Interview with Gloria Rubac

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Terms:
 
 
 
Organizations 
  •  Prisoners Solidarity Committee 
  •  Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty 
  •  Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement 
 
Places 
  •  Huntsville, Texas 
  •  Sam Houston State University 
  •  Death Row 
  •  Texas Southern University 
  •  Oklahoma 
  •  Oklahoma State University 
  •  Houston, Texas 
  •  New York 
  •  Dominican Republic 
  •  Harris County, Texas 
  •  Galveston, Texas 
  •  Dallas, Texas 
  •  Monterrey, Mexico 
  •  Mexico City, Mexico 
  •  Shape Community Center 
  •  San Antonio, Texas 
 
People 
  •  Abu-Jamal, Mumia 
  •  Aldape Guerra, Ricardo 
  •  Amour, Jeanne (Sister) 
  •  Beathard, James 
  •  Brandley, Clarence 
  •  Bush, George W. (Texas Governor, then U.S. President) 
  •  Castro, Fidel Alejandro 
  •  Clark, Ramsey 
  •  Clements, Diane 
  •  "Connie" (Greg Wright's mother) 
  •  Earvin, Harvey "Tee" 
  •  Ferguson, Cheryl 
  •  Foster, Kenneth 
  •  Graham, Gary (see Sankofa, Shaka) 
  •  Graham, Theresa 
  •  Hinojosa, Juan (Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa) 
  •  Idar, Eduardo, Jr. (Ed Idar) 
  •  Johnson, Lyndon Baines (President) 
  •  Justice, William Wayne (Hon.) U.S. District Judge, Eastern District of Texas) 
  •  Keller, Sharon (Presiding Judge, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals) 
  •  King, Martin Luther, Rev., Dr. Jr. 
  •  McKinney, Cynthia 
  •  Newton, Frances Elaine 
  •  Nichols, Joseph 
  •  Nichols', Joseph's, mother (unnamed) 
  •  Pease, Icky 
  •  Perry, Rick (Texas Governor) 
  •  Quintero, Juan 
  •  Recer, Danalynn 
  •  Riley, Michael 
  •  Ruíz, David 
  •  Santana, Carlos 
  •  Trian, Robert 
  •  Tucker, Karla Faye 
  •  Whitmire, John (Texas State Senator) 
  •  Williams, Dana 
  •  Wright, Greg 
 
Topics  
 
Chapters 
  •  Introductions and consent 
  •  Visiting Death Row 
  •  Clarence Brandley 
  •  Shaka Sankofa (Gary Graham) 
  •  Ricardo Aldape Guerra 
  •  Kenneth Foster 
 
Table of Contents 
  •  Watch Video 1of "Interview with Ms. Gloria Rubac." 
 
