Voices from California's Death Row

Tracy Dearl Cain

I am writing this letter in response to your request for comments from CA Death Row inmates regarding the proposed Justice that Works Act, 2016.

My name is Tracy Dearl Cain. I’ve been on California Death Row going on 30 years now. I am a reasonably intelligent man. This is my personal response to the Justice that Works Act of 2016. I can’t speak for the entire Death Row population.  Personally, it’s hard for me to get around the idea that advocates for justice could structure a proposal that eludes the very essence of what justice stands for: Fairness.

There’s a beautiful saying, “Hope springs eternal.” The truth is this proposal leaves the current Death Row population nothing to hope for. And on top of that, e very single person currently on Death Row has been found guilty, once again, according to this new proposal. There’s not even a mere mention of any person possibly being innocent. In this proposition, the authors speak passionately about not wanting to see another innocent person executed, but then go on to ignore any and all probability of innocence altogether. I find myself wondering if somehow, the Justice That Works advocates feel that the Death Row population should be grateful for this proposal.  I am not.  There are a lot of things that I personally feel should have gotten some realistic consideration when this proposal was being drafted, such as the countless Death Row inmates who have spent decades on Death Row actually having a legitimate chance at parole. 

The reality of atonement and redemption, even the actuality of prisoners furthering their educations, reclaiming their self-respect and dignity, and just as important, finding inner peace and strength to become better persons, inside and out, and above all, gaining better attitudes and appreciation for all life, especially while not forgetting the pain and suffering that their actions caused the victim(s)’ family and loved ones. These kinds of individuals do exist on Death Row. I know because I am most surely one of them.

The actuality of such redemption happens on Death Row, even in this environment, where it’s almost impossible to be a model prisoner in a place that breeds and feeds off of every evil enmity known to mankind.  Yet, it doesn’t stop individuals from trying and growing to become better people. 

My question to you, the authors, is this: technically how much time does a person convicted of murder have to serve in order to be deemed worthy of his/her freedom again? We can all agree that the purpose for prisons is punishment. But you can only punish a prisoner for so long before there is no further gain. When does his/her actual rehabilitation become as important as the punishment? It’s no secret inside these prisons today, the notion of rehabilitation is frowned upon due to the administrators having their own counter agenda. That agenda is to keep punishing the prisoners even after the prisoners have exceeded the time necessary for the crimes for which they were convicted. 

If this proposed initiative were to come to fruition, which I personally hope it doesn’t, why would any reasonable, thinking person agree to a mandate that would turn Death Row inmates into modern day slaves by making each one pay 60% in restitution to the families of their alleged/actual victims’ families for the duration of their lives. Isn’t this a form of slavery? Of course it is. Not only is it obnoxious, but it’s also insulting to every prisoner I’m sure. But, I have a suggestion. The prison has an inmate welfare fund. I believe you wouldn’t get any argument from any prisoner about using those funds to go to assisting families of victims who are in need of assistance. 

This proposal is full of despair for Death Row inmates. This proposal says that no Death Row inmate is redeemable or worthy of a second chance outside of this modern day plantation. It is disheartening for many inmates to read a proposal that offers them nothing short of continuous despair and oppression.

I would have to say to you who proposed this injustice-filled act, no thank you. I would rather take my chances with this corrupt judicial/legal system. I feel I have a much better shot at someone being able to stand up for me and possibly have some rely empathy for e and everyone else on Death Row. I, like so many other, don’t’ want to remain in a life of servitude.


Tracy Dearl Cain

CA Death Row Inmate