a better place rather than contemplating how to match the inhumanity that currently occurs outside the law.
    In 1985 I wrote a paper extolling the virtue of work opportunities for prisoners in order to provide purpose and so as to assuage hopelessness. Then Chief Justice Warren Burger embraced the idea, made it one of his main themes and he toured widely extolling the concept. What I failed to take into account, was the level of depravity of those actually running that system, the advent of private prison industries, the explosive growth of the Prison Industrial Complex, the political lock-grip prison guard unions would eventually attain over politicians for continually growing the system, and what now amounts to essentially state slavery. To this mix add recent court decisions that allow prison officials to deny all manner of reading material to those in maximum security, which means sitting in a box with virtually no mental stimulation what so ever. A quick look at the recent suicides at Gitmo should shed some clues as to the results of the veritable loss of all hope.

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#12)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 08:16:16 AM EST
    Having re-read Roxtars article I still find his piece, how shall I describe it, faultless? not quite, as HK opines in her 07.40 post. No doubt there are others that will disagree entirely, but as I write I am at a loss for a more discripive word. I was recently poo-pooed in these pages when I offered, in some part philisophicaly, that the convicted be given the choice of death over a lifetime of incarceration. From the statistics it would appear that there are those that have embraced this "choice" Their reasons are their own, but for some I think it is a testimony that better to die once than a lttle every day for decades. For those proponents that argue that jail is the soft option, a virtual holiday camp even, being caged is the most the most unatural enviroment the human animal can find himself, believe me. Since joining the television culture by recently purchasing a satellite dish, there has been more than a few documenteries on the American penal system. They are far from pleasant places, I shall not go into the conditions chapter and verse, but it comes as little surprise that some inmates make the choice to die. urright my sympathies.

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#13)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 08:17:32 AM EST
    The mental stimulation of my brother-in-law and his son also ended when they were each placed in their own dark boxes as well, permanently and with no reading material eiither. Prisons are about "depravity," as well as they should be which opens up an entirely different argument as to how effective it is as a deterrant. If the idea of death or permanent depravity makes a single murderer think before they act, then in my mind, it's effective. Ironically, my brother-in-law had devoted his life and fought hard for the civil rights of the Hispanic community in TN and was staunchly against the death penalty!

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#14)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 08:20:18 AM EST
    I do not believe in God, or life after death, but I am always amazed by people who say that death is the end. Death "stops the pain" or death "ends the punishment." No one really knows. I am against capital punishment and against killing of humans for whatever the reason. I do not understand how we humans do such depraved and horrible things to each other. It seems that everything in life has an opposite. If we kill them then we become them. There is nothing humane about killing a killer.

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#15)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 08:28:18 AM EST
    "Volunteering to die" is just indirectly committing suicide. I'd think the death-row suicide rate of 12% would actually be higher.

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#16)
    by jimakaPPJ on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 08:34:03 AM EST
    What we have are convicted killers who have been sentenced to death. They are not convicted killers have been sentenced to LWOP or some variation thereoff. Somewhat of an important difference, eh?

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#17)
    by HK on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 08:56:36 AM EST
    Ironically, my brother-in-law had devoted his life and fought hard for the civil rights of the Hispanic community in TN and was staunchly against the death penalty!
    I can understand why his fate must seem particularly cruel to you then. Please read the story of Bud Welsh. His daughter Julie was killed by Timothy McVeigh's bomb in Oklahoma. Bud Welsh faced exactly the situation you are facing now. Ultimately, we all come to our own answers. Of course your brother-in-law would not have wished for himself or his son to die in such a way, but presumably he held his anti-death penalty stance in the knowledge that such killings occured. Clearly the death penalty was no deterrent in this case. Maybe the best way to honour his life is to carry on his good work (or at least remember and respect) the good work he did. I am against the death penalty and hope that my family would bear this in mind if my life was taken by another. I realise, however, that this is easier said than done. Those who are left behind have enormous challenges to face in many different ways.