Map 
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Transcript 
  •  BACON: You signed a consent form, but you verbally agree to consent to be interviewed? 
  •  GLORIA RUBAC: Oh sure. 
  •  BACON: Okay, great. Oh I'm sorry—Present in the room, myself, Kimberly Bacon's interviewing, Sabina Hinz-Foley is doing the camera. I guess to begin if you could just tell us a little about your background, the work you're doing, and how you've come to where you are today. 
  •  GLORIA RUBAC: My background—I'm a product of the 1960's, I grew up in the 1960's, I went to college in the sixties and that was a period of intense activism in this country and I've remained an activist for forty-something years. 
  •  RUBAC: So—getting involved with the death penalty was an extension of my prisoners' rights work that I have done before there was ever an execution in Texas, and all of that is just a continuation of my activism. 
  •  RUBAC: But in 1982, when Texas executed the first person after the death penalty had been reinstated, I was involved in organizing a protest and going to Huntsville for that execution. 
  •  RUBAC: It was something that had an incredible effect on me because the execution was at midnight, there had been some sort of gathering here at Houston at the Unitarian Church, and then some of us went to Huntsville. 
  •  RUBAC: And I guess the thing that really shocked me was two things—one the fact that somebody was being murdered by the state and the other was the fact that there were people celebrating out on the street. 
  •  RUBAC: And that just—I couldn't even believe that—and it was mainly students, college students from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville. That just blew my mind. 
  •  RUBAC: So, I don't know, I guess the state executing somebody was the most horrifying thing, but that these students were celebrating. 
  •  RUBAC: There were a few executions during the 1980s, and then in 1987, I started working with the coalition to free Clarence Brandley, and he was an innocent man who we finally got off Death Row. 
  •  RUBAC: But through Clarence I met several people on death row. Actually, I visited Clarence using press credentials—I write for Workers World Newspaper—and he had such a large family that there was no way that I could get on his visitor's list. So I would go visit him on media day. 
  •  RUBAC: Then one time, it must have been in the summer of 1987, or 1988. He said, "The guy sitting over there wants to talk to you." And I said, "Well, who is he?" He said his name is Tee Earvin. 
  •  RUBAC: So I went and talked to this guy, I walked over there, and he asked me to witness his execution. I'm like, "Whoa!" I'd been dealing with Clarence Brandley, a man we knew was innocent, a man we were very hopeful we were going to get off Death Row. 
  •  RUBAC: And here was somebody who was asking me to witness their execution. That wasn't the mode I was in—and I told him I would think about it and let him know. And I drove back to Houston—I was taking a summer school class at Texas Southern University at the time. 
  •  RUBAC: I was just like crying. I thought, Oh my God, how can I witness somebody being killed? I think they'd have to shoot me or something because I just don't think I can sit there and watch it happen. 
  •  RUBAC: And this guy that I had met was very intelligent, very handsome and he looked like he should be walking around on campus where I was taking a class, and not thinking about being executed. 
  •  RUBAC: I finally told him I would witness it. He wanted me to write about it and talk about it to activists and so on. So I agreed and then fortunately, he got a stay of execution. So that didn't happen then. 
  •  RUBAC: But that was such—in the eighties when this happened, the AIDS pandemic was really starting to become a huge thing. I knew a lot of young gay men who were dying of AIDS and I went to funerals. 
  •  RUBAC: And I kept thinking, for these young people to be executed, it's almost the same thing. They're like dying before their time, and it shouldn't be happening. Anyway, but that's a little bit of my background. 
  •  BACON: Could you talk a little bit about how you initially got into activism to begin with? 
  •  GLORIA RUBAC: Well, I grew up in Oklahoma, which is not a place known for its activism. But I was brought up a Catholic—I'm not religious at all now—but I remember the priest when I was in seventh or eighth grade at our elementary school, asking us to participate in lunch counter sit-ins. 
  •  RUBAC: And I did that, and then when I got in college, so much was happening between 1964 and 1968 when I was in college. And I got involved in what lot of what was going on, on my campus at Oklahoma State. 
  •  RUBAC: And then, I think the thing that changed my life was when Dr. King was murdered in April of the year I was going to graduate from college. 
  •  RUBAC: And I was so freaked out when I heard the news, and after I got out of class, I went to this bar that I hung out at, and I walked in and couldn't believe what I saw. 
  •  RUBAC: People that I thought were friends of mine, people I knew, were celebrating Dr. King being murdered. 
  •  RUBAC: And I walked out of that bar and said, Okay, I'm twenty-one years old, I've got to make a decision about my life." I said, These are not the people I want to be associated with, that I want to be friends with, I don't even want to know them. 
  •  RUBAC: So, I just figured there was a line in the sand and I'm going to be on one side or the other. So that day, I guess it was April 4th, 1968, I made the decision that I was going to remain an activist and that was going to be my life. 
  •  BACON: How did that affect your relationship to those people, the friends you had at that point, or your family? 
