According to Mr. Allen:
This was a man [Ivan Cantu] who badly wanted to talk, who craves company more than almost anything else.
He said that this encounter with a complete stranger was the most exciting thing that had happened to him in ages.
Mr. Cantu was convicted of capital murder back in 2001 and sentenced to die. Last year he was within a month of being strapped down to the gurney at the Walls Unit in Huntsville before his execution was stayed.
Now I'm not here to discuss the facts of Mr. Cantu's case. I don't know anything more that what I heard on the radio and read in the article. My concern has to do with the manner in which we treat inmates such as Mr. Cantu.
The majority of men and women on our nation's death rows are guilty of murder. I don't think there's much question about that statement. But even the most despicable inmate deserves to be treated with at least a modicum of respect.
He is an articulate man, but he said something I had never heard before: the longer he stays on death row, the harder he finds it to express himself.
For all his voracious reading, the lack of regular conversation, he feels, is eroding his power to communicate.
As Mr. Allen points out, the walls of the Polunsky Unit are grey and brown, the uniforms white and the windows (actually more slit than window) are covered in dirt and grime. The inmates on death row are locked in their cells for 22 hours a day. They are all held in solitary confinement. They have access to reading materials, radios and typewriters but no computers or televisions. Their days are devoid of any meaningful communication with another person.
And just as murdering an inmate doesn't bring his victim back to life or cure the gaping wounds left behind by violent crime, locking someone in a cage with human contact for 22 hours a day does nothing to relieve anyone's pain or loss.
Treating a man like a caged animal does neither the inmate nor society any good. We can certainly do better.