Feazell, Vic (as D.A., McClennan County) (See Interview with Vic Feazell)
Garrett, Johnny Frank (see Interview with Bishop Emeritus Leroy Mathiessen interview)
Graham, Gary (see Sankofa, Shaka)
Guerra, Ricardo Aldape (see Gloria Rubac)
Justice, William Wayne (Judge, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas) (See Interview with Larry Daves, Interview with Gloria Rubac)
Lucas, Henry Lee (See Interview with Vic Feazell)
Marshall, Thurgood, Justice
Mock, Ron (not named by Pogue, but referred to as Shaka Sankofa/Grah Graham's trial lawyer)
Penry, Johnny Paul. (See Annotation section of this interview)
"the Pope" - In 1998, this was Pope John Paul II
Ruíz, David (See
Ruíz v. Estelle, Annotations section of this interview; See Interview of Larry Daves; Interview of Gloria Rubac)
Topics (HRDI thesaurus)
Table of Contents
Death Row Conditions
Access to prisons
Henry Lee Lucas
Karla Faye Tucker
Criminally insane on death row
Calmness due to threat of isolation
Vigils and protests
Karla Faye Tucker's execution
Photograph death chamber
Shaka's case and trial
Prison reform and anti-death penalty movements
Social and racial disparity
Anti-death penalty groups better organized
Theology of predestination as a contributing factor in Texas prisons and death penalty
Calvinist perspective and evangelical protestantism
Video 7 of "Interview with Mr. Alan Pogue"
armed conflict and persecution
civil and political rights
ethnic and racial discrimination
economic, social, and cultural rights
economic and labor rights
social and cultural rights
laws, justice, and judicial proceedings
prisons and prisoners
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POGUE: Yes, I've been to the old Ellis Unit, which is near Huntsville, and then the new unit. It was the Terrell Unit but then they changed it to Polunsky
because the man named Terrell -- I think he had a heart attack and had a near death experience -- he said he didn't want his name associated with the death penalty.
POGUE: He said after he experienced the terror of almost dying himself, he could have his name associated with an institution that caused that kind of mental
stress on other human beings.
POGUE: And you can imagine, he had been a member of the Texas Board of Directors of the prison system and so when he made that switch, it was dramatic.
POGUE: But I've also been to Mountain View, which is the women's unit where women who have been sentenced to death stay.
POGUE: Now all of the executions themselves take place at Huntsville at a part of the building that has the execution chamber and a row of cells.
POGUE: It's rare that you would have more than one person there at a time even though there's at least six holding cells that lead up to the death chamber,
which is a fairly stark room with what looks like a standard operating table bolted to the floor, but that's where they inject the people with various drugs.
RAYMOND: Can you tell us about your visits to these different places, starting with Ellis? What brought you there, specifically? How did you get permission
to visit Death Row, and what exactly, as much as you can remember, did you see there?
POGUE: Well I've been photographing for the
Texas Observerfor many years and I would go usually in relation to a story that was being written for the
Texas Observer. So the Texas Observer would have to make contact with the prison public relations person who would schedule a time and meet me at the prison, which I thought was
interesting that they would go to all that trouble, but the prison system is very, very aware of how it's viewed in the state, in the nation, and internationally.
POGUE: And so they want to limit the access of the media to the prisons and they want to limit it specifically if they think the person, the news agency, the
newspaper, the television station or the individual reporter is going to say something they basically don't like, then they won't give them access.
POGUE: I have been at the prison system when they have refused access to people say from Italy because they knew the Italians have a very strong anti-death
penalty group, but they would let someone in from Germany.
POGUE: They let our newspaper reporter in from Dallas but not New York State. So on the one hand it seems arbitrary, on the other hand, no. You see what
they're trying to do.
POGUE: But the
Texas Observerhas been publishing here in the state of Texas for decades, since 1954. They're highly regarded and so I've never been denied access.