  •  GLORIA RUBAC: I never spoke to them again. I couldn't even—those weren't my bestfriends. But they were people I knew that I would hang out with and have a beer with and whatever. 
  •  RUBAC: But I was involved with the underground newspaper on campus— I think it was called, The Different Drummer. But I also worked on the campus newspaper—the college paper. 
  •  RUBAC: And then when I graduated in the next month, I decided I needed to get out of Oklahoma, so I came to Houston to visit some friends and I wound up staying here. 
  •  BACON: How long have you lived here? 
  •  GLORIA RUBAC: Since 1968. I was in New York two years, but in the mid-eighties. But other than that, I have been here. 
  •  BACON: I want to go back a little bit to talk about your work with prisoners and Clarence Brandley and how all that came about. 
  •  GLORIA RUBAC: Back in 1971—I think it was, some anti-war activists that I knew were talking about going to Huntsville to have a protest at the prison rodeo. And this was a big event every fall in Texas. 
  •  RUBAC: They don't do it anymore. It was a big moneymaking event for the prison system and prisoners would participate in the rodeo because they could earn, like five bucks or something for riding some crazy horse or whatever. 
  •  RUBAC: So these people were going down there to protest the use—the abuse of prisoners in the rodeo and prison conditions in general. So I went with them, and we protested right on the rodeo grounds. 
  •  RUBAC: They actually bused in prisoners from around the state to watch this rodeo. And we had signs and stuff. So when the prisoners were leaving, they were in these like school bus-type buses. 
  •  RUBAC: And they were hollering at us and we were talking to them through the bus windows. And somebody said, "Give me your address, I want to write you. What's your name?" 
  •  RUBAC: I don't know if they had pencils—I can't even remember how this happened. But after that day, I got several letters, and I started writing different prisoners. 
  •  RUBAC: And I got to know some of the activists in prison. This was, well, 1971 was the year of the Attica prison rebellionin New York, which was the beginning of a whole "birth" of a prison movement in this country as far as the prisoners inside. 
  •  RUBAC: And I worked with a national organization called the Prisoners Solidarity Committee. And in New York, one of our members had been invited by the Attica prisoners to go into Attica and represent them in negotiations with the prison officials after they took over the prison there. I guess Attica must have just happened. Attica was I believe in September of 1971. 
  •  RUBAC: I think the rodeo was in September or October. That year that we went to—but anyway, so I got to know different prison activists. And started visiting people in prison who were leaders of the activism in Texas. 
  •  RUBAC: And then in 1978—well seven prisoners had filed lawsuits against the Texas prison system. 
  •  RUBAC: And they were consolidated into one suit that became a class action lawsuit against the prison system and it was called Ruiz v. Estelle. And David Ruíz was a friend of mine. 
  •  RUBAC: Some ex-prisoners who had grown up in Austin with David, lived in Houston by the time that trial started. So the Prisoners Solidarity Committee began building support for David and for the prisoners that were going to testify in that lawsuit. 
  •  RUBAC: On the first day when the trial began, right over here in downtown Houston, we had—I don't know—fifty or a hundred people on the sidewalks in front of the Federal Courthouse with signs in support of the prisoners. 
  •  RUBAC: The morning that the trial began, prisoners in almost every unit, which wasn't the hundred and some-odd units—if I remember it was either seventeen units or twenty-seven units at that time. 
  •  RUBAC: They went on a hunger strike and a work strike. Maybe not a hunger strike, a work-stoppage—they just sat down. And we had brochures printed up for months ahead and we had gotten a lot of interest. 
  •  RUBAC: So at nine o'clock we all went upstairs for the Ruíz trial to begin and it was so funny, I will never forget—a man named Ed Idar was the attorney for the State of Texas representing the prison system. 
  •  RUBAC: And before anything started in the courtroom, he stood up and he told Judge William Wayne Justice, "Judge, I just want to say something before this trial begins, this trial needs to be tried in this courtroom and not down there on the streets." 
  •  RUBAC: And Judge Justice, who I'd heard was a pretty fair person, but had never seen him until that moment, looked at him and he said, "Mr. Idar, there is still a constitution in this country, and yes, the trial will be held right here in this courtroom." 
  •  RUBAC: "But they can do anything they want downstairs in front of the courtroom. And that's the way it's going to be." And I remember looking at David Ruíz—he just had the biggest grin on his face. 
  •  RUBAC: It was later that day that we found out about all the work-stoppages going on. So that was in 1978. 
  •  RUBAC: The death penalty had been put back on the books in Texas in 1976, I guess. Texas was one of the first states to rewrite their laws so that they were acceptable. But only a few people were on Death Row at the time. 
  •  RUBAC: So it wasn't until 1982 when I went to protest the execution of Charlie Brooks in Hunstville that I really started thinking about the death penalty. 
  •  RUBAC: And even during the eighties, up until 1987 when I met Clarence Brandley, there hadn't been but a handful of executions. 
  •  RUBAC: I don't know, maybe five or ten—not many. Not like it is now where you could have one every other week for a year almost. 
