Wednesday, June 24, 2015
"Punishment in Popular Culture"
The title of this post is the title of this intriguing new book of essays edited by Charles Ogletree and Austin Sarat. The book's table of contents reveals that the essays are authored by an array of interesting and distinct scholars who focus on an array of interesting and distinct topics ranging from early prison films to Abu Ghraib to "White Masculinity and Harsh Punishment in 1990s Popular Culture." The book's introduction authored by the editors provides a great preview of the book's themes and coverage, and here is an excerpt:
From the Gospel of Matthew to George Bernard Shaw and former Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, many have remarked that how a society punishes reveals its true character. Punishment tells us who we are. The way a society punishes demonstrates its commitment to standards of judgment and justice, its distinctive views of blame and responsibility, its understandings of mercy and forgiveness, and its particular ways of responding to evil....
Punishment in Popular Culture examines the cultural images that undergird and critique America’s distinctive approach to punishment. It analyzes punishment as a set of images, as a marvelous spectacle of condemnation. It recognizes that the semiotics of punishment is all around us, not just in the architecture of the prison or the speech made by a judge as she sends someone to a penal colony, but in both “high” and “popular” culture iconography — in novels, television, and film. Punishment has traditionally been one of the great subjects of cultural production, suggesting the powerful allure of the fall and of our prospects for redemption. But perhaps the word “our” is inaccurate here. Émile Durkheim and George Herbert Mead, among others, remind us that it is through practices of punishment that cultural boundaries are drawn, that solidarity is created through acts of marking difference between self and other, that these processes proceed through dis-identification as much as imagined connection....
America, as is widely known, has been on a several decades’ old incarceration boom. As noted above, we continue to lock up more people for longer periods of time than most other nations, as well as to use the death penalty and to racialize punishment in ways that are quite remarkable. How are these facts of American penal life reflected in, encouraged through, or critiqued by the portraits of punishment that Americans regularly encounter on television and in film? What are the conventions of genre that help to familiarize those portraits and connect them to broader political and cultural themes? In its cultural lives, can punishment claim a secure basis in morality? Or do television and film help to undermine its moral claims? How are developments in the broader political economy reflected in the ways punishment appears in mass culture? And finally, how are images of punishment received by their audiences?
While the work collected in our book does not purport to provide a comprehensive overview, these are the questions that Punishment in Popular Culture addresses. Our book thematizes issues of genre, morality, political economy, and reception in its analyses and brings together distinguished scholars of punishment and experts in media studies in an unusual juxtaposition of disciplines and perspectives.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
Hoping to help Kickstart a notable new death penalty documentary
I am eager to promote widely an important film project from some folks in London focused on modern US death penalty stories. (I am partial to the project in part because one of my former students, Allen Bohnert, OSU Moritz College of Law grad ('06), is one key subject being documented in his role as current lead counsel in the long-running Section 1983 litigation over Ohio's lethal injection protocols.)
This notable project is still in production, and the filmmakers are currently fundraising for financial support to help allow them to finish filming. The Kickstarter campaign is available here; lots of interesting items are available (such as signed copies of Bryan Stevenson's book, Just Mercy, one-off pieces of art and the film itself) for any donation over $25. I have been told that they will not be able to effectively finish this film without additional help for further funding.
The film itself is titled The Penalty, and it is to be a 90-minute feature documentary examining the current state of America's capital punishment system. While some other documentaries have focused on death row stories through the lens of condemned prisoners, this film is focused more on people involved not on the row: lawyers, family members, politicians, campaigners, law enforcement, and others. A snippet from some filming so far is available at www.thepenaltyfilm.com.
I understand that the filmmakers have been particularly focused on following (1) my former student, Assistant Federal Public Defender for the Southern District of Ohio Allen Bohnert, through Ohio's problematic execution of Dennis McGuire and its fallout, and (2) Louisiana death row exoneree Damon Thibodeaux as he tries to put his life back together after his wrongful conviction and later exoneration. I believe the filmakers are also incorporating lots of other characters from the capital punishment universe, including many experts in the field such as Debby Denno, Jeanne Woodford, David Dow, Kathryn Kase, Peter Neufeld, Richard Dieter and Clive Stafford-Smith.
Finally, I have been told that anyone has any ideas on stories that the filmmakers should look at, or have ideas for people they should be sure to talk to (e.g., grant-giving foundations, media outlets, campaign groups), they filmakers are eager to spread their network far and wide, and you can pass on ideas by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Cross-posted at PrawfsBlawg.
Monday, August 04, 2014
Check your local PBS listings for "15 to Life: Kenneth's Story"
Premiering this week on PBS stations is this new documentary titled "15 to Life: Kenneth's Story." The documentary discusses life without parole sentences for juvenile offenders with a focus on a Florida defendant, Kenneth Young, who at age 15 received four consecutive life sentences for a series of armed robberies. Here is part of the description of the film from this PBS website:
In June 2000, 14-year-old Kenneth Young was convinced by a 24-year-old neighborhood crack dealer — Kenneth's mother's supplier — to join him on a month-long spree of four armed robberies. The older man planned the Tampa, Fla. heists and brandished the pistol— and, on one occasion, he was talked out of raping one of the victims by his young partner. Fortunately, no one was physically injured during the crimes, although the trauma that resulted was immeasurable.