POGUE: And I would show up and in the beginning, it would be Ellis Unit, and Ellis Unit is older. It seems to me for the most part it's a single story. It's
about twenty miles outside of Huntsville itself in the wooded area, rural, very rural. You have to go down two-lane narrow highways to get there, go past a guard post and they probably want to
look in your car, look in your trunk. You park your car, you go up to the heavy chain link gate and there's a guard tower and they look at your identification.
POGUE: I would be met there by the public relations person, who would be with me the whole time. I was only supposed to take pictures, specific pictures of
people that I was there to photograph and not the prison in general.
POGUE: And I would go to the visitation room and the visitation room had some kind of glass, perhaps bulletproof glass, but then there would be a space at
least a foot high. It was made of very tight, strong mesh so at least I would be able to speak with my own voice to the prisoner and they, in turn, could speak to me.
POGUE: And the mesh was so fine, of course, that you couldn't get anything through it, but there would be that glass and as a photographer, I learned that I
needed to bring big pieces of black paper or whatever I needed to do to cut down on the amount of reflection from the glass so that I could photograph through it.
POGUE: And I would generally be able to speak to the person for say an hour, but when it changed to the Terrell then Polunsky Unity, it was much
POGUE: When I'd go into the visitation room, the entire surface between myself and the prisoner was bulletproof glass. The only way I could talk to the
person on the other side of it was with a telephone.
POGUE: Well of course for me personally, I couldn't be manipulating a telephone and taking pictures simultaneously.
POGUE: And that was so cold not to be able to actually hear the person's voice but to have to deal with the telephone and then the time limit was shorter. I
can't remember if it was fifteen minutes or half an hour.
POGUE: On the other hand, I recall if it was a busy day and several prisoners were in these little booths on their side, I was able to go from prisoner to
prisoner and I photographed several people even though they weren't on my official list of people to be interviewed.
When I went to the women's unit— Oh and I forgot to say that the Polunsky Unit is farther away from Huntsville than the Ellis Unit. It's even more isolated
and it a larger structure but I've not been able to get into the housing part of Death Row, whereas in Ellis, I was.
POGUE: I was able to visit with a few prisoners at their cells, if not in their cells and they had very typical heavy metal bars, single, one person to a
cell, but they were able to speak to each other. The cells had bars but they were open and the cells were close enough together that prisoners could communicate with each other.
POGUE: Also, I was able to go into the uniform manufacturing facility where Death Row prisoners sat at sewing machines and made prison guard uniforms.
POGUE: I remember I interviewed Henry Lee Lucas who was very famous for having confessed to the murder of dozens if not hundreds of people, all of which
turned out to be bogus. He had killed one or maybe two people, but as long as he would continue to confess, the state officials would continue to take him out of the prison, onto the road and
take him from place to place so that he could basically clean up their books.
POGUE: And it wasn't until Attorney General Jim Mattox began to look into it and discovered that indeed -- again -- prosecutors, district attorneys, the
state police and other police departments were all in collusion to clean up their unsolved murder cases by having this fellow, Henry Lee Lucas, confess to crimes that he hadn't committed.
POGUE: And he was fed information so that he could make a more convincing confession.
POGUE: Of course the victims, the family members of the victims, the murder victims, were incredibly incensed because after all, that meant that the person
that did commit the crime was still out there.
POGUE: So one of the things that led to Jim Mattox looking into it was the District Attorney in Waco didn't believe that the cases in his area, that the
murders had been perpetrated by Henry Lee Lucas. He found that it would have been physically impossible for Henry Lee Lucas, for instance, to be in Florida and to have murdered someone in Texas
within the time frame.
POGUE: And I think that because he cast doubt on the whole confession scheme, he was personally put under a lot - a tremendous amount of pressure by the
F.B.I. I remember I interviewed him, I wish his name would come back to me.
SOLIS AND RAYMOND: Vic Feazell.
