"That Bird Has My Wings" is a new book by Jarvis Jay Masters, an inmate on San Quentin’s death row in California. In this memoir, Masters tells his story from an early life with his heron-addicted mother to an abusive foster home. He describes his escape to the illusory freedom of the streets and through lonely nights spent in bus stations and juvenile homes, and finally to life inside the walls of San Quentin Prison. Using the nub and filler from a ballpoint pen (the only writing instrument allowed him in solitary confinement), Masters chronicles the story of a bright boy who turned to a life of crime, and of a penitent man who embraces Buddhism to find hope. Masters has written this story as a cautionary tale for anyone who might be tempted to follow in his footsteps, and as a plea for understanding about the forgotten members of society. (From publisher's description).
A new database of death row prisoners in the U.S. is now available on DPIC's Web site. The database contains current sortable and searchable information on death row inmates in each state, including their name, race, county, and date of birth. The information in the database is also editable, meaning that individuals with knowledge of death row inmates may change or add new information. This new database may be a useful tool in exploring how the death penalty is applied. Click here to access the database.
A recent article in the Fayetteville Observer in North Carolina captures the poignant story of one man's life on death row. James Floyd Davis is a Vietnam veteran who lashed out with a burst of violence fourteen years ago, killing three people including his boss who had fired him a few days before. He suffers from mental illness and post-traumatic stress disorder. Through the intervention of a therapist who also served in Vietnam, it was learned that Davis was entitled to a Purple Heart and other medals earned during his service. The army agreed to award him the medals and the prison eventually agreed to let him receive them. The reporter, Chick Jacobs, sums up the story this way: "This is a story of how one veteran, wounded in body and spirit, reached into the demon-filled darkness of a fellow veteran who lost his way long ago. It's the unlikely tale of how a medal earned in one horror helped bring a touch of humanity to another." The entire article can be read below:
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund has released the latest Death Row U.S.A. report, covering death penalty statistics through January 1, 2009. The total number of death row inmates decreased from 3,309 a year earlier to 3,297. The states with the largest number of death row inmates were California with 678, Florida with 402, and Texas with 358. The states (with 10 or more inmates) with the highest percent of minorities on death row were Texas at 70%, Connecticut at 70%, and Pennsylvania with 69%. The complete Death Row U.S.A. report may be found here.
According to the latest edition of Death Row U.S.A. published by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), the size of death row decreased slightly as of July 1, 2008 compared to Jan. 1. After increasing steadily for about 25 years, the death row population started decreasing in 2000. The current total of defendants on state and federal death rows is 3,307, of whom 45% are white, 41.6% are black, and 11% are Latino/Latina. Over 98% of those on death row are male. The states with the largest death rows are California (662), Florida (399), Texas (367), and Pennsylvania (226). Among states with at least 10 people on death row, Texas, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania have the highest percentage of minorities among those on death row--70%, 70%, and 69% respectively. The full report can be read here.
On March 9, the U.S. Supreme Court declined review in Thompson v. McNeil, but three Justices issued strongly worded statements about the importance of the legal issue raised. William Thompson has been on death row in Florida for 32 years. He claimed the excessive time he has spent on death row amounted to cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Justice John Paul Stevens, in an opinion respecting the denial of certiorari, called the treatment of the defendant during his 32 years on death row “dehumanizing,” noting that Thompson “has endured especially severe conditions of confinement, spending up to 23 hours per day in isolation in a 6- by 9-foot cell” and has experienced two stays of execution “only shortly before he was scheduled to be put to death.” Justice Stevens added that neither retribution nor deterrence were served in such a case and “a punishment of death after significant delay is ‘so totally without penological justification that it results in the gratuitous infliction of suffering.’” (quoting Gregg v. Georgia (1976)).