I recently received the online newsletter for Upaya, a Zen center in Santa Fe.
I felt touched reading the following Declaration. It also stimulated sadness in me, because I care about transforming systems in a more life-serving, life-enriching way. So, below is the response I wrote to the declaration...
DECLARATION OF THE PRECIOUSNESS OF LIFE: NO TO THE DEATH PENALTY
Text of a card that you can carry in your wallet to express your principles regarding the death penalty:
“I, the undersigned, being of sound mind and memory, do hereby in the presence of witnesses make this Declaration about the preciousness of life. Should I die as a result of a violent crime, I request that the person or persons found guilty of homicide for my killing not be subject to or put in jeopardy of the death penalty under any circumstances, no matter how heinous their crime or how much I may have suffered. The death penalty would only increase my suffering.
I request that the Prosecutor or District Attorney having the jurisdiction of the person or persons alleged to have committed my homicide not file or prosecute an action for capital punishment as a result of my homicide.
This Declaration is not meant to be, and should not be taken as, a statement that the person or persons who have committed my homicide should go unpunished.
I request that my family and friends take whatever actions are necessary to carry out the intent and purpose of this Declaration and request them to take no action contrary to this Declaration.
I'm touched by the Spirit of the wallet card you all offer in the latest newsletter, because the preciousness of Life is dear to me for it offers an opportunity to awaken.
Although no one can argue with the effectiveness of the death penalty (the offender is guaranteed never to offend again!), the cost of state-sponsored violence and retribution is too great for me to bear. Retribution and vengeance almost always stimulate fear and submission to external authority, and even 21st century forensic science cannot guarantee the elimination of the chance that an innocent person is killed by the state.
I am also deeply saddened reading the line, “This Declaration is not meant to be, and should not be taken as, a statement that the person or persons who have committed my homicide should go unpunished”, because I see that punishment of any kind reinforces the thinking of vengeful duality that perpetuates so much suffering. Until we heal from the thinking that any one of us deserves to be punished, none of us will be truly liberated!
Study after study consistently shows that punishment does not increase the likelihood of an "offender" refraining from taking actions that do not contribute to mutual well-being. In fact, punishment, from shaming to spanking to punitive imprisonment, all increase the likelihood that future offenses will occur. The death penalty is the only exception, at least in the current incarnation! If punishment works, why are our prisons and jails increasing their populations faster than we can build new cells?
For me, it calls into question what our reasons are for requesting the behavior we would like...Do we want submission out of fear of retributive punishment or would we prefer respect for authority because it is easy to connect with the good reasons (protection of life, clarity, safety, etc.) that motivate rules, laws and the like?
So, if I carry a card in my wallet, I intend to replace the text in the third paragraph with the following:
"This Declaration is not meant to be, and should not be taken as, a statement that the person or persons who have committed my homicide should go without an opportunity to restore their place in society. Likewise, it does not indicate that society should go unprotected from persons who behave violently or without regard to mutual well-being. I encourage both the protective use of force (including state custody) and the implementation of restorative justice strategies to bring society, my family and the offender back into wholeness."
I would enjoy receiving your responses to this letter.