POGUE: Vic Feazell. Vic Feazell was almost bunkered in his office. He had two armed deputies flanking him at his desk. And when I say he was under pressure,
I mean they were trying to convict Feazell of something. It turned out Feazell was correct and the investigation by Jim Mattox proved that Henry Lee Lucas murdered someone, but the whole rest
of it was a huge scam on the part of the whole criminal justice system, except Vic Feazell and other people once it came to light, but that is so cynical, so...
POGUE: But back to the death penalty and the women's unit, I went to Mountain View. A writer here in town who worked with the
Chroniclewas going to interview Karla Faye Tucker, and this was I think in ninety-two, but the amazing thing to me was the guards and prison officials took us into a large, empty room --
other than one of those folding desks, like a four-by-eight, cafeteria-style table.
POGUE: And on one side, they brought in Karla Faye. She sat down, on the other side of the table it was myself and the writer and they allowed us to speak
with her for two hours. I could take all of the pictures I wanted.
POGUE: The guard went to the farthest corner away from us that the guard could achieve in the room. And so we were able to speak with her and I remember at
the end of the interview she stood up and she gave myself and the writer a big hug and they led her away.
POGUE: And that was unprecedented, and never happened before or since, that we're to sit down physically with no barrier for two hours and have a
POGUE: and I think it really was because both the prison officials of every level wanted Karla Faye's sentence to be commuted.
POGUE: It was very touching, though, because Karla Faye was quoting from the Old Testament and she said, well I did commit the crime and according to this
and that, you know, I deserve to be executed.
POGUE: So I encouraged her to read what Jesus had to say about forgiveness and there was none of this kind of retribution, heavy retribution aspect and if
she considered herself Christian then she should go by the words of Christ.
POGUE: And I also encouraged her to think about all of the people,
otherpeople on Death Row and that she should try very hard for the commutation of sentence for their benefit if not her own.
POGUE: I think that she -- I think she took to heart what I had to say. But personally I was totally convinced -- you know. A lot of people say, "Oh yeah,
people on Death Row, they all come to Jesus or they're all converted." Well that's not true. It's simply not true.
POGUE: I mean I have talked to some people on Death Row that scared me. They obviously were psychopathic killers. I mean -- and when I say that, I'm not
finding fault with them. They're mentally ill. They're mentally ill in a dangerous way and they should not, in fact, ever leave a highly structured situation. They would be a threat.
POGUE: I mean, I was, I've talked to a couple of guys where it was chilling. Their lack of— they were -- sociopaths— people who lack any kind of ability to
have empathy. So yes, but they are a very small minority of people even within the Death Row population.
POGUE: Most people I've talked to on Death Row, if they have in fact committed the crime they were convicted of, it was a crime of passion and circumstance.
It wasn't that they were professional killers of psychopaths, it was just the situation that they were in. Maybe they have low impulse control. Maybe they were on drugs. There are lots of
contributing factors. But they obviously were not a threat to themselves or others.
POGUE: You know, all the people that work in the garment, factory, for instance, have ready access to weapons. They are using these scissors that are about
that long and they have freedom of movement throughout that particular facility.
POGUE: They've all come to accommodate each other and the guards. The guards aren't afraid of them.
POGUE: I spoke with Johnny Penry, for instance, and Johnny Penry they -- oh I don't know -- has an I.Q. of sixty-five or something. I think he can print his
name, but he is so docile and so childlike that the guards treat him like a pet, like a mascot, like the water boy of the football team kind of idea, Johnny Penry.
POGUE: And he did in fact kill someone, but he was treated so badly as a child. He was unmercifully beaten and his relatives testified that his mother, I
don't know where his father was, beat him with whatever was handy at the moment, whether it was a mop handle or a broom or anything.
POGUE: I think even cigarettes were put out on his body. And this is not an unusual circumstance.
POGUE: There was another young man who killed a nun. He murdered and raped an elderly nun, but the thing is that his father was a brutal sadist and at the
time he killed the nun, he himself was homeless as a high school aged student and was sleeping under the bleachers of the football stadium.
POGUE: Did no one notice any of this? It's a horrible, horrible situation.
