Interview with Alan Pogue

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    •  Watch Video 1, Video 3, Video 4, Video 5, Video 6, Video 7 of "Interview with Mr. Alan Pogue" 
     
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    •  Continued from Video 1 of "Interview with Alan Pogue," the last sentence of which begins, POGUE: Her mother was, as they say, turning her out into the trade and to avoid all of this, at the age of fourteen, she ran away with a biker gang and then eventually, I think, when she was eighteen or so, she was with her boyfriend to collect some money, a debt from a fellow who was a lineman for a telephone company and Karla Faye's boyfriend picked up a small pick that belonged to the lineman and killed him with it and then gave it to Karla Faye and told her to kill the girlfriend, which she did. And in her testimony, she gave a graphic account of it all, but once she was on Death Row.... 
    •  POGUE: she came out and was a very loving and caring person, worked a lot with the other inmates and the guards liked her a lot and prison officials came to like her and there was a world-wide movement to have her sentence commuted to life. 
    •  POGUE: But unfortunately, as usual, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles wouldn't listen. I mean you had everyone from the Pope to Pat Robertson and I think even one of the family members of one of the people that was killed, all testified on her behalf, but nothing would do. 
    •  POGUE: And it was Governor Bush at the time, but not only did George W. Bush not commute her sentence, he even made fun of her. There was a famous incident and he was being interviewed by a conservative columnist for a prominent magazine and the columnist complained that Governor Bush mocked Karla Faye by this fake, high-pitched woman's voice pleading to him to spare her life. Even the columnist was appalled by this behavior, but she was executed nonetheless. 
    •  POGUE: But this one case that really, really bothers me is the case of Odell Barnes, who was African American in East Texas and he was charged with murdering his girlfriend who was a cocaine, crack dealer, and the murder was brutal. The woman was beaten, shot, stabbed. 
    •  POGUE: I've seen photographs of the crime scene and there was blood on the ceiling, blood on the walls, the floor, it was an unbelievable amount of blood. But there was a girl in France who with Amnesty International chose his case to work on, and as she got to know the facts of the case, her mother got to know these things. And her mother decided to raise money to help with Odell Barnes' defense. She raised twenty thousand dollars. 
    •  POGUE: They hired a forensic scientist. The forensic scientist examined the evidence against Odell Barnes. On his clothes that were introduced into evidence, there were two drops of blood on his sleeve, about the size of a nickel -- one, two. 
    •  POGUE: Now if you saw photographs of the crime scene, of course, you realize that he would have been covered with blood. And then they analyzed the blood and the blood had more than forty times the amount of citric acid [that] human blood could ever have in it naturally. 
    •  POGUE: But citric acid just happens to be what they line the test tubes with as a preservative. So it became obvious that they had taken an eye dropper and taken a blood sample out of the test tube and put it on Odell Barnes' clothes. Bing, bing. 
    •  POGUE: And he had no witnesses to his whereabouts at the time of the crime, and the District Attorney, of course, a lot of people had to be involved in setting him up. You had the whole crime lab and everyone else involved in setting Odell Barnes up to be executed. 
    •  POGUE: And even though this evidence was given to the Court -- the Board of Pardons and Paroles, they still executed him. I mean it's unbelievable. So when people say mistakes are made, this is no mistake. 
    •  POGUE: Odell Barnes was murdered by the state with the complicity of the D.A., and all the lab people, probably, I mean I'm assuming, I mean who could not have known? And then when the evidence was given to the Board of Pardons and Paroles, they blew it off. 
    •  POGUE: I mean this is unimaginable. So I think the difficulty for the general public— It's difficult for the ordinary person, I think to fully accept something like this, to really sit down and let it soak in, because it gets to the point where if you see enough of these incidences, you can't take anything for granted in a courtroom. It's just hard, it would be really hard to believe any evidence without looking at the total context. 
    •  POGUE: Another example is -- there was a man from Mexico in Houston, in a car with another man and there was shootout with a police officer. The police officer -- I think he was killed with say, a forty-five bullet. The other man who was in the car, I think he did have a gun but it was a nine-millimeter pistol. 
    •  POGUE: So what the police did, was they took the gun from the man who was killed in the shootout and traded it with the other man who just happened to be in the car because they wanted a live person to go to the death chamber as a human sacrifice against the fact that a policeman was killed. 
    •  POGUE: And if you sit there and let that soak in, it wasn't enough that the fellow who shot the police officer was killed in the act of doing so. They wanted somebody to go to the execution chamber. And you think, Well that's an odd and unique circumstance, except it isn't unique. 
