The staff went to Utah and all I got was….

…some amazing stories about the work being done by the ACLU around the country.

Earlier this week, five of us from the ACLU-PA staff joined staffers from around the country for a conference in Park City, Utah. Although the conference was largely about “nuts and bolts”, as ACLU-UT executive director Dani Eyre described it, it was a chance to hear about a lot of the other great things happening in the other 49 states that we often miss when we get caught up in our day-to-day. I want to share one such case, which was told during a workshop on the death penalty.

In the early years of this decade, death row in Mississippi was hell on earth. Think Abu Ghraib USA. The heat index in Unit 32C, the row, at the state pen in Parchman would reach 120 degrees in the summer. At night, prisoners had to wrap themselves in blankets from head to toe, in that heat, to keep from being eaten alive by bugs and rodents. 24 hours a day screaming could be heard, the raving of prisoners who had gone mad. Those who arrived at Parchman mentally ill became psychotic. Those who were healthy became mentally ill. The smell of sewage was always in the air as feces was everywhere. Water was often cut off for long periods of time.

In 2003, the ACLU took on these conditions, citing the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. You can probably imagine the backlash from some corners: They’re animals. They deserve whatever treatment they get. Etc. But by the end of the trial, once all of the evidence had come forth, many of those same voices had changed their tune and recognized that, regardless of what crime they had committed, we do not treat people this way and that they are still human beings.

We won that case in 2003 and the ruling was upheld on appeal in 2004. It’s old news, but it was news to me and maybe for some of you.

Ken Woolstenhulme, a Summit County commissioner, told the daily paper in Park City, “I don’t particularly care for what they stand for.” Well, I do, and I’m proud to work for this organization.

back on EDT,
Andy in H-burg

Oh, by the way, Speaking Freely won two Impact! Awards for breakthrough communications, one in the “web” category and the other for the overall “best in show” category. That was nice.

1 thought on “The staff went to Utah and all I got was….

  1. Concerning the prisoner treatment and people’s initial attitude of them being “animals,” it’s so sad that people find it so easy to allow terrible things when they can generalize. The prisoners are being punished already, and that kind of situation is always unacceptable. But until you put a human face on the problem and make people see the problem for what it does to a *person*, it’s just not the same.

    It’s good to know the ACLU works to bring up public awareness too. Education is the only way to defeat ignorance.

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