Cruel and Unusual

Tales from death row: Justice for Rodney Reed by Caitlin Adams

As of this writing, injustice time is 131,712 hours. 5,488 days. Rodney's legal property has been sent to and received by his attorney. Rodney's personal property is being held in the property office of the Polunsky Unit, pending the outcome of Rodney's step 2 grievance, which was filed after his step 1 grievance regarding the confinscation of his property was declared unfounded and denied.

Cruel and unusual punishment is forbidden by the U.S. Constitution. The English premise upon which our constitutional version was based states cruel or unusual. Two small words, and — or, but the impact of choosing one over the other is enormous. In the U.S. the seemingly innocuous choice of “and” has made constitutional challenges of punishment in the U.S Criminal Justice system virtually impossible.

When someone is sentenced to death, the ultimate punishment, the punishment is the loss of their life. What happens to death row prisoners, however, is that they are tortured for years before their punishment is meted out.

Cruel and unusual? Apparently not. No significant, lasting challenge to the constitutionality of the death penalty or how death row prisoners are "punished" has ever been marshaled.

Solitary confinement, 23 hours a day in a 6x9 foot cinder block cell with only a small slat window to the outside, solid cell doors, no physical contact with any other human being, except the COs who handcuff, shackle and strip search anytime a prisoner leaves his/her cell — to the rec yard, the shower, the infirmary — or returns to his/her cell.

In Texas, death row prisoners are permitted one 5 minute telephone call every 90 days; one visit per week, 2 adults only at a visit. No visits permitted on Sundays or national holidays — in other words, no Christmas, New Year's, or Thanksgiving visits. On Texas death row there is no television, no access to computers, education classes, or support groups. Abysmal food, health care, and housing conditions are pervasive problems in prisons all across the country. These add to the stark, inhumane warehousing of death row prisoners in solitary confinement, and somehow, this is not considered cruel and unusual. Maybe cruel or unusual but not cruel and unusual.

America, the land of the free, executes - murders - the 5th highest total of prisoners in the world, in the company of China, Iran, Syria and Pakistan. America, the land of the free, tortures death row prisoners for years before meting out the ultimate punishment, taking their lives. America, the land of the free, incarcerates the highest per capita portion of its population in the "civilized" world.

Cruel and unusual? Yes.

 Caitlin Adams is a resident of Bastrop, Texas. After meeting the family of Texas death row prisoner Rodney Reed outside of their home in early 2011, she began writing with Rodney. She has developed a friendship with Rodney's mother Sandra and his family in Bastrop, as well as making regular trips to death row to visit Rodney. 

After learning about the facts of Rodney's case, Caitlin has become an advocate for Rodney Reed – here we present Caitlin's story about her journey for justice.