REACH Coalition: Philosophy and Praxis on Tennessee’s Death Row

Join REACH Coalition members Andrea Pitts, Amy McKiernan, Carmela Hill-Burke, Lisa Guenther, and Tom Williams for a panel discussion of “Philosophy and Praxis on Tennessee’s Death Row,” this Friday from 3:15pm to 5pm at Vanderbilt University, Furman Hall 109.

All are welcome!  A reception will follow.

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Unit 2 (part 3): Gifts

This month, Nostos Gallery hosted Gifts: Unit 2 (part 3), an exhibition of works made by or in collaboration with prisoners living in Unit 2 (the death row unit) of the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Northwest Nashville.

This exhibition was made up entirely of gifts for visitors to the gallery during opening night.  These objects—many knitted, many tooled in leather, many rendered in watercolor, pastel, or colored pencil—represent an effort by these prisoners to reach out from a social and political void using the modest tools they have at their disposal.  Their gesture raises the possibility that community—a community that is conjured and sustained through the gift—might extend beyond the walls of prison.  Their exhibition suggests that it might be possible, in spite of everything, to bring such a community into existence.

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Gallery Opening for Gifts: Unit 2 (part 3) on Feb. 1, 6-9pm

Gifts: Unit 2 (part 3)
February 1-22, 2014
Opening reception on February 1st, 6-9pm
Nostos Gallery, 58 Arcade
Nashville, TN 37207
 

Nostos Gallery is pleased to present Gifts: Unit 2 (part 3), an exhibition of works made by or in collaboration with prisoners living in Unit 2 (the death row unit) of the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Northwest Nashville.

This exhibition will be made up entirely of gifts for visitors to the gallery during opening night.  These objects—many knitted, many tooled in leather, many rendered in watercolor, pastel, or colored pencil—represent an effort by these prisoners to reach out from a social and political void using the modest tools they have at their disposal.  Their gesture raises the possibility that community—a community that is conjured and sustained through the gift—might extend beyond the walls of prison.  Their exhibition suggests that it might be possible, in spite of everything, to bring such a community into existence.

Some of the gifts will include suggestions for visitors.  In this way, the gift represents a hope to extend community as widely as possible and thereby to begin to address the conditions that deliver people to prison in the first place.

A photographer will be on hand to photograph recipients (if they consent) and/or their gifts, so their images might replace the objects they have taken away.

Gifts: Unit 2 (part 3) is the third in a series of exhibitions related to an ongoing collaboration between prisoners on death row and a group of artists and educators living in the Nashville area.

Prisoners involved in this project include Abu Ali Abdur’Rahman, Ron Cauthern, Tyrone Chalmers, Gary Cone, Marcus Davidson, David Duncan, John Freeland, Kennath Artez Henderson, Akil Jahi, Nikolaus Johnson, Donald Middlebrooks, Harold Wayne Nichols, and Derrick Quintero.

Collaborators on the outside that have participated in this project include Mika Agari, Justin Braun, Holly Carden, Ann Catherine Carter, Jessica Clay, Amy Clutter, Robert Grand, Kristi Hargrove, Kay Kennedy, Seth Lykins, Upreyl Mitchell, Robin Paris, Zack Rafuls, Sharon Stewart, Alanna Styer, Josh Ungurait, Moses Williams, Tom Williams, Weng Tze Yang, and Barbara Yontz.

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Community Voices: Dr. Ann Charvat on the Trauma of Execution for Family and Friends of the Executed

When I look at the faces of the young people who were killed by Paul Dennis Reid I cannot help but cry.  He stole their innocence, and the innocence of my children.  He ruined so many lives.  He contaminated the idea of first jobs for high school students, honest work for young families, humbling one’s self to bring home a paycheck.  Instead, we had to worry about letting our children out of our sights.

When I see these faces, theirs and his, I am filled with intense anger. These young people were defenseless.  No amount of training could have saved them. This man wanted money that was not his, and they stood in his way. Insanity.  There is no other explanation.

And yet, out response appears to be equally insane.  We want to kill the killer.  We want justice, and we don’t seem to care about what it costs or how we get it.  We want justice, and even though few of us would consider that it belongs to us any more than that money belonged to Mr. Reid, we don’t want anyone to stand in our way.

Looking into the faces of these beautiful innocent people, the notion that justice could be found anywhere escapes me.  Perhaps in the hereafter, but nothing man made will ever bring justice for the unadulterated insanity of these deaths.

Following a period of four years without an execution in Tennessee, death row once more moves to the top of the heap as we prepare to execute another insane man, Billy Ray Irick.  His history of mental illness is indisputable, but has somehow been legally separated from the explanation of his crime.  Another child was killed; one who had inexplicably been left in the care of a man with a long history of mental illness.

I would argue that insanity is the only explanation for all these crimes.  Further, I would argue that our response, the state killing the killers, demonstrates an equal degree of insanity.  None of these victims would have been spared if their killers knew they would face certain death when apprehended.  Our death penalty simply expands the pool of victims.

Incarceration offers us the ability to protect future victims of offenders.  We can watch them, monitor their actions, and enforce sanctions when behaviors move in questionable directions.  We can take away a myriad of human rights and we can literally ensure the public safety.  Execution, on the other hand, provides no genuine social benefit.  It reinforces a false sense of security at an incredible price.