    •  POGUE: It's the same circumstance as the Thin Blue Line, Randall Dale Adams, who picked up a hitchhiker. The hitchhiker had killed a police officer but he was fourteen and the police and the prosecutors knew the fourteen year old would not receive the death penalty, and so they shifted the blame to someone who hadn't done it because they wanted a public execution. They wanted a human sacrifice for the death of the police officer. 
    •  POGUE: And if you think about that, those two incidences, and you think well there might be others, but really the basic thing is the desire for a human sacrifice. I mean this is taking us back thousands of years. 
    •  POGUE: There is a good book by Barbara Ehrenreich, the Passions for War, about how human sacrifice was a common element among many cultures if you go back far enough into history. That's where altars come from. The altar was the place of human sacrifice and now the sacrifices have become symbolic over thousands of years. 
    •  POGUE: But the psychological desire-- for that human sacrifice -- is alive and well today and maybe in more areas than just the killing of a police officer if we think about it. 
    •  POGUE: As a matter of fact, I've talked to people who belong to victims' rights organizations, and I think one of the most chilling moments it was over near the Capitol when I was talking to one of the people and I said, Well, we do know that innocent people are sometimes executed, and the person only put up a mild argument against that because I could come up with any number of examples. 
    •  POGUE: And they finally said, "Well, it really doesn't matter. It's okay if a few innocent people are executed if that stops other people from murdering." Now the contradiction there is what stunned me. In other words, you're willing to murder an innocent person in order to stop an innocent person from being executed? 
    •  POGUE: The total anti-logic of that— In other words, it was the passion, the desire that somebody, somebody, I mean literally, a body, be offered up for someone else's loss, which is the same as the cases of the police force. This unfortunately is a universal desire on the part of many people and it's manifested blatantly in the death penalty in the United States and other places. 
    •  POGUE: And because I've been involved in prison reform, I've heard a lot of testimony and I've read the statistical surveys in states where there is and states where there is not a death penalty, the murder rates are similar. 
    •  POGUE: And then of course I know that in the United States the murder rate is astronomically, geometrically higher than in any other country in the world, really. 
    •  POGUE: And even if you take into consideration the number of guns that are available throughout the population, the number of guns available throughout the population -- the number of guns available to the population of Canada, for instance, is the same. Their murder rate is much lower than in the United States and there are other countries that are similar. 
    •  POGUE: And so when you are searching for the cause of this and because of the work in prison reform, I know that studies have been done and that the majority of people who are in prison in any given state come from very few zip codes, for instance. 
    •  POGUE: And the reason that more people go to prison from certain zip codes, meaning geographical areas and neighborhoods, is because those are what you would call "blighted," underprivileged, economically depressed areas. Places where you have this sort of synergistic combination of no jobs, not as good of a public educational situation, not as good a health care, every social benefit is less, and so people are driven by circumstances into crime and it becomes very obvious. 
    •  POGUE: On top of that, you think about the whole country of the United States as being the only western, industrial nation without universal health care. The whole country has a philosophy of -- has a "the devil take the hindmost" approach, that if you don't have material goods and you're not doing well, it's your own fault and no one else's and there is no reason why we should do anything about it other than put people in prison. 
    •  POGUE: And what's happened in the United States is that with mandatory sentencing, people staying in jail for a longer time, extremely longer time than say European countries, that the prisons become overcrowded. there's really no hope of rehabilitating people, but even if there were, that would have to be a focus and to be a focus, it would have to be an intent, and a philosophy and an overarching guided principle, and in many European countries it is. 
    •  POGUE: And there is -- I wish I could remember this fellow's name, he's a Belgian sociologist -- he said, "Here in Belgium, we want to fix the problem. In the United States, they want to fix the blame. They want to find someone to blame." Well fine, you find someone to blame, but that doesn't change anything, so unless you want to change for the better, than nothing is going to happen. 
    •  POGUE: Of course I've been in the Colorado prison system too, and the Colorado prison system had many good programs to show me. They had built a brand new institution for mentally ill, mentally deficient, and prisoners with psychological problems. 
    •  POGUE: The only problem, the difficulty, though, in talking to the staff was they said as soon as they opened the door they filled it up. They could probably build two or three more facilities just like it. And the other disturbing thing to me was they had people in there who were so mentally deficient that they couldn't read or write. I mean they could not learn to read or write. They didn't have the intelligence to do so. 
    •  POGUE: But I was talking to, it was a woman, who was teaching these men how to open a can of soup, how to pour it into a bowl and how to use a microwave. They were teaching these men how to iron a shirt, the most basic tasks. So this had to do both with their mental inability and their family upbringing they'd obviously had no supervision. No one had taken the time or they didn't have the skills or people with the skills to help them. They weren't made available, all of these things. 
