Sunday, March 16, 2014

Letter from a Livingston Jail



"Daily life on death row is like living in a black & white TV, while the rest of the world is [in] a full color high definition plasma TV. I've done my best to live above the circumstances by studying self-help and spiritual books. Ghandi once said that prison is not a punishment for an enlightened person, it only gives them more time to deepen their divinity. I agree. I was a teenager when I came to death row and over the last 15 years I've written several books & screenplays. I've turned a negative into a positive, while others around have lost their mind, dropped their appeals or committed suicide. I think who you are matters more than where you are." - Ray Jasper, prisoner 1536073598

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"Professor Gilbert,

I came across this article online and thought you'd be interested in it, particularly since we're currently studying MLK's Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

http://gawker.com/a-letter-from-ray-jasper-who-is-about-to-be-executed-1536073598

Can anything be done for this man? The only thing I can think of is trying to reach Gov. Rick Perry, who probably couldn't care less about one black inmate, or President Obama, who probably would not get a message in time (execution date is March 19) even if he does care about this one black inmate.

There is a heartbreaking irony in situations like Mr. Jasper's. Our judicial system, while trying to get justice for the victim of a murder, is committing the ultimate injustice against Mr. Jasper. His race plays a part in this injustice, but it's more than that; he's being put to death for being with the wrong people in the wrong place at the wrong time. He didn't murder anyone! This aspect of Mr. Jasper's situation makes me think of Socrates, who speaks the truth calmly and eloquently knowing he is most likely going to his death for a trumped-up crime.

(As a side note, I have been curious as to why we still read the writings of people like Plato and MLK. Now I understand.)

Do you have any other ideas for a way to help Mr. Jasper?

Sincerely,
Sarah"

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Sarah Chlarson, a student of mine at Metro, wrote this powerful appeal for Ray Jasper. I urge everyone to write the Texas governor Rick Perry to stay this execution. What is plainly innocence - Jasper did not commit a murder - is met in Texas by the death penalty. Interestingly, Jasper sees the analogy of the pseudo-religious or those who believe in something corrupt like the ministers who attacked King; Ray's answer to question 4 below also speaks eloquently to the point Sarah raises about reading King's Letter. Sarah entitled her email "Letter from the Livingston Jail"...

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Right now, Texas Senators Jon Cornyn and Ted Cruz are considering closing down prisons, being smart about sentencing (this is, in part, cost-motivated, but there is at last a turn in the US jailing 25% of the world's prisoners).

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Yet here is an issue of a man's life to be unjustly taken this Wednesday (Jasper is one of the 49% of prisoners on death row who are black, a reflection not of who commits murders but of racism). That even with a conservative reforming impulse springing up in Texas, this execution may go forward is a horror.

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If you thought you were reading about a Tibetan in a Chinese prison, you would not be mistaken...

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Gawker
Letters From Death Row: Ray Jasper, Texas Inmate 999341
Hamilton Nolan

Texas death row inmate Ray Jasper is scheduled to be put to death on March 19. He has written us a letter that, he acknowledges, "could be my final statement on earth." It is well worth your time.

Ray Jasper was convicted of participating in the 1998 robbery and murder of recording studio owner David Alejandro. A teenager at the time of the crime, Jasper was sentenced to death. He wrote to us once before, as part of our Letters from Death Row series. That letter was remarkable for its calmness, clarity, and insight into life as a prisoner who will never see freedom. We wrote back and invited him to share any other thoughts he might have. Today, we received the letter below. Everyone should read it.

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Jasper was 18 years old at the time. He has been in prison for the past 15 years.

The purpose of publishing these letters is to hear directly from people whose voices are not often heard. This is not a referendum on the guilt or innocence of any inmate. Ray Jasper responded to our questions numerically, so we will briefly list them here:

. What do you think the chances are of your execution occurring as scheduled?

2. Can you describe daily life on Death Row?

3. Can you talk a bit about your own past and upbringing?

4. Has your time in jail changed your political or religious beliefs?

5. Do you have any thoughts on how the media and the public view the death penalty?

6. What else would you like to say to the public about your life, your situation, and what you think it means for our country?"