Today, mental illness runs rampant and fewer and fewer interventions exist for successful treatment.  Those who will be most vulnerable to the trauma a new execution will produce will be families of those who have loved ones incarcerated or working with the prison, children, and, of course, the mentally ill.   The rest of us will divert our attention.  These folks, like the very sick people who find themselves in situations where killing makes sense, will have a harder time doing that.

Laws change. It is time for this law to change.

Dr. Ann Charvat is a certified sociological practitioner in Nashville, Tennessee, who has worked on the social histories of more than 100 defendants facing death sentences.

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From the High Chair to the Electric Chair: Opening at Nostos Gallery on Dec. 7

“From the High Chair to the Electric Chair” will be on display at Nostos Gallery for the month of December.  The opening reception will coincide with December’s Art Crawl on Saturday, December 7, from 6-9pm.  After the opening, the gallery will be open on Saturdays only from 2:30-5:30pm.

Nostos Gallery is located at 58 Arcade in Nashville, TN
Telephone: 615-495-1120

Listen to Watkins College of Art professor Tom Williams speak about the artwork in this video clip from Channel 2 News.

Follow Nostos Gallery on Facebook for more information.

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Community Voices: Reflections on Love, Loss, and the Death Penalty by a Murder Victim’s Family Member

Victims of violent crime, children in particular, are rarely provided with meaningful opportunities to be heard. I, on the other hand, was placed on the stand when I could just barely see above the bar and across the gallery. I was asked to share my thoughts on my mother’s murder as well as what I considered to be the proper administration of justice.

“All I think is that what the bad man did to my mom should happen to him. It’s really sad for our family ‘cause she was the greatest mother I’ve met,” I said.

While I acknowledge that my statement might seem naïve given the realities of our justice system in practice, I can still sympathize with my previous ignorance. My mother is still the greatest I’ve ever known, and I am still plagued by sadness when I think about the way she left this world.

What I would like others to know, however, is that I retract the blessing I gave to those who once seemed so eager to cast stones in my name. Having been scarred by personal experience, and having witnessed the wounding of others, sometimes as a result of my own actions, my faith now resides in the law of love alone. No, I have not gone as soft as those words sound. I am still angry, perhaps angrier than ever before. The difference now is that my anger is not adversarial.

I am not innocent. I acknowledge that I, as a child, participated in a process that led to the sentencing of another person to death, and I will raise my hand for indictment should the state-sanctioned homicide ever take place.

I was raised in a culture of violence that seems to have lost faith in the capacity of people to treat each other with genuine compassion. In the charged atmosphere that surrounded my mother’s death I lacked the emotional and moral insulation that would have helped me to resist the influence of a system that was eager to crown me with compensation.

In spite of all the struggle to secure a sentence of death, and after an insufferable amount of time spent on “death watch,” in what I can only describe as a place of purgatory, it is unlikely that the state of California (where the conviction occurred) will even perform the operation as promised. Unlike many staunch abolitionists, I take little solace in the direction that states like California are moving. To provide an explanation for my lack of enthusiasm is beyond the scope of this statement. Let it suffice to say that I believe there is more to a life than the way in which it is lost— this certainly applies in the case of my mother.

While I am delighted that we are starting to question whether we have the right to kill people, I am troubled by the thought that this is as far as the discussion will take us. True, tragedy will not be “remedied in terms of restoration,” but so long as we allow the causes of crime to go unexamined and deny both victims and offenders the opportunities, should they desire, to be reconciled— violence, in its many manifestations, will continue to metastasize.

Many are quite satisfied with the status quo. I myself am utterly convinced that the criminal justice system, and the death penalty in particular, is an “arbitrary and capricious” institution that targets those most trapped in cycles of disparity—first as victims and then as victimizers. Yes, real people who made real choices have committed unspeakable crimes and they need to be held responsible. But can anyone expect a perpetrator to reckon with his or her act in a meaningful way when we withhold the very thing that fosters transformation— that is, humanity, and the hope that one might learn to walk uprightly?

I was wrong. There is not a life or a limb in this world that can replace the ones I have lost. My mother’s sight was sacred and, even if what I desired was an eye for an eye, I know I could never hope for more than 20/20 vision. Despite its extraordinary capacity for bias, I have doubts, untempered by contradiction, that the criminal-justice system is sensitive enough to appreciate the subtle qualities that endear one person to another. My mother had green eyes, one of which was lazy. Her murder’s eyes are blue. If I allow this cycle to continue, what color will my justice be?

- Clifford O’Sullivan, Jr., Nashville, Tennessee

 

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New Sentencing Hearing for Ron Cauthern

This week, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new sentencing hearing for Ron Cauthern, based on prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel during sentencing.  The court gave the state 180 days to hold a resentencing hearing or vacate his death sentence.  This means that Ron could be leaving death row in as little as six months!

You can look at Ron’s art work and read some of his essays here.  Ron is also a central collaborator in the current exhibition, “From the High Chair to the Electric Chair,” on display at Fort Houston until the end of November.

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