    •  POGUE: And these follows, they were not mean or brutal. I don't know what they had possibly done to be put into a state prison, which is fantastically expensive as opposed to the same services in a civilian situation, in a normal place. 
    •  POGUE: It was a huge waste of money, but on the bright side in Colorado— well, I mean they had this facility. I have not seen such a facility in Texas, but in Colorado they had that even though they need more of it. 
    •  POGUE: Well they also, in the regular prison system, they had extensive greenhouses where they grew plants and I photographed the prisoners making flower arrangements to be sold commercially, and many of these men were repeated drug offenders, but they were non-violent. 
    •  POGUE: They hadn't obtained their drugs through burglary or robbery. They simply were picked up in possession of drugs too many times, so they were non-violent drug offenders. 
    •  POGUE: And one fellow said that working with the plants was the best therapy he had ever received and he was hoping that once he got out of prison, he could continue working in plant nurseries. 
    •  POGUE: So on one hand I'm happy that Colorado had this, they had this facility, they had these green houses, they had these non-violent prisoners doing pleasant work that's helpful to their mental state. On the other hand is why are they in prison? They hadn't shot anybody. They hadn't threatened anyone. They got picked up in possession of drugs of some kind. Well they needed to be helped, perhaps, but to put them in a full-blown prison is another enormous waste of money. 
    •  POGUE: So you see that in the prison system and then, of course, there's the guards. 
    •  POGUE: I've also photographed for the guards' unions that are affiliated with the A.F.L.-C.I.O., and from listening to the guards, I found out that many of them are very young and one of the reasons for that is the attrition, the turnover of guards is huge because they are ill trained, they're not paid very much in relation to the job that their doing, most prisons are in rural areas so you're away from cities. 
    •  POGUE: There aren't enough guards. They're chronically understaffed, which leads to very dangerous situations for the guards. They're often alone and there's no backup and what many people don't realize that, for good reason, guards are unarmed because their gun could easily be taken away from them and used against them. So they're unarmed amongst hundreds of prisoners out of sight of anyone that could help them a lot of the time. 
    •  POGUE: And this has led to the murder of some guards in the Texas prison system. So the lack of care for --taking care of the prisoners also leads to, really, a lack of taking care of the guards as well within our prison system because once the state spends the two or three billion dollars, which Texas has spent, to build these huge brick and mortar maximum security prisons, which is the only type we build here in this state, 
    •  POGUE: then the prisons have to be physically maintained and staffed, which is another huge amount of money which is often not taken into consideration when they're projecting the cost of having the prison at all. Well you know, it's like having a house and thinking you're never going to have to repair it. You're never going to have to fix the roof. You're never going to have to fix the wiring. You're never going to have to mow the lawn. 
    •  POGUE: Well no, it doesn't work that way and it's just an amazing lack of foresight, but at least I think in the last couple of legislative sessions in Texas, even the more conservative members of the legislature have noticed the gross amount of money that has been spent and the fact that nothing good has come of it. 
    •  POGUE: I mean, if you could say that all of a sudden things are better -- well as a matter of fact most of the major crime indicators are down but generally speaking that has to do with the state of the general economy, which at this moment, as we know, is very bad. 
    •  POGUE: So I hate to say it but if our largest banking lending insurance institutions are having a very hard time at this moment in the credit crunch, the lack of building, what that means is fewer jobs. There will be fewer construction jobs, there will be massive layoffs, and once we have a lot of unemployment, you know we're going to have a surging crime — 
    •  POGUE: You know, I wish it were otherwise, but if we're going to have less crime then you have good, to have the ability of the average person to obtain health care, the average ability to obtain education, and jobs. 
    •  POGUE: And the difference between the United States and every other industrialized nation in the world is that the jobs and the health care and unemployment insurance are better that these other countries take these things for granted that these are things the state has to do. 
    •  POGUE: People who want to make fun of the state doing things, then I think they ought to consider what if we privatized the fire department and you could have your fire put out if you paid enough but if you didn't, they just let your house burn to the ground? It's as simple as that. So if people say it's all right for us to have— I think it's thirty-four million -- people with no health insurance whatsoever and people increasingly unable to send their children to higher education, then the effect on the entire society is like having several houses burning down in your neighborhood simultaneously. 