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"Mr. Nolan,

I hope you're genuine in your endeavor and I hope you achieve your goal with your writing. I numbered your questions to match my answers. I'm sure you can take it from there. Can I receive a copy of how you publish this or the name of the website?

1) I think any execution has a 50/50 chance of taking place. It comes down to the legalities of the case. The controversial issue in my case has been narrowed down to racial discrimination concerning the State of Texas purposely striking Black people from the jury panel. Racial discrimination on trial juries has a long-standing history in Texas. It was really made known in the Thomas Miller-el case where Dallas had a guide for their prosecutors to strike all minorities from the jury panel. So it's about whether the Courts will consider the issue worth halting the execution.

2) Daily life on death row is like living in a black & white TV, while the rest of the world is [in] a full color high definition plasma TV. I've done my best to live above the circumstances by studying self-help and spiritual books. Ghandi once said that prison is not a punishment for an enlightened person, it only gives them more time to deepen their divinity. I agree. I was a teenager when I came to death row and over the last 15 years I've written several books & screenplays. I've turned a negative into a positive, while others around have lost their mind, dropped their appeals or committed suicide. I think who you are matters more than where you are.

3) I grew up like most young blacks at a disadvantage, susceptible to the street life out of the environment and a lack of education. For most young blacks we rebel out of subtle racism and being targeted by the police. For young blacks, cops are the enemies. I've been falsely arrested and beat by the police before the age of 18. It's like how can society expect young blacks to be [compliant] with the same law that poses a threat to their life. You never hear of black cops beating or killing young whites, but its so common to hear about white cops beating and killing young blacks.

4. My time in jail introduced me to politics. I was too young and uneducated to understand politics before I got locked up. Now, I see everyone has their own agenda and ideology of how society should function and those in political offices enforce their own agenda upon others. I think politics is a shark's pool. There's not much empathy involved.

I am a deeply religious person. I respect all religions, especially those who sacrifice for the service of God. I have a strong faith in Christ, but I do see
religion is often misused and Americans are too intellectual to be truly religious spiritually. Many people are only outwardly religious. I was religious people who wanted Christ to be executed. It was religious clergy who persecuted Martin Luther King as an extremist. One has to be careful of those who choose the letter of the Spirit. Paul said, "The letter kills, the Spirit gives life." Jesus said only those the Spirit understand the kingdom of God.

5) The way the media covers the death penalty depends of the agenda of that media outlet. The media is not neutral. I think whether a person is pro or anti-death penalty, we should all be against injustice. Those who do not see the death penalty as unjust should do their homework. Every major newspaper in Texas has taken a stance against the death penalty due to their investigative journalism. They know what's going on behind the scenes. The average person in Texas cannot explain the difference between murder and capital murder. The public is under the impression the people receive the death penalty for murder and murder, in Texas, is not punishable by the death penalty. There are thousands of people who committed murder and capital murder who are not on death row, but in regular prison. To say one person guilty of capital murder should live and another person guilty of capital murder should die is an injustice in [and] of itself.

I suggest reading the book TRIAL & ERROR: THE TEXAS DEATH PENALTY by Lisa Maxwell. It just came out this year and it highlights all the injustices of the Texas death penalty that many people never knew or forgot about over the years.

6) My life is a testament of what it is to be young & black in America. Black [people] are incarcerated at a higher rate than any other race because we are ignorant to the laws that govern society. As Nelson Mandela said, "Education is the most powerful weapon on which you can use to change the world." I gave up in school after a friend died when I was 11 years old. I didn't officially dropout until 16. By 18, I was facing the death penalty. I had no idea what capital murder was by definition or the law of parties. The Bible says that understanding makes a person depart from wrongdoing. People must be taught, even if its not in a school. We are all interdependent and we can educate each other. Adults need to have the courage to talk to teenagers and teach them how to make a smoother transition into adulthood. Over a million teenagers are arrested every year in America. 5 out of 6 black teenagers will drop out of high school. When you're young it's hard to see the road up ahead and many teens lack a long term vision for their life. They must be taught in the school of life by adults who cross their path.

Note: I apologize for all the mistakes, but I'm stuck in the 80's with a E-typewriter, not a laptop. Any other questions let me know. I wish you success on your endeavor. Enjoy the season.

Peacefully, Ray"

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