POGUE: So the people on Death Row are a wide, wide variety of people and situations and types and circumstances, but most of them are not a continuing threat
and the ones that are a continuing threat, for the most part, it's of no fault of their own.
POGUE: I remember, I remember, what was his name? Jorge Carrasco? I think it was Carrasco for sure, he was a big time heroin kingpin, but to me the humorous
thing was immediately they gave him a job as the chaplain's assistant.
POGUE: And once he had that job, he was able to have a gun sent to himself because he went through the mail. So there you have the case of a professional
criminal who is a continuing threat and the prison system itself gave him a job that was a security risk.
POGUE: So I don't know. Why am I thinking about that? I guess because it's the whole idea of security and a threat and that's one of the supposed reasons for
the death penalty. Well of course it's hard to be a threat on Death Row.
POGUE: It's impossible and it just shows how sane most of these guys are that they realize, as anyone in society realizes, that if you are in fact a
continuing threat, they'd spend the rest of their time in utter isolation and that's what human beings find the most difficult to take is solitary confinement will drive people crazy if they're
not crazy already.
POGUE: So with not the threat of being beaten or other things, but the threat of being isolated is what I think brings all these people, even on Death Row,
to act in a civilized manner towards each other.
POGUE: So the idea that the general public might have that if you went to Death Row, myself, my life would be in danger, I never felt uncomfortable, ever. No
one ever looked at me the wrong way on Death Row.
POGUE: I've been a little bit nervous in other prisons in the general population, but for the same reason a guard would I suppose.
POGUE: And I even realize that a part of that was irrational on my part because in truth, if a person is not a member of a society, in a functional way,
they're not a factor. I'm not a gang member. I'm not a part of anything. I'm just a visitor to a prison and my presence in a prison is about meaningless to the pecking order, the social
relationships of the people who are in the prison situation.
POGUE: So I really have nothing to fear except for my sort of irrational fears. No one ever threatened me.
POGUE: I remember when I went to the prison systems in the middle seventies, the prison officials were sort of cold to me. I remember I was photographing in
one Texas prison and they had the prison photographer stand next to me and ever time I took a picture, he would stand literally where I had been standing and take a picture in that direction so
that they would have a record sort of of whatever I had photographed.
POGUE: And they brought him in from I don't know where at a huge expense. I mean I suppose I could have just made pictures of my pictures for them as well.
POGUE: It was intimidation and also I recall, this was pre-
Ruiz versus Estelle, I noticed a guard was passing a handful of keys to a prisoner so I went for my camera and three guards jumped, literally jumped in front of me because they didn't
want me to get a picture of a guard passing keys to a prisoner because that was highly against the rules.
Prisoners are never supposed to be handling keys like that, but it was proof of the whole building tender process, and situation, so.
RAYMOND: When you visited Death Row, at least at the Ellis Unit, just to get back to the comparison of the prisons that you talked about earlier, was there
that same problem of filth and unfix-ability or were they okay?
POGUE: I thought it was basically okay. Physically it was pretty much one story. I didn't get into the pipe chases, so I can't be certain. It was older so it
was kind of worn down around the edges but they have a lot of people there who can clean so they certainly kept the place pretty clean, but I didn't get into the kitchens. I didn't get into
every part of it the way I did for the prisoners in
Ruiz versus Estelle.
POGUE: The cells were older and smaller, but they looked basically okay. I remember particularly from the prisons that had all the junk. I remember the
Coffield Unit and I remember Clemens. Clemens was very old. It was so old that the cement steps were worn down, all of the footfalls and all of the shoes, and the paint was peeling off the
bars. And of course the latrines, the toilets they didn't work and the overflowing trash cans. Yeah, I thought Ellis was just — It was as clean as it could be considering its age as far as I
RAYMOND: Have you been to any of the vigils outside of -- in Huntsville on the days that— Can you tell us about it? And just for all that time you were
working on the Ruíz case in the seventies, there was no death penalty in practice in Texas, so that doesn't start until '82. Can you tell us about what vigils you've gone to and what it was
like at those vigils?
