On Thursday, the UCSB chapter of Amnesty International presented an anti-death penalty film featuring retired prison warden Don Cabana in the Multicultural Center Theater.
James Robertson, a professor emeritus of the Mathematics Dept. and an anti-death penalty activist, and Myrtle Shock, a graduate student in archeology and fellow activist, led a student discussion after the film. The film, “The Death Penalty: A Warden’s View,” was produced by Amnesty International and featured an interview with Don Cabana, a retired warden of Parchment State Prison in Mississippi and author of Death at Midnight: The Confession of an Executioner.
Cabana had been a warden of the maximum-security prison for 25 years, during which time he executed four death row inmates.
In the film, Cabana said he became an anti-death penalty activist when his Catholic upbringing caught up with him and he came to terms with the immorality of the death penalty.
“The minute we’ve executed [the inmate] in that death chamber, we’ve taken away any chance of redemption,” Cabana said in the film. “The death penalty should be abolished on the principle of morality.”
He also talked about the religious aspect of death row in the film. Every day that a prisoner remains alive in jail is another day that he can come to peace with his God, Cabana said in the film.
The question of innocent people being executed for crimes they did not commit was also mentioned in the film. One of the people Cabana executed was Edward Earl Johnson, a subject of the documentary “Fourteen Days in May,” who had pleaded his innocence for seven years. Cabana said Johnson never gave any indication of guilt as he was about to die.
Discussion after the film centered largely on various statistics on racial and social injustices in the execution system. Shock said 111 people on death row have been proven innocent since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977, and he said there is a disproportionate number of minority inmates on death row. He said 80 percent of the people on death row in California are minorities.
“In Pennsylvania, a study commissioned by the Supreme Court suggested there should be a stay [on execution] because it is so absolutely racially biased,” Shock said.
Students and Amnesty International members who attended the screening said it helped them understand some issues surrounding the death penalty.
“After watching the movie, I started seeing both sides of the issue,” sophomore linguistics major and UCSB Amnesty International web coordinator Elana Lo said. “It gave me a new perspective. It made me more aware of biases – it’s not as simple as ‘he did it and he has to die for it.'”