STORY : Ex-death row inmate shares son’s story of forgiveness, Two years out of prison, she’s now promoting ‘Set Free’ book- Gaile Owen


It’s the “normal” things that matter so much to Gaile Owens these days.

Things like walking in the park with her grandchildren, holding two steady jobs, even mundane errands around a city that is still a little foreign to her.

“You hear people say, ‘I have to do a lot of things’,” Owens, 61, said Wednesday. “My favorite thing to say is, ‘I GET to do these things.'”

That wasn’t the case for most of her life. Three years ago, Owens was preparing to be executed by lethal injection for paying a hit man to kill her husband in late 1984 after what she described as a life of humiliation and physical and sexual abuse at his hands. But with the help of her son, Stephen, and numerous advocates in the community, she was able to secure a commutation of her death sentence from then-Gov. Phil Bredesen in 2010 and her freedom from the state parole board a year later.

She has remained largely silent about the past 29 years, but that has changed with the publishing of her son’s book, “Set Free,” which documents his struggle to find meaning and forgiveness in the murder of his father and the condemning of his mother to death. Gaile and Stephen Owens will speak Thursday at a forum hosted by John Seigenthaler, former Tennessean publisher and editor and one of the Owens’ key allies in the fight to free her.

Gaile Owens spoke for the first time with The Tennessean in a phone interview Wednesday, joined by her son so they could talk about his new book. She’s still not ready to talk about the murder or the abuse she says she endured from her husband. But she wants people to know about her family’s journey of faith, forgiveness and hope.

“I think his journey is important. I think it speaks of hope for other people,” she said of her son’s book. “No one will have walked the same journey we have, but everybody has a story and everybody has got places in their life where they needed forgiveness.”

Forgiveness found

Stephen Owens said the past 30 years have been fraught with anger and confusion. He was with his mother one day in 1984 when they found his father beaten to death with a tire iron in their Shelby County home. Gaile Owens and the man she hired, Sidney Porterfield, were both convicted and sentenced to die. Porterfield remains on death row today.

Forgiveness didn’t come easy.

Stephen Owens had no contact with his mother from the time he testified against her at trial in 1986 until Aug. 23, 2009, when he finally decided to visit her in prison. In “Set Free,” he describes an overwhelmingly emotional, three-hour meeting, ending with a tearful hug. It was then that he heard words he had waited nearly 30 years to hear.

“I’m sorry, Stephen,” Gaile Owens told her son in a conversation he describes in “Set Free.” “I know I can’t change anything now, but I just need to ask for your forgiveness.”

That gave him a chance to say the words he felt God had wanted him to say for so long.

“I forgive you, mom,” he responded.

BOOKS : “The Death Penalty Failed Experiment: From Gary Graham to Troy Davis in Context”

A new book published in electronic format, The Death Penalty Failed Experiment: From Gary Graham to Troy Davis in Context by Diann Rust-Tierney, examines the problem of arbitrariness in the death penalty since its reinstatement in 1976. Through an analysis of the cases of Gary Graham and Troy Davis, the author argues that race, wealth and geography play a more significant role in determining who faces capital punishment than the facts of the crime itself. Both defendants had significant claims of innocence; both were black defendants who were ultimately executed in the South; in both cases, the victim in the underlying murder was white.  Graham was executed in Texas in 2000 and Davis was executed in Georgia in 2011.  Rust-Tierney writes, “How do you administer the most severe punishment imaginable in a manner that is accurate, free from bias and demonstrably fair? Until we are all seen and treated as equal, we cannot afford to keep capital punishment.”  Ms. Rust-Tierney is an attorney and Executive Director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. Download a copy of the ebook here.

(D. Rust-Tierney, “The Death Penalty Failed Experiment: From Gary Graham to Troy Davis in Context,” McKinney & Associates, April 2012).  The Death Penalty Failed Experiment is the second publication in McKinney & Associates’ Voice Matters: An eBook Series on Public Relations with a Conscience.  See Arbitrariness and Race.  Read more Books on the death penalty.  Listen to DPIC’s Podcast on Arbitrariness.

