A couple of months ago, we decided to set the date for the 7th Annual March to Stop Executions on Oct 28, the last weekend of the month, in order to accomodate our friends from Europe who wanted to attend the march and on the same trip make two visits during one trip to the U.S. to their friends on death row. Europeans have to fly more than 10,000 miles round-trip to visit death row. Now, TDCJ is nonsensically trying to limit the ability of people from Europe from visiting death row at the end of one month and again at the start of another month. In an attempt to get the rule changed back, the Europeans have started an online petition.
You have to wonder if TDCJ is acting on sound penological grounds or if they are acting out of petulance towards “foreigners” establishing relationships with people on death row that do not meet with the approval of conservative prison authorities. Texas policymakers have a long history of instituting rules that retaliate against people because of their private relationships. Most Europeans who visit people on death row are motivated to establish friendships with them because the death penalty is considered by most Europeans, and many Texans, as a crime against humanity. Visiting people under a sentence of death is a way for people of conscience to contribute a bit of humanity to the world. TDCJ should be greatful, because inmates who receive visitations are undoubtedly easier to manage. TDCJ seems to have changed its rules to retaliate against the Europeans’ support for people sentenced to death in Texas. The Texans at TDCJ are retaliating against the strongly held idea, prevalent in Europe, that every human being has worth, no matter what crimes a person may have committed. It is a difference of opinion, but it should not be the basis for changing a rule that contributes to maintaining order on death row.
TDCJ’s action brings to mind what happened in 2003 when the Republican-led U.S. Congress renamed french fries, which by the way originated in Belgium, to freedom fries in an act of petulance against France’s position on the war in Iraq. Just this year, the policy on Freedom Fries was reversed and French Fries are again served in the congressional cafeteria. The US politician who led the campaign to change the name of french fries to “freedom fries” has turned against the war, saying “If we were given misinformation intentionally by people in this administration, to commit the authority to send boys, and in some instances girls, to go into Iraq, that is wrong.”
We can only hope that the people who instituted the new anti-European visitation rules will come to their senses and change the rule back to what it was.
Below is information reported in The Houston Chronicle:
“the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has rolled up the welcome mat for prison visitors…who must travel long distances to the state’s far-flung prisons. TDCJ’s recently implemented action limits European visitors — or anyone who has traveled more than 300 miles — to one “special visit” per trip. The special visit consists of two four-hour sessions scheduled on consecutive days. Regular weekly visits, consisting of two-hour sessions, are not affected by the change.
Some European visitors, irate that they will be limited to one eight-hour visit per trip to the United States, have launched a petition calling on the state agency to reconsider.
“Most visitors,” Sandrine Ageorges said in an e-mail from her home in France, “can only afford to stay a week or so. Two special visits, when one visits at the end of a month back to back with another (early monthly visit) makes the trip, the expense and the time really worthwhile to all concerned.”
Ageorges, who noted that she has advocated for Texas death row inmates for 10 years, typically visits the United States four times a year, sometimes staying a month.
She is one of scores of European death penalty opponents, some of whom have married inmates by proxy, who journey to the United States to visit condemned prisoners. European capital-punishment foes and media are especially drawn to Texas, whose execution of 373 inmates since the punishment was resumed in 1982 has made it notorious in activist circles.
Ageorges said the regular two-hour weekly visits are less than satisfactory because “two hours is about the time a segregated prisoner needs to adjust to a visitor.”
“A regular visit in itself is very short when you consider that most overseas visitors make at least a 10,000-mile round trip to come for a visit,” Ageorges said, adding that she has made the journey for a single two-hour visit with an inmate.
“This recent modification to the special visitation rule (done very quietly by the warden) is probably one too many for all death row visitors and for the prisoners,” she wrote. “Our longtime fears are taking shape and we cannot sit there and let it happen.”