  •  RUBAC: So it was really Clarence Brandley's case that got me deeply involved in the death penalty. 
  •  RUBAC: And then this young man that asked me to witness his execution, he and I are still friends. I still visit him. I still write him. He's still on Death Row—alive. 
  •  RUBAC: But over the years, I have been friends with many people. Actually most of the people I have known on Death Row have been executed. I did witness one friend of mine being executed in 1993. 
  •  BACON: What was that like? 
  •  GLORIA RUBAC: Horrible. Horrible. We'd been friends for several years, and he was an activist. 
  •  RUBAC: He was from the Dominican Republic and he had grown up as an activist as a kid in the Dominican Republic and then moved to the U.S. and lived in New York and then he, somehow he wound up in Houston. 
  •  RUBAC: He had a wife and two sons I still want to go meet someday. But after he had been on Death Row a number of years, his wife left and took the kids and went back to the Dominican Republic. 
  •  RUBAC: And he never saw them again. That was one of the things he mentioned in his last letter to me. He says, "I'd like for to you to go meet my kids and tell them what kind of person I was." And I haven't done that! 
  •  RUBAC: But I am, I am going to do that. I just retired so that is like, on my short list of things to do is to somehow find his boys and they were like seven, eight, nine, ten years old or something when he was executed. And that was in 1993, so that was fifteen years ago. So they are adults now. 
  •  RUBAC: But Carlos' execution—I don't have nightmares anymore, or I am happy to say, but it was sixteen years ago, I had nightmares daily and then weekly and then periodically for ten years. 
  •  RUBAC: And I don't dream about it anymore, but I think about him all the time. I have his picture—if we were at my house, you'd see his picture sitting there. 
  •  RUBAC: When I witnessed his execution, it was a different set-up than it is today because we were in the same room—I mean he was ten feet away from me on the gurney and we were talking up until he died. 
  •  RUBAC: Now they have Plexiglas and the victim's family is in one section and the prisoner's family and friends are in another section. You can't talk. But we were talking up until he died. 
  •  RUBAC: Hmmm—it's amazing—it's been sixteen years and it almost feels like yesterday. 
  •  RUBAC: But he told me, he said "Gloria, just promise me one thing," and I said sure and he said "Just promise me that you won't stop fighting until we get rid of the death penalty." 
  •  RUBAC: I said, "Well, you've got my promise on that." So, you know when Carlos was executed and it was 1993, we hadn't even hit the peak of executions in Texas. After his execution, things really escalated. 
  •  RUBAC: And I never thought I'd see the light at the end of the tunnel, as far as getting rid of the death penalty, but now I do. 
  •  RUBAC: I am very optimistic. Texas is going to be the last place that we'll stop executing, and they'll be kicking and screaming I'm sure, but it's gonna happen. There's too many things that we have won over the years. 
  •  RUBAC: Juveniles are no longer being executed. It's on the books that mentally retarded people aren't supposed to be executed, although they are. I think perhaps the next thing will be people that are mentally ill. 
  •  RUBAC: And I think if we keep chipping away—a hundred and thirty-three people have been released from Death Row because they were innocent. And that's the tip of the iceberg, but that's what people know about. 
  •  RUBAC: I know many people who are executed. Well my friend Carlos, he was arrested under the law of parties. He didn't kill anybody. 
  •  RUBAC: He was with a guy that he hardly knew that lived in his apartment complex who asked him if he wanted to go rob, do this robbery, and his wife was pregnant—he didn't have a job and he did it. Well he didn't know this guy was going to kill anybody. 
  •  RUBAC: But anyway, the fact that so many people have been released who were innocent is probably the main thing that opinions—that are causing opinions to change on the death penalty. 
  •  RUBAC: And I think, even in Texas, support for the death penalty has gone down. Last year in Houston, which is the jurisdiction in this whole country that sends more people to Death Row than anybody, not a single person was sent to Death Row. 
  •  RUBAC: And there was one case where I thought, this is a slam dunk. In fact I told my friends, be looking for this guy, he's getting ready to go on trial, he's gonna be there. 
  •  RUBAC: He was an undocumented person from Mexico, his name was Juan Quintero, and he killed a cop. Those two things combined—that's just like a free pass to Death Row. 
  •  RUBAC: But his attorney, Danalynn Recer with the GRACE Project, made him into a human being. And the jury gave him life. 
  •  RUBAC: There wasn't—I don't think there was any question that he killed the cop, but after the jury met his wife and knew about his children, and this and that and saw him as a person, they didn't sentence him to death. 
  •  RUBAC: I thought, Oh my God, if that could happen in Harris County, even Texas is on the road that's going in the right direction now. 
  •  RUBAC: So and this past legislative session in Texas, the organization I work with, The Death Penalty Abolition Movement and four or five other groups in Austin, we worked very hard to get legislation passed on the Law of Parties. 
  •  RUBAC: And it didn't get passed, thanks to Governor Perry, but it did pass the House, we got a sponsor in the Senate. 
