Consider just one of Dow’s stories about the Texas courts. His office was preparing a last-minute appeal on the day of a scheduled execution of a prisoner who was almost certainly retarded, but whose previous lawyer had failed to develop that evidence. (The Supreme Court has ruled that the Constitution bars the execution of mentally retarded defendants.) As Dow and his team were finishing their petition that afternoon, their computer network crashed.
The Texas court of appeals clerk’s office ordinarily closed at 5:00 PM, and the execution was scheduled for that evening. Dow’s colleague called the clerk to say the petition might be delivered a few minutes after 5:00, but that in light of the scheduled execution that evening the petition had to be considered that day. The clerk replied that the office closed at 5:00. Dow’s colleague asked the clerk to check with her superior, the presiding judge, given the exceptional circumstances. The clerk did so, and called back to confirm that the court closed at 5:00. When they got the network up and running and printed the requisite copies, it was 5:10. They called the clerk to let her know they were coming. She said the office closed at 5:00.
When they arrived and banged on the door, no one answered. Two hours later, their client, who had an IQ in the 50s, was put to death.
That’s David Cole reviewing David Dow’s The Autobiography of an Execution. One theme in the piece is that courts are far more focused on speeding along the execution process than discerning the truth of any given case. (Take the failed final appeal of Henry Quaker, who may well have been wrongly convicted, given that someone else had plausibly copped to his murder: “Instead of taking the time to confirm Quaker’s guilt in light of the new evidence, the prosecution pressed determinedly ahead—as if the state would suffer some grievous harm if the execution did not happen that very night.”) In the same essay, Cole discusses the autobiography of Wilbert Rideau, a convicted murderer who avoided execution and went on to start a widely admired prison newspaper in the 1970s, The Angolite:
At the core of [Rideau’s] message is the critical importance of hope to human dignity. It is hope that keeps a lid on frustration, rage, and violence in prison. Thus, when Louisiana governors David Treen and Buddy Roemer tightened clemency standards in the 1980s, tension and violence at Angola rose dramatically. Everyone needs hope, none more so than those facing years of potential incarceration. Rideau’s own successful rehabilitation may well have been in part the result of his remarkable ability to sustain hope in the face of all evidence.
Cole goes on to note that “criminal justice policy in the United States today is plagued by the abandonment of hope.” It may sound hokey, but it certainly doesn’t sound wrong.
“Granny Godley was dying of a damaged heart and grimly turned over each new day like a playing card from a steadily diminishing deck…” Sad little simile from John Banville’s The Infinities.
Douglas Coupland predicts the next ten years:
In the same way you can never go backward to a slower computer, you can never go backward to a lessened state of connectedness.
You may well burn out on the effort of being an individual. You’ve become a notch in the Internet’s belt. Don’t try to delude yourself that you’re a romantic lone individual. To the new order, you’re just a node. There is no escape.
It will become harder to view your life as “a story”. The way we define our sense of self will continue to morph via new ways of socializing. The notion of your life needing to be a story will seem slightly corny and dated. Your life becomes however many friends you have online.
I don’t agree (so there), but I still wish there were more books/essays about this stuff and fewer books/essays complaining that the Internet is giving us all ADD or whatev… hey, marmot gifs!