POGUE: Well the first one that comes to mind because it was so dramatic was Karla Faye Tucker. It was because the numbers of people were large, very large.
There had to be at least half a dozen of those big T.V. satellite trucks, hundreds of people milling around as close as they could physically get to the Death Row, and I remember we were fairly
POGUE: There was a media staging area with lots of telephones in a building and then typically they'll have family members for the person who had been
murdered and family members of the prisoner and a certain number of witnesses that will be allowed into the death chamber.
POGUE: If you imagine the death chamber is just a concrete cubicle room with an operating table in the middle of it. Then there's some glass and there's a
room that's divided and the victim's family and the prisoner's family are separated by a solid wall, but they each have a huge glass window to look out at the execution taking place, of course
I was not in there but I've seen it.
POGUE: And then outside, the staging area, the people waiting, the media that can get closer, and then there'd be a barricade and then I remember a big
parking lot full of people, hundreds of people, some of them just there to see.
POGUE: We had more people that were anti-death penalty but then a considerable amount of people who were for the death penalty. You had some of the victims'
rights people, but then you had people who had these crude signs: "Inject her now." Very crude, both in the production and in the sentiment.
POGUE: I think the executions were fairly close together. Then Larry Robison, that was big but of course nothing was as big as Karla Faye's execution because
of the international part to it. I remember there was a big contingent of the Italian group, Hands off Cain, and maybe some Japanese against the death penalty. It was very international.
RAYMOND: You're talking here about Karla Faye Tucker?
POGUE: Karla Faye Tucker's execution.
RAYMOND: I just want to clarify also one thing that you said before. When you were describing the death chamber and the place where people could view, you
said of course you weren't there but you've seen it.
POGUE: Oh, I've photographed inside the chamber when no execution was taking place but I've never witnessed an execution.
POGUE: A little side bar to that is, there was a person who was a public relations officer for the Texas prison system and he had given his notice that he
POGUE: And so he asked me, "What do you want to photograph?" And so I said, Well the death chamber and I want to talk to Eugene Broxton on Death Row, and I
want to do this, I want to do that. So he said, "Okay, let's do it. Hey -- what can they do? I'm leaving." So he took me around and let me photograph whatever I wanted to photograph.
RAYMOND: Do you know why he was leaving? Did he share that with you?
POGUE: I could only speculate. I just thought he was unhappy and I think it was wearing on him psychologically.
RAYMOND: He wasn't at a retirement age that that would have been the reason?
POGUE: I don't think so. I think he might have been doing it for awhile. Typically, you have people who worked with television stations or newspapers who
obtain this job, but he wasn't the highest up person. The highest up person stayed with the job until he retired. He was like the second or third in command person, so he let me in.
POGUE: And then Larry Robison, that was pretty big
POGUE: and then there was Shaka Sankofa. That was the name that he chose for himself. It's not only remembering that, but that was also very, very big
because he— The evidence against him was very weak. A man was murdered in a parking lot of a grocery store in Houston at night and there were several witnesses to the murder.
POGUE: One of them was an Anglo woman and from a distance she said she thought it looked like him. And then there were five other people who were African
American who said, "No." They couldn't pick him out as a person.
POGUE: And then he also had people who swore that this fellow was with them when the crime took place and so as it turned out, only the weak identification
of the one Anglo woman was the one that meant anything and he was convicted of murder and spent more than a dozen years on Death Row, at least.
POGUE: It was a huge controversy and it galvanized hundreds and hundreds of people in Houston to come to Austin several times demanding only a retrial.
Let's have a retrial.
POGUE: Oh, and then his own lawyer, his own lawyer who was appointed to defend him came out publicly and said that he had done nothing to defend him, that
there were even leads to his innocence that he hadn't followed up.