  •  RUBAC: The night before it was supposed to be heard by the Senate Committee, Governor Perry called the Chair of the Criminal Justice Committee, John Whitmire and the Senator that was going to sponsor it—Hinojosa— and told them you can forget this because I am going to veto it. So it didn't get to the Senate floor, but we got it through the House and I am pretty convinced that— I am hopeful that Perry isn't going to be Governor, and that the next session in two years will get that passed. 
  •  RUBAC: And that will mean people like Carlos, people like James Beathard who was executed and was a friend of mine convicted under the Law of Parties, people like them won't be executed. 
  •  RUBACL And that will be one more chip. And pretty soon if you keep chipping away something, it's going to fall. 
  •  RUBAC: And when I testified before the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee about the Law of Parties Bills, when you sign in to testify, they ask you if you are representing anybody. And I put Carlos Santana. 
  •  RUBAC: And I told them I was speaking for a friend of mine who was dead because of the Law of Parties. And that I had promised him that I would fight the death penalty, I am fighting it, and I think this law is part of that. 
  •  RUBAC: So—I couldn't tell Carlos that I was optimistic that day in 1993, but I am now. I am very optimistic. 
  •  BACON: Would you mind talking a little bit about the type of relationship you had with the people who were on Death Row? Did you write letters, or go visit them? What was that like? 
  •  GLORIA RUBAC: Yeah, I'd write letters, I'd visit for many years. I've written for Workers World Newspapersince 1972. And for many years, I went in to visit some people using my media credentials. 
  •  RUBAC: And the prison system didn't like that. Finally, oh gosh—I guess it was after a visit with Gary Graham, Shaka Sankofa, they told me, "You're just here to chitchat with people and blah-blah-blah—you're not doing media work. 
  •  RUBAC: And I said, You read the articles I publish every week, you know I am writing stuff, you know that I am a journalist. And they said, "No you're just a friend." I said, "I am a friend, but a journalist can be a friend." 
  •  RUBAC: So I am not allowed still to go in as a journalist. But yeah, over the years I have written people and visited. I have been on—mainly people that were activists, who were politically aware. 
  •  RUBAC: People like Shaka Sankofa and Tee Earvin, who started a group of the Panthers on Death Row. I have written and visited them. 
  •  RUBAC: I actually—and then in 19—no 2000, they banned me from visiting. Our organization for about five years, every year on Memorial Day would have an event in Huntsville. 
  •  RUBAC: And we'd go out to the prison cemetery, and go to the graves of the people who have been executed and just basically remember them. And I think it was Memorial Day of 1999, or 2000, we decided we were really going try to shake things up in Huntsville. 
  •  RUBAC: So we had a protest outside the walls unit where they execute—the death house. And then we put signs on all our cars and we had a big sound system. And we drove down the main street in Huntsville, just blaring, talking about the death penalty. 
  •  RUBAC: And then we went to the shopping mall. And people were coming out of stores to hear what we were saying—most of them, not too many were happy. And then we caravanned out to the prison cemetery— 
  •  RUBAC: well, I guess there wasn't much news in Huntsville that weekend because we got about three pages of news coverage in the Huntsville Item. And I think my picture was probably on all three pages and I was quoted because I chaired the rally. 
  •  RUBAC: And when I went to visit the next weekend, oh my gosh—I mean the guards looked like they wanted to execute me right there on the spot. And it was actually a little scary because I was visiting on a Saturday night. 
  •  RUBAC: I'm thinking that was before they had weekday visits and you had to go on a Saturday night. But anyway I remember when I was leaving, they checked my car, lifted the hood to make sure I didn't have a prisoner in there. 
  •  RUBAC: And when I drove off the guard said something like, "Well, it's foggy tonight, I hope they don't find your car in the bottom of the Trinity River." And I'm like, Whoa. That sounds like a threat. 
  •  RUBAC: And I told my two daughters about that and they are like, "Mama, don't you ever drive up there alone again at night. These guys are serious." 
  •  RUBAC: And then the next time I went to visit after that, the next weekend I guess, I had on a shirt that I wear a lot that says, "Stop Executions, Moratorium Now," a shirt that I had worn in many times to visit. 
  •  RUBAC: While that Saturday evening when I got there to visit, I got to this little guard shack outside the prison and the young guard said, "Ma'am, I've been told to tell you can't go in with that shirt on." 
  •  RUBAC: "They said you had to take it off and turn it inside out, or they weren't going to let you in." And I'm like, Okay, I have been waiting —this was in June. Hot — said, I have been waiting at your mosquito-infested park down there, because I didn't get in on the first round of visits. 
  •  RUBAC: I said, I'm not going back into town to change. I want to visit. He said, "All I know is you got to turn your shirt inside out." And then I realized I had a jogging bra on. You know, you see people at the grocery store in jogging bras. So I thought, okay, whatever. 
  •  RUBAC: So I just took off my shirt and turned it inside out and put it back on. The warden and all these big shots came running out of the building, threatened to arrest me for indecent exposure, for exposing myself in front of "God and children." 
  •  RUBAC: That's what they said and told me I had to leave the property, or else I'd be arrested. So that was on a Saturday night. By Tuesday, I had six letters in my mailbox, