Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Juan Melendez

Sunday I went to a meeting that was organized by the (catholic) Church I usually go to. They invited Juan Melendez to speak. This person has been on death row for 18 years (yes, 18 years) waiting to be executed for a crime he didn't commit. After that time he was released because his innocency was recognized, proved by the finding of a tape and some transcriptions of the confession of the real killer. One of the most stunning parts of this story was that his public defensor that had been appointed for his first trial knew about those tapes.. But Juan at the time didn't even speak English and couldn't say much to defend himself. When he was released, as a compensation, he received $100 and a pair of pants and a T-shirt. This was what the State of Florida found sufficient to say sorry for 18 years of life.
His story is extremely moving. He lived for all that time in a cell that was just big enough to lay down, in company of mice and roaches. People condemned to death do not deserve many comforts. They do not deserve health care either, which he let us understand by describing to us how they let one of his friends die on the yard, where they were playing basketball, for a stroke, without even trying to do anything for him. They can provide you with tools to kill yourself, if you want, though. He told us about how he was going to do that, and he stopped himself and decided he still wanted to live, especially after dreaming about all the most beautiful things he used to like.. he took that dream as a sign that there was still hope for him.
He told us that the reasons he actually stayed alive and didn't give up were his trust and hope in God, the letters of his mothers and friends, and the friendship with his inmates. These people, supposedly the worst people on earth, condemned to die for the most horrible crimes, taught him how to read and write and how to speak in English. They became more than brothers to him. Some of them have already been executed. Some of them didn't have his luck to be able to prove their innocence - yeah, some of the executed ones were innocent.
More than 1000 people have been killed in the USA since the Seventies. More than 100 people were freed after being on the death row for a number of years, because their innocence was recognized. Now, of that 1000 and more people, how many more were innocent, who were killed? How many were too poor, or didn't know English well enough, or were mentally sick, or were born with the wrong skin color and couldn't defend themself?
I think the USA is the only so-called 'civil' country that has and uses the death penalty. There are so many flaws in this system that I cannot even imagine how can people support it. It doesn't serve any purpose and it has been proved to be wrong in at least 10% of the cases. That's enough to say stop. Juan Melendez is going around the USA and the world to promote the abolition of death penalty. If you're interested in his actions and petitions, visit his website. It's worth the time.

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