The following is written by
Kathleen A. O'Shea, author of
"Women and the Death Penalty in the United States, 1900-1998"
(se bottom of this page)
O'Shea is a social worker who does criminal justice research on female prisoners with a focus on women and the death penalty.
"I lived in Chile during General Augusto Pinochet's Coup against
President Salvador Allende's socialist government. I saw torture and
death at a very close range. But I said to myself in those days and even later, "These things happen in a revolution."
But, when I visited the first woman I met on death row in Oklahoma, I was appalled at the conditions and utter power of men over women in these situations. I was sick for days after that visit, literally throwing up and unable to get out of bed.
It was not because I thought these women are innocent (although some of them are) but because I was suddenly struck that these women were being held and treated in the same degrading and dehumanizing ways we see in times of revolution.
I was struck that prison officials are allowed to do this and to keep this a big secret, so to speak, out of the public eye, because the number of women on death row are so few.
I thought then, well, I can't go open all the prison doors and force
them to act more humanely, so maybe I can write about these women, tell their stories and put them out there so that other people can see them...
Most prisons where women are held on death row in the United States
are in totally isolated areas of the state where access is extremely
difficult. Within the prisons, death rows, as such, are apart from any contact with the general population. Many women's prisons do not have "death rows" per se and so the women are held in isolation in areas generally known as "the hole." Very few of these prisons have any women working in these areas. The men in charge of women on death row have total control over what goes on there...women on death row frequently lack even the basic necessities...like underpants...
I recently wrote a letter for a woman on death row who was asking the Commissioner of Prisons if they (the women on death row) could have one pair of underpants a day, instead of only three pairs - what they are now allowed...
These women aren't asking to be free - they are asking to be recognized as humans....
One woman on death row told me that the hardest thing was convincing
herself that she was less than human as everyone was telling her.
But, she felt she had to because she knew she would be in prison the rest of her life and to be able to survive from day to day, she could not let herself believe she deserved more. I say, isn't it enough that these women have to live with the thought that they will be executed at some point, do we have to kill them every day....
I hope my book will provoke much discussion and a lot of action...
Kathleen A. O'Shea
Women and the Death Penalty in the United States, 1900-1998
By Kathleen A. O'Shea
Praeger Publishers. Westport, Conn. 1998. 424 pages
LC 98-23550. ISBN 0-275-95952-X.
** Description **
This work takes a historical look at women and the death penalty in the United States from 1900 to 1998. It gives the reader a look at the penal codes in the various states regarding the death penalty and the personal stories of women who have been executed or who are currently on death row. As Americans continue to debate the enforcement of the death penalty, the issues of race and gender as they relate to the death penalty are also debated. This book offers a unique perspective to a recurring sociopolitical issue.