    •  POGUE: Or for instance, if the police were "pay-as-you-go" and if you got beat up and robbed, your house was robbed, your store was robbed or whatever, you would be helped directly in proportion to how much money you paid the police. Then it would become nothing but a protection racket. The police would be a protection racket instead of being a social service, which it is now. 
    •  POGUE: And so if people would think of health and education the same way, then we would have a society in which people simply weren't stressed out all the time, worried about if the company they work for goes under, then poof!, there goes their medical insurance, their paycheck, their house, their mortgage, everything, it just goes right down the tubes. So we really need to think about the whole society as a unit and how all the parts fit together and affect each other. 
    •  POGUE: But prison conditions and in particular the death penalty, they point to a very negative, primitive characteristic that is creating a problem and not solving anything. It's adding to our general malaise and unhappiness and not really, not helping at all. 
    •  POGUE: And in particular with the death penalty, what everyone I think recognizes is once you kill somebody, that's it. You're not bringing them back and if we have large numbers of innocent people on Death Row -- which is I think undeniable. I remember when Republican Governor Ryan stopped the death penalty in his state when he realized that fully fifty percent of people on Death Row were innocent of the charge. 
    •  POGUE: It— I think the perpetuation of the death penalty is a form of mental illness in itself because it matches the definition of neurosis. When you keep doing the same thing and getting a bad result and you keep doing the same thing thinking somehow it will change, even if you don't change— 
    •  POGUE: That's the very definition of mental illness. I just wish that as a society we would come to the conclusion that if we want things to be different, we have to do something different. 
    •  RAYMOND: This is a really lot to think about. How are we doing on time? 
    •  GABRIEL SOLIS: Twelve minutes. 
    •  RAYMOND: Twelve minutes. Let me— first -- I just have to say something. What you were saying about the fire reminds me of Thurgood Marshall's questions and commentary during the argument at the Supreme Court about Plyler versus Doe, when he was quizzing the Texas Attorney General about would you put out the fire of an undocumented immigrant's house? 
    •  POGUE: Mmm hmm. 
    •  RAYMOND: And they said, "Well, yes. Of course." And [then Justice Marshall] said, "Well you would protect someone's property but not their children." 
    •  ALAN POGUE: Mmm-hmm. 
    •  RAYMOND: So I had to say that. I do want to ask you some questions about, and maybe this would be a good time to stop, about the changes that you've seen over the last couple of decades in prison reform and the anti-death penalty movement. So maybe we should switch now. 
     
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    Title:Interview with Alan Pogue
    Abstract:Alan Pogue is a photographer who has documented movements for social justice and the problems those movements seek to eliminate for four decades. In Video 1, Pogue explains his entry into the Texas prison reform movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s via civil rights, anti-war, and student organizing. A member of the Austin Prison Coalition, he soon met Pauline and Charlie Sullivan, founders of Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE). Pogue's commitment to prison reform paralleled his growth as a documentary photographer: in Video 1, he describes photographing prisons in connection with Ruíz v. Estelle, the longest-running prison lawsuit in U.S. history. In Videos 1 and 2, Pogue mentions specific people on Death Row. In Video 3, Pogue discusses the philosophy of incarceration and capital punishment as a form of human sacrifice. In Video 3, Pogue also addresses the conditions on Death Row; general access to prisons; prison reform and anti-death penalty movements; and the theological doctrine of predestination in relation to criminal justice policy. In Video 4, Pogue discusses Vietnam and his personal intellectual growth. In Video 5, Pogue discusses documentary photographer Russell Lee and the purpose, politics, and aesthetics of photography. In Videos 6 and 7, Pogue shares what he saw in numerous Latin American countries when he traveled on behalf of CURE, which produced a 2006 evaluation of prisons in member nations of the Organization of American States (OAS). This interview took place on October 8, 2008 at the Texas Center for Documentary Photography in Austin, Travis County, Texas.
    Sequence:2 of 7
    Contributors:
    • Virginia Marie RaymondRole: Interviewer
    • Gabriel Daniel SolisRole: Videographer
    • Kimberly Ambrosini-BaconRole: Transcriber
    • Kimberly Ambrosini-BaconRole: Proofreader
    Date Created:2008/10/08
    Languages:eng
    Geographic Focus:North America--United States--Texas
    Geographic Base:North America--United States--Texas--Austin
    Type of Resource:Moving image
    Genre:Interview
    Identifier:tav00014
    Rights:
      This electronic resource is made available by the University of Texas Libraries solely for the purposes of research, teaching and private study. All intellectual property rights are retained by the legal copyright holders. The University of Texas does not hold the copyright to the content of this file. Formal permission to reuse or republish this content must be obtained from the copyright holder.

     

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