From Italian prisons to Texas death row


on 27 March 2008

The event was organised in Pozzuoli by the Angeli Flegri association with support from other organisations including the Italian Coalition Against the Death Penalty, the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and the Community of Sant’Egidio, all World Coalition members.
“Most of the people were in their last year at school (16 to 18-year-olds)”, said Michela Mancini of the Italian Coalition. “There were also members of other organisations and priests who work in prisons.”
The organisers chose to focus the conference on the importance of voluntary work behind bars, starting with prison conditions in Italy – an issue the audience could easily relate to.
“We then moved on to the US and the issue of the death penalty”, said Michela Mancini. She said that Dave Atwood, founder of the Texas Coalition, attracted strong interest when he talked about capital punishment there.

“Shameful behaviour”

He stressed the importance of international support to help the US abolish the death penalty, even though his country did not vote in favour of a recent UN resolution calling for a moratorium on executions, which he described as “shameful behaviour”.
He then gave key figures about the death penalty in America, highlighting that 405 of the 1099 executions that have taken place in the US since 1976 were carried out in Texas.
“Death row in Texas is a very brutal place to live”, he said, describing the absence of rehabilitation programs and the “poor quality” of food and medical care.
“A mother cannot even hug her child on the day of his execution”, he added.
He explained how executions are currently on hold in the US pending a review of the lethal injection protocol.

Good news

Dave Atwood also had some good news, saying that the number of executions declines in the US thanks to legal improvements and the exoneration of 125 death row inmates in recent years.
He added another reason for positive evolution in attitudes towards the death penalty: “We have been educating the citizens about the death penalty for many years.”
He concluded: “I believe that abolition of the death penalty will occur in the US in my lifetime. In fact, I am determined to live until it is abolished!”
Dave Atwood’s talk prompted many questions from the floor, as did that by Arianna Balotta, president of the Italian Coalition. She told the audience of her experience as part of a group of activists who have been visiting US prisons for years.
“She recounted how we were with prisoners until the very end, how we witnessed our friends die”, said Michela Mancini.
The local bishop also adressed the conference and reminded the audience of the need to “keep believing in life”.
Following the event, the organisers have been in contact with the schools involved to maintain a long-term relationship with the students and consider establishing correspondence between them and American death row inmates.

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