Book : In the Timeless Time

march 29, 2012 source :

Authors revisit world of death row

Bruce Jackson is known in some circles as the dean of prison culture. Since the early 1960s, the SUNY Distinguished Professor and James Agee Professor of American Culture in the UB Department of English has been studying the little-known lives and culture of inmates in one of America’s oldest penal institutions.

Jackson‘s work has resulted in classics of prison lore and culture, including “A Thief’s Primer” (1969), “In the Life” (1972), “Wake Up Dead Man” (1972) and in 1980, “Death Row” with his wife and collaborator Diane Christian, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor in the UB English department.

The couple’s latest prison book, “In This Timeless Time: Living and Dying on Death Row in America” has just been published by University of North Carolina Press in association with the Center of Documentary Studies at Duke University. It is a volume of photographs and stories illuminating the world of death row inmates in the O.B. Ellis Unit, a Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison in Walker County, Texas. It also explores what happened to those prisoners and what has happened in capital punishment practice, legislation and jurisprudence over the past four decades.

“In This Timeless Time” has been named by Publishers Weekly one of its top 10 social science recommendations in its 2012 spring books issue. The book continues and expands upon stories addressed in “Death Row” and includes a DVD of the authors’ 1979 documentary film of the same name.

Although both books feature the same subject, they take very different approaches to the story. “The first book was essentially a snapshot in time,” Jackson says. “‘In This Timeless Time’ looks back and analyzes what has happened to those inmates and to the death penalty in America since the first book was published.”

The book includes a series of 92, mostly unpublished, photographs of the Ellis unit and its prisoners taken during the authors’ fieldwork for “Death Row.” This section also offers brief notes about what happened to the photo subjects, many of whom were executed, some of whom had their sentences commuted to life, one of whom was paroled, one of whom was exonerated after 22 years on the row and one of whom is still there.

The second section explains events in the world of capital punishment over the past three decades, including changes in law and current arguments over the death penalty.

The final section discusses how the authors completed the book, and looks at the problems they encountered doing the work and their stance on ethical issues related to the death penalty and to prison reform.

“We believe that killing people in cold blood for the crime of killing people in hot or cold blood is not justified. You shouldn’t do the things you say you shouldn’t do,” says Christian, adding that in the new book she and Jackson elaborate on their points of view and consider studies on capital punishment and relevant Supreme Court decisions.

In both books, the couple describes the treatment of the prisoners as “remedial torture” and recounts the conditions the men were forced to endure, such as having the glass windows of their cells replaced with frosted glass, which not only prevented them from seeing the outside world, but caused them to develop chronic optical myopia because they could not exercise their distance vision.

The authors point out that the United States remains the only industrialized nation that still employs the death penalty. While the pace of capital sentences has slowed here, Jackson suggests it’s partly because it costs the system less to imprison a person for life than to sentence him or her to death, which involves the cost of repeated appeals and heightened security.

“In some states, legislatures have been reconsidering the death penalty, not for moral reasons, but because they’re broke,” says Jackson.

Another major change is the introduction of life without parole as a sentencing option.

“As it turns out, the main thing the juries wanted wasn’t to kill the criminals, but to get them off the street and make sure they stayed off the street,” he says.

Jackson explains that while states are becoming less likely to use capital punishment, the federal government has become more punitive and restrictive since the Oklahoma City bombing. The appeals process has become much more difficult and capital punishment is permitted for more crimes.

Prisons also have become more conservative and restrictive to outsiders wanting to come in, which would make it difficult—if not impossible—for anyone today to write a book like “Death Row” or “In This Timeless Time.” Jackson and Christian had access to the prison to photograph, film and speak to inmates three decades ago, but when they tried to go back to revisit death row for their new book, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice refused their calls and ignored their emails. Information on the inmates they interviewed in 1979 had to be culled from the prison system’s online website.

TEXAS : Remembrance – Dominique Green “A Saint on Death Row “

On October 26, 2004, Dominique Green, thirty, was executed by lethal injection in Huntsville, Texas. Arrested at the age of eighteen in the fatal shooting of a man during a robbery outside a Houston convenience store, Green may have taken part in the robbery but always insisted that he did not pull the trigger. The jury, which had no African Americans on it, sentenced him to death. Despite obvious errors in the legal procedures and the protests of the victims family, he spent the last twelve years of his life on Death Row.