POGUE: He declared himself incompetent. He was incompetent defense, which that was a reason for a retrial in itself, but that just to me shows how barbaric
the whole process is. I mean if the fellow's own lawyer—
POGUE: And I'm not a lawyer but I can just imagine being willing to come out publicly and say I did a bad job, which led to this fellow's conviction, and yet
there wouldn't be a retrial. It's amazing.
POGUE: And I interviewed— God, I'm having a block -- Shaka. Shaka Sankofa. Well, he chose that name because Shaka was a Zulu warrior who united the tribe in
Africa and Sankofa is a word that means to know the past in order to do better in the present and so it's a very significant name he gave himself --
POGUE: -- because he, as a significant number of prisoners do, he self educated and became more politically aware the longer he was on Death Row.
POGUE: But I visited Shaka two weeks before his execution and he was very strong. Of course he hoped that justice would be done, but he had been around long
enough to realize it probably wouldn't be done.
POGUE: But he was calm, and as many people do who sort of see the inevitability of injustice, he was just hoping that people would learn from it or
something, and he's just one of many.
POGUE: But his execution was also big because of the hundreds of hundreds of people which began in Houston and spread all over the state and the United
States were aware of just what a grave injustice this was.
POGUE: And he also, he's also willing to admit that he had committed a number of crimes, but that's the problem. Odell Barnes had committed a number of
crimes, but he hadn't committed
thatcrime and he hadn't committed -- he had never murdered anyone, and so it's like Henry Lee Lucas. It's a way to clear the books, or maybe it's a way to convict one person rather than
another, as in Odell Barnes' case.
POGUE: So if a person is aware of all of these things, it becomes very difficult to put your faith in the criminal justice system, so.
RAYMOND: Remembering -- you've been involved in CURE, you've been present at many, many movements of social justice, many demonstrations, at many rallies,
many meetings over so --
POGUE: Forty years.
RAYMOND: Forty years, over forty years. And I wonder if you have any observations about the prison reform movement in its different incarnations and the
anti-death penalty protestors or abolitionist movements in their many incarnations over the last forty years. Who are part of these groups? Are there distinctions in the groups that you can
see? And what kind of changes have you seen? And I'm also particularly interested in asking all these questions -- these are areas I'm interested in, so it's not a particular question -- in
demographics, class-wise, ethnicity or so-called "race"-wise. Who shows up and who continues in these movements?
POGUE: Well, the death penalty movement is the, one of the most diverse, because although justice is very unequal in its application, still there are a
number of financially better off, usually parents of usually a son who had committed a murder and been convicted so there are a number of sort of more economically advantaged people affected
who therefore become a part of the anti-death penalty movement, I've noticed.
POGUE: On the other hand, as a general thing, the percentages of people -- say like in Texas I think the African American population is about eleven percent,
but I forget -- but I think it's at least twenty-five percent or higher on Death Row. I don't want to say fifty percent. I mean there's a good number of Anglos on Death Row and Hispanics -- but
it's always at least double the percentage in the general population.
POGUE: It's just, it's so much easier to convict a poor person and if -- because they don't have access to defense.
POGUE: In a place like Washington D.C. where I've been, of course they have a huge African American population and economically a not so well off, so more
than fifty percent of the people who belong to CURE are African American in D.C. I've been to the D.C. county jail.
POGUE: Whereas in Texas, of course you're going to have a higher Hispanic percentage, and also out of proportion to their percentage in the general
POGUE: And individual chapters or individual groups will vary, like anything else, because as I've always noted, there's no money in working for peace and
justice. Your "product," so to speak, you're trying to sell is social justice and so groups will be stronger, they'll be weaker. A lot of it will depend on personalities.
POGUE: The issues are there constantly. They never change. It's the ability of people to organize around them will change.
POGUE: I've seen the anti-death penalty groups get stronger, better organized, organized nationally. I've been to Washington D.C. every July, I think it is,
they have a demonstration in front of the Supreme Court and particularly moving are the family members of murder victims against the death penalty. They are very eloquent and very well
POGUE: And he anti-death penalty group is a subgroup of CURE, for instance. They have issue groups. And I know that, for instance Ken and Lois, have stayed
very active in the anti-death penalty movement even after their son was executed because, of course, a lot of people that get involved with anything are involved because of self-interest and so
once their self-interest no longer exists, then they can fade.