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#18)
    by Edger on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 09:12:29 AM EST
    roxstar:
    Death is nothing more than the permanent termination of consciousness.
    This raises interesting questions. Perhaps the most interesting as it speaks to the most fundamental level of existence, or at least of human existence, and of what it is to be human. Is having a functioning body necessary to being human, or to being conscious? How is is posibble to know whether "death is nothing more than the permanent termination of consciousness" without experiencing it? Can you experience it without your consciousness continuing? Is consciousness necessary to experiencing? I could go on, but I think that's enough of a start to this line...

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#19)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 09:26:57 AM EST
    Excellent point, edger. Did you see my comment above. Visit me and we'll talk! It's difficult to find others that are willing to think along these lines.

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#20)
    by Dadler on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 09:31:06 AM EST
    urright, my condolences. when a foster brother of mine was stabbed to death when I was in high school, everyone knew who did it, us, the cops, everyone. but there wasn't enough evidence and he was never brought to justice. seeing a 19 year-old in an open coffin changed me forever. and yet, i want nothing to do with the death penalty. it is simply, in my eyes, not an act that a truly civilized society should countenance. nothing will bring the dead back, but honoring their memory in productive rather than destructive ways, in civilized ways, is what really makes a difference in the long run. Or could. Peace.

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#21)
    by Sumner on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 09:35:39 AM EST
    These days I tend to see things from more along the lines of the Butterfly Effect. Little events can spawn massive consequences. Remember the Black Hawk Down incident in Somalia? I had argued that the US was viewed as a "bully" and our military presence should seem more proportionate. Sort of like Marquess of Queensberry rules. That blunder cost human lives. When I learned that ethnic cleansing (a euphemism) was going on in the former Yugoslavia and that those women of Islamic faith were being raped as an instrument of war, I demanded intervention. As I knew the terrain was especially mined, I insisted on air strikes only. That easily won that war, except it turns out we inflicted much collateral damage (a euphemism) including bombing the Chinese Embassy. It turns out that such an air war is illegal under International Law. At the end of the First Gulf War, Bush 1 was under pressure to roll into Baghdad and get Saddam Hussein. I said no, job done. Our forces left. As a result, those Iraqis that had sided with US Forces were rounded up and slaughtered. I could go on and on. Killing people sucks. The senseless killing of people especially sucks. But it is almost as if Karma is tangible. When Rudolph Giuliani undertook his cheap-shot tinhorn demagogic campaign to eliminate the adult establishments in New York City, I wrote furiously about that the wiping out tribes one place, almost as if by direct cause and effect, similarly seems to trigger the same elsewhere. Giuliani called his crusade wiping out "blight", based on some notion he called the "broken window effect". I kept writing cautions that one couldn't even wipe out a tribe in the rain forest without similar seemingly unrelated results redounding elsewhere. Well he got his broken windows back all right. And so goes the vicious circle.

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#22)
    by Edger on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 09:38:50 AM EST
    Cheechat: It's difficult to find others that are willing to think along these lines. Our society and consensual reality is organized to distract people from thinking alomg those lines. Fear of the unknown, perhaps? These kinds of questions are, to my mind, exploration in its most meaningful sense. Alan Watts gave us a very good interpretation of the Vedanta way of considering these questions in "The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are":
    ...people tend to regard themselves as separate from the world: at the perimeter of your skin, you end and the world begins - and while you may be in the world, you certainly are not the world. You feel that you are, as Alan Watts writes in The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, "a separate ego enclosed in a bag of skin". This is, he writes, a hallucination.


    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#23)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 09:52:43 AM EST
    Death for the victim is perhaps the cessation of their consciousness, but that same death for the survivor(s) is the cessation of the their love/enjoyment/companionship for the victim. Death extends well beyond a single victim for it makes victims out of many - many who do not lose their consciousness after the fact.

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#24)
    by Edger on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 10:02:53 AM EST
    Why do the condemned volunteer for death? Perhaps because the ability to make the choice is the only, or the last, excercise of power over their fate available to them? The alternative being the state having absolute power over them? I disagree with Nave that isolation on death row and anxiety caused by years of appeals produce mental instability that causes volunteers to make an "essentially irrational" choice. It may in fact be a supremely rational choice given their circumstance.

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#25)
    by jondee on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 10:10:41 AM EST
    Condolences for your loss, urright.

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#26)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 10:24:05 AM EST
    Again, your kind expressions are appreciated. Thank you.