When they were caught, Kenneth didn't deny his part. It was his first serious scrape with the law. But at 15, he was tried under Florida law as an adult. Astoundingly, he received four consecutive life sentences — guaranteeing that he would die in prison. 15 to Life: Kenneth's Story follows the young African-American man’s battle for release, after more than 10 years of incarceration, much of it spent in solitary confinement. The film is also a disturbing portrait of an extraordinary fact: The United States is the only country in the world that condemns juveniles to life without parole.
Kenneth’s sentence was not a rarity. As 15 to Life shows, there are more than 2,500 juveniles serving life sentences in the United States for non-lethal crimes, as well as for murder. In the 1990s, many states reacted to a rise in violent youth crimes by amending their laws to allow more juveniles to be tried as adults. Then, in 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Graham v. Florida that life sentences for juveniles convicted of crimes other than murder were unconstitutional. That made 77 Florida inmates, including Kenneth, eligible for early release. But how would the Florida courts, historically in favor of juvenile life sentences, apply the Supreme Court decision to a decade-old case?...
At the core of the story, of course, stands Kenneth, now 26, who is candid about his crimes. He says he has followed a path of self-improvement and is remorseful for what he did, even as he remains flabbergasted about his punishment. (Oddly enough, in a separate trial, Jacques Bethea, the older man who organized the robberies and who carried the gun, received a single life sentence.)
At his hearing for a reduced sentence, Kenneth tells the court, "I have lived with regret every day ... I have been incarcerated for 11 years and I have taken advantage of every opportunity available for me in prison to better myself ... I am no longer the same person I used to be. First Corinthians, Chapter 13, Verse 11 says: 'When I was a child I thought as a child. When I became a man I put away all childish things.' I want to turn around and apologize to my victim for what I did."
Kenneth's plight elicits mixed reactions. While some of his victims are inclined to see him let go, others, along with the prosecutor, defend the original punishment. Kenneth's contention that the older man coerced his cooperation by threatening his mother is dismissed, because he didn't speak up as a 15-year-old at his original trial. And arguments that Kenneth's new sentence should take into account his rehabilitation may not convince this Florida court.
UPDATE: A helpful reader noted that through September 3, folks can view the program online at the PBS website here.
August 4, 2014 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Film, Offender Characteristics, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Friday, November 23, 2012
"Muted Message: Capital Punishment in the Hollywood Cinema"The title of this post is the title of this new piece in SSRN by David Ray Papke; it provides for a good holiday read before heading out for a holiday movie or while trying to avoid black friday crowds. Here is the abstract:
Contemporary Hollywood films seem at first glance to be opposed to capital punishment. However, this article’s consideration of five surprisingly similar films (Dead Man Walking, The Chamber, Last Dance, True Crime, and The Life of David Gale) finds they do not truly and consistently condemn capital punishment. Instead of suggesting that the practice of capital punishment is fundamentally immoral and should in general be ended, the films champion only worthy individuals on death row and delight primarily in the personal growth of other characters who attempt to aid the condemned. In the end, Hollywood offers only a muted message regarding the on-going use of capital punishment.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Supremacy Claus puts money where his comments are to support reentry film
In this post from a few days ago, I reprinted an e-mail I received from Attila Adam, a writer and director working on a new drama called June Gloom. In his words, the "film is centered around a man's release from prison, into a world that doesn't want him. It's an example of how difficult restarting your life can be when you walk into that 'gloom' without a strong support system."
I linked to this special intro video to the project, which is on a webpage seeking pledges to help the project get completed, and I noted that $500 pledge would result in executive producer credit on this film. And I (half-jokingly) suggested that some of the frequent commentors on this blog consider supporting this effort
Ever the interesting fellow, (in)famous regular commentor Supremacy Claus wrote to me to report that he was going to make a $500 pledge and was going to do so in my name so that I would get executive producer credit. For this kind gesture (which is now reflected on this June Gloom blog), I am awed and grateful. And I have now added another $100 pledge (and provided that the goodies that come with this pledge go to SC).
Though I know not everyone is a huge fan of how Supremacy Claus sometimes seeks to take over the comment threads, I think everyone should be a huge fan of his efforts in this context. And if merely 1/10 of all the readers who dislike SC's comments would simply make a pledge of 1/10 of what SC put up on my behalf, the June Gloom film would have extra resources for final production and promotion. (As I noted before, the minimum pledge to support this project is a mere $10, and I hope a lot of readers might consider themselves able to pledge at least 2% of what Supremacy Claus put up.)