POGUE: But many people in the anti-death penalty part of the prison reform movement are dedicated in principle. Whether they are a relative or a survivor or
family member of someone who's been murdered, they, I think for many reasons, because it has to do with life and death, because it has to do with murder, and because it— of all the things I
mentioned about the gross miscarriages of justice within the death penalty, it's a particularly galvanizing issue. And so people tend to, once they get involved, stay involved.
POGUE: Whereas I've seen a lot of people in the prison reform movement, once their relative is out of prison, well fine. They go on to other things. So it's
difficult to organize people and keep them organized when it takes up their time, it's not making them any money, it's costing them money, and then, as I said, once they have no personal
interest in it.
POGUE: But nonetheless, there are a lot of people who get involved and stay involved even in the other issues besides death penalty issues. And I think
there's been a lot of movement particularly, well D.N.A., the whole D.N.A. thing has helped because they can prove that people didn't commit a crime or that other people committed a crime. It's
a very strong physical evidence.
POGUE: But beyond that it has cast a very strong light on the faults and even the crimes committed by the state in prosecuting these people to begin with and
I think it's caused a lot of doubt in the general population for once because the evidence of widespread and continued prosecution of innocent people is just so dramatic.
POGUE: And then there are groups, I think of Barry Scheck, anti-death penalty groups, professional lawyers. I visited offices in New Orleans of lawyers who
do post-conviction work and I spoke to an African American man who was in a wheelchair because in the process of being arrested for a crime he didn't commit, he was paralyzed being shot in the
back. And so now he spends his time working with and for the appeals process for death penalty people. So all of those people are extremely dedicated.
RAYMOND: That's helpful and important. You've watched these movements for forty years, you've traveled to South America, to Europe, to the Mid East and
around the United States to work on social justice issues and document them, document both the problems and the movements against those problems, for social justice. Why do you think the death
penalty persists in Texas? What is it about Texas?
POGUE: One of the things I learned from photographing farm workers that leads to part of the answer, I remember in particular photographing farm workers in
northern Mexico and it became very clear to me the difference between people who came from a northern European background and people that came from a Mediterranean background.
POGUE: And the people in Mexico, the Latin American population, is a combination of southern Mediterranean culture, unfortunately the conquistadors and
others, but yet the southern Mediterranean culture meshing in with the people that lived here to begin with, as opposed to the northern European Anglo culture and the difference in their
outlook on life.
POGUE: And what it really comes down to is their theory of human nature and unfortunately, a northern European culture, particularly evangelical
Christianity, is heavily, heavily influenced by John Calvin and John Calvin ran a theocracy in Switzerland. He was from France but he had a total predestination religion. That was his theory,
that from all time each soul was destined to go to heaven or hell and there's really nothing in this life to be done about it.
POGUE: And so, conveniently, since people do want to know if they're going to heaven or hell, they decided that if a person did well materially in this life
and were well thought of, were happy, healthy, prosperous, and rich, that was a sign of God's love. And if they were poor, it was a sign that God did not love them and they were going to
POGUE: So there was a huge pressure to do well and that gets into the creepy part of -- you could do well materially by exploiting others, but you had to
have a benevolent face so there was also a pressure on doing good works in public that made people think well of you, no matter really how you made the money.
POGUE: Because really, material well being was a sign of God's love and it doesn't really matter where the money comes from. It could be drugs and
prostitution as long as people thought well of you in the process. It's the whole creepy part of Calvinism.
POGUE: But the southern Mediterranean peoples of Europe had more of an idea that a person is, in the terms of current religious dialogue, justified by works.
It's what you do that matters. That's what matters. It's your character. Nothing is predestined and that a person wins salvation.
POGUE: It's not given to them. It's not by, simply by the eternal grace. It's because you are in fact a person who does good things. It doesn't matter how
much money you have. You can be very poor but if you are of good character, that is the only thing that matters. Character.
