Issue 179 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published October 1994 Copyright © Socialist Review


Voices from death row

In our July/August issue we printed an article on the racist nature of the death penalty by convicted death row prisoner, Michael Ross. Here we print a letter from historian Peter Linebaugh, who sent us the article about Michael, plus some requests for pen friends from other death row prisoners in Texas. We have a number of other addresses if people want to correspond.

I wanted to give you a short update on the case of Michael Ross. The state supreme court granted him another sentencing hearing. He is less likely to 'volunteer' for execution, and this is a direct result of our letters to him, as well as conversations he has had with us abolitionists. However, he is still not sure. I shall let you know if I think there is anything else you can do to help.

Meanwhile, I enclose a packet of pen-pal requests from prisoners on death row, largely in Texas. Since my main point at Marxism 94 was to state that resistance to capital-punishment must begin with those under the noose, it may be that you will have received inquiries from SWP members about some human contact with men on death row. Even if not, you may wish to bring these requests to the attention of people you meet.
Peter Linebaugh

  • My name is David Stoker, I am a 34 year old white male. I am on death row for a crime that I didn't commit. I am in hope of finding someone to correspond with through the mail to help take my mind out of this place and off the sentence of death that I have.

    I guess it would be best to tell some about myself. I am not married. I was, but not any more. I have a son Nick that I have never seen. I have a picture of him, that is all. I like to read spy novels, westerns and horror novels and listen to music. I like some sports like hunting, fishing, playing football and baseball but not watching. I also like camping, bicycling and water skiing. I also like action movies.

    I have been on death row for six years now. Since being here I have lost a lot, such as friends and family. It can be a lonely place for all. I am hoping to get my murder conviction overturned. It should be easy since I didn't do the crime. But here in the States it doesn't always work out that way. So all I can do is hope. I would love to be able to get out so I could continue my life.
    David Stoker #892
    Ellis 1 Unit
    Huntsville, Texas, 77343

  • I'm a 26 year old Afro American. Much of my time is devoted to art. I enjoy drawing portraits, animals, flowers, etc. I've been on death row over six years. I've had two execution dates. However there are several very positive factors occurring concerning my case on appeal, and hopefully I will one day regain my freedom. Anyone that knows me--family, friends, attorneys--know that I'm not capable of committing murder, and it is very possible that I could soon have my case reversed on appeal and prove my innocence during a new trial.

    I'm sure many people wonder what is the worst part of serving a death sentence. For me, it's losing so many people, especially the ones who were my friends, to the execution chamber. Then there's the boredom. My art work, nor anything else I could do to help pass the time, could ever take the place or be as important as a friend on the outside, someone that understands and cares what happens to me. I don't just expect a pen-pal to write only positive letters. People on the outside have problems just like I do. We can share the good times along with the bad. Thanks for taking the time to read my letter.
    Gary L Sterling #931
    Ellis 1 Unit
    Huntsville, Texas, 77343

  • The numbers game

    I have just read Lee Humber's article 'A powerful combination' (September SR) and wondered if you could tell me how many policemen or soldiers were used in the miners' strike of 1984-85? I also wondered if you knew how many Allied soldiers there were at the battle of El Alamein--it might be a good comparison. It might put the oppression exercise by the government into perspective.

    Ian Ellis

    'Blood will tell'

    Phil Gasper is right when he states (September SR) that eugenics was adopted most enthusiastically (until Nazi Germany) in the United States. Yet the idea of eugenics was influential in Britain too.

    From the start of the Industrial Revolution middle class reformers viewed with horror the increase in population among the urban poor.

    At the same time belief in 'good breeding' flourished. The idea that 'blood will tell' is a common theme in the literature of the time. In Oliver Twist, for example, Oliver's speech is perfect despite his upbringing in the workhouse--a clear sign of his good ancestry.

    So it comes as no surprise that a class warrior like Churchill could toy with the idea of improving the nation's stock by preventing criminals and the feeble-minded from having children.

    What is surprising is that some of the foremost advocates of eugenics were leading lights in the socialist movement. The Fabian Society, led by Beatrice and Sidney Webb and George Bernard Shaw, argued that 'socialist policy favours the strong'. They saw socialism as 'a process of conscious social selection by which the industrial residuum is made manageable for some kind of surgical treatment'! Bernard Shaw advocated 'sterilisation of the failures'. After exerting their influence on the British Labour Party the Webbs were to become keen supporters of Stalin.

    It would be hard to find a vision of socialism further away from the socialism from below we are fighting for. It should serve as a warning to anyone who thinks socialism is something that can be done for the working class, rather than the result of our own struggle.
    Matt Staples

    We welcome letters and contributions on all issues raised in Socialist Review. Please keep your contributions as short as possible, typed, double spaced if you can, and on one side of paper only.
    Send to: Socialist Review, PO Box 82, London E3 3LH

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