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#27)
    by Edger on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 10:34:11 AM EST
    urright:
    Death extends well beyond a single victim for it makes victims out of many - many who do not lose their consciousness after the fact.
    Yes, it does. In some ways unfortunately, and fortunately in other ways as a teaching and a learning experience. Both for most, in intimately personal ways....

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#28)
    by Rick B on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 11:08:29 AM EST
    It's been my opinion that people who are depressed have two different ways of dealing with that depression. One is to simply give up and let it take them, but the other is to lash out at others. My suspicion is that a significant number of murders are caused by individuals who are depressed to begin with and find excuses to kill someone. The process of being caught, tried, found guilty and sent to death row are all very depressing in themselves, but what are they to someone already depressed to the extent that they have no respect for anyone's life? On death row the power to act out against another person is taken from you. That leaves only the power to act to kill yourself. That's just a guess, but it seems reasonable to me from what I know of depressed people.

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#29)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 11:20:12 AM EST
    Perhaps because the ability to make the choice is the only, or the last, excercise of power over their fate available to them? The alternative being the state having absolute power over them?
    How well you read the situation, and taken to it's conclusion; to die of old age in bondage under the total power of another, beit person or state. No thanks.

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#30)
    by Edger on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 11:25:50 AM EST
    Oscar: to die of old age in bondage under the total power of another, beit person or state. No thanks. I'm with you there. I would not choose it either, Oscar. But to be honest I don't know if I would volunteer for execution either. I think I woulod prefer to reatain the power to end my life, and that bondage, at a time of my choosing. There are many ways to do it, I think, probably even under suicide watch.

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#31)
    by HK on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 12:51:16 PM EST
    Death extends well beyond a single victim for it makes victims out of many
    This is an excellent point and we would do well to remember that loved ones of death row inmates are part of this extended victimhood just as those of murder victims are. Those who mourn for executed inmates neither like nor condone the act that inmate committed, but they suffer great loss ~ and with little sympathy from others ~ when the person they loved is taken. Their loss is not diminished because the person who was executed did a terrible deed. Their loss, like urright's and Dadler's, is sudden, shocking and seemingly insurmountable. What is needed is a commitment to tackle the sources of crime, such as drug abuse and depression (as mentioned by Rick B above) so that there is less violent crime in the first place. We need to get to the root of the problem. By the time we get to the execution stage, there have already been too many victims.

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#32)
    by Edger on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 12:55:58 PM EST
    HK:
    By the time we get to the execution stage, there have already been too many victims.
    Yes. Many too many. All of us, in fact.

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#33)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 04:20:14 PM EST
    I think I woulod prefer to reatain the power to end my life, and that bondage, at a time of my choosing.
    Without doubt, master of my destiny and all that, well partialy. And do it, if not smilingly, with the satisfaction of robbing them of their pound of flesh and to the disappointment of those that would sit front row centre, in what I consider a very strange cultural practice. A few lines about prisons, yet another program on supermax facillities has just aired featuring two jails. "we don't do rehabilitation" said the warden of an underground hell hole in Oklahoma, then the film went on to show the desperate situation that existed there. To, "It all depends how you treat the prisoners in the begining" This from the warden of Oak Park Hieghts in Minnesota. Oak Park should be the model that every prison should aspire to, education, work programs, and above all freedom inside the facillity to move about unguarded, without shackles and pursue activities that hopefully will break the cycle of re-offending. These boys were no angels, after all it's a supermax, but in seventeen years not a homicide and virtually no trouble throughout its history. Kind of renewed my faith a little, but then would I be wrong in saying that Minnesota as a whole is a progessive state?