POGUE: And so -- and the reason I thought about this is every time I would go and photograph the farm workers, after a certain number of years, I would
occasionally be asked to talk to sociology students at the University of Texas, particularly the visual sociology classes given by Gilbert Cárdenas.
POGUE: And I would be showing photographs and I would often show photographs of living conditions, and people, farm workers, would often have pretty wretched
living conditions, falling-apart houses, even old World War Two army barracks in the Panhandle, all kinds of things.
POGUE: And there would be a certain number of people who would ask me, Why did they allow you to photograph them in these conditions?" So I thought about
that. Well, because those were the conditions.
POGUE: Well, why would they not allow, why would they object? Why
POGUE: Why would these people be asking me -- ? Well it was because they wouldn't want to be depicted in a less than stellar environment, that that would be
a bad reflection on them.
POGUE: The students asking me this question thought that if they wouldn't want someone to come to their home if they didn't live in a mansion because it
would be a bad reflection on them. Well, why? How exactly?
POGUE: Well because it would be a sign that they weren't worthy. They weren't loved by God. And so really it all snapped into place for me. Okay, I get it.
Then if you do well and God loves you, fine, but then there's no reason to help anyone because if God doesn't love them, why should I? It's not up to me.
POGUE: I mean if God doesn't want them to live in a mansion, that's why they're not living in a mansion. There's no social gospel. There may be noblesse
oblige, the idea that out of my wealth and munificence and kindness, I'll sprinkle a few nice things on the less worthy just because I feel like it, because it makes me look good, not because
I'm necessarily in a relationship with people.
POGUE: And so the death penalty is another example. If a person winds up in a situation where they are in prison and on Death Row, that's because God doesn't
love them. It is because they are eternally deficient.
POGUE: And that's the other reason why there is no rehabilitation, and particularly in Texas, because you can't help someone who's beyond help. It's just
hopeless and I think that the evangelical Christian influence, and this is historically easily traceable from John Calvin through others, is the philosophical basis for really what amounts to
POGUE: And the whole frontier spirit, and some of it comes from Scotch Irish Protestantism as well as German and English evangelical Protestantism.
POGUE: So I think if, when you think about this, people's attitudes, particularly that whole idea that those that commit these crimes, it's because of an
irrevocable internal flaw, and then you start thinking about that as a philosophy, and as an idea of the essential human nature of people. It means that people are un-teachable, that you're
somehow magically born with a defective soul.
POGUE: But this is not scientific, this is all theological, and it's of a certain type heavily infected with this idea in the South and the West of the
POGUE: So that's my thoughts on it. But if you talk to somebody, I think particularly in relation to children and their own children, nobody wants to think
that this is true about themselves or anyone they love or their own family members. They want the people that they know to be helped and to receive certain advantages.
POGUE: I mean no one is born with a PhD in their hand. You have to go through a huge learning process, and people will say, as the tree is bent, so it
POGUE: So why don't they think, well, if the tree is
abused, it's not going to grow well? If the tree is watered, it
isgoing to grow well. People recognize that, but these irrational philosophical thoughts about human nature are an excuse and it's very closely tied to racist ideas and this, the whole
pseudoscientific basis for racism that was brought forth.
POGUE: And trying to say that there are these whole groups of people that because they're deficient, have to be looked after and controlled by those who
are the elect, the elite, the people who are meant to govern.
POGUE: And so you can see how that part of Calvinism fits right in. So that's unfortunate and people will have to think real hard about ways of educating
people in our—
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.
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Alan PogueRole: Narrator
Texas After Violence ProjectRole: Collaborator
Virginia Marie RaymondRole: Interviewer
Gabriel Daniel SolisRole: Videographer
Kimberly Ambrosini-BaconRole: Transcriber
Kimberly Ambrosini-BaconRole: Proofreader
North America--United States--Texas
North America--United States--Texas--Austin
Type of Resource:
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