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#34)
    by HK on Wed Aug 23, 2006 at 02:23:12 AM EST
    rogan1313, many aspects of your comments above are mystifying.
    A certain percentage of death row inmates, many of whom are sociopathic with repeat histories of many crimes
    What percentage? Could you tell us where you got your information from to support this comment? How many is 'many'? Actually, personality disorders are thankfully rare. It is estimated that just 3% of men and 1% of women are sociopaths. When you consider that it is entirely possible to be a non-violent sociopath, logic tells us that it is unlikely that such people make up a large proportion of the death row population. Furthermore, although it is unusual for a death row inmate to have no prior criminal record, most of these are for lesser crimes. Again, thankfully, serial killers are few in number. This small group consists of mostly people who have had dysfunctional backgrounds. We would therefore be better tackling the causes of this and thus preventing loss of life in the first place than simply supporting the death penalty.
    School teachers with clean records usually get treated better by the criminal justice system and don't get death
    Do you have any case history to back this up? Society is generally more outraged when a person in a position of responsibility commits murder with special circumstances.
    It's fine to oppose the death penalty as long as one recognizes that a certain number of innocents will suffer as a consequence.
    Innocents are already suffering; this is not a consequence of opposition to the death penalty. Numbers on death row are increasing daily. When a person is executed, that person is prevented from harming another again. The preventative effect ends there. Isn't it time social responses to neediness and the workings of the criminal justice system were examined and revised to serve the population a little better than this?

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#35)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Wed Aug 23, 2006 at 03:27:32 AM EST
    will assault, injure, or kill other inmates or guards. Read about what happens at supermaxi prisons. These events would be prevented by swift execution.
    These events would be prevented (in some part) if those that qualified were housed where they should be, in an institution for the criminaly insane. I am aware there are some genuinely bad buggers in jail, but when the establishment houses the insane alongside the others and then uses their actions to justify the existance of such units is both a lie and immoral. These events would be prevented (in some part) if inmates were treated as human beings and given some form of interaction and mental stimulation instead of being kept like a lump of meat in a underground hole. It's little wonder inmates want to stick gaurds at every opportunity, the hatred that these facillities breed must know no end. My previous post describing Oak Park, it is not a prison without a secure unit, inmates are given the choice, join an education/work program, behave in a civilised manner, respect others and the establishment will treat you with equal respect. The alternative is spend your life in lockdown. It works, people do change given a chance. Inmates participate in highly-structured programming including industry, education, and institutional housekeeping. The remaining three complexes contain the mental health, transitional health care, and administrative control units that serve adult male offenders departmentwide.

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#36)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Wed Aug 23, 2006 at 03:57:48 AM EST
    If you are so inclined why don't you take the virtual tour of both facillities and ask youself which one you would like to represent the face of America. Minnesota Oklahoma

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#37)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Wed Aug 23, 2006 at 07:07:26 AM EST
    HK:
    roxtar, I would take issue with your statement about the inmate's consciousness being 'humanely and mercifully extinguished'. There is much evidence that no execution method hitherto used in the US has been humane. But the rest of what you write makes a lot of sense.
    Holy Dr. Pou of Hurricane Kartina fame, Batman! I believe she found the magic formula to mercifully extinguish people lives. As I recall she should be treated like a hero here on this website for that.

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#38)
    by HK on Wed Aug 23, 2006 at 09:22:13 AM EST
    Wile, your comments are off-topic, offer a pointless comparison and misinterpret the complex views put over by the vast majority of those who commented on the situation in New Orleans.

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#39)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Wed Aug 23, 2006 at 12:38:37 PM EST
    HK: Not at all off topic, since I was responding to your quote.
    roxtar, I would take issue with your statement about the inmate's consciousness being 'humanely and mercifully extinguished'. But the rest of what you write makes a lot of sense. You said
    There is much evidence that no execution method hitherto used in the US has been humane.
    I am pointing out that some may disagree since one formula has been found that lets
    consciousness being 'humanely and mercifully extinguished'.


    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#40)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Wed Aug 23, 2006 at 02:09:23 PM EST
    Wilie, if I have followed instructions correctly you will find a brief description of "humane" methods here.

    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#41)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Wed Aug 23, 2006 at 02:14:18 PM EST
    Re: Volunteering for Death (none / 0) (#42)
    by HK on Thu Aug 24, 2006 at 06:05:46 AM EST
    I have just started reading Executioner: Pierrepoint, an autobiography of prolific British executioner Albert Pierrepoint, whose father and uncle were also hangmen. On the subject of volunteering for death, Pierrepoint's father, Harry, wrote:
    One would naturally think that a condemed man would be thankful for a reprieve. But I have known many cases where a reprieve has been granted against the wish of the prisoner.
    Harry Pierrepoint resigned his post of executioner around 1918, so it would appear that volunteering for death, or wishing to die is not a new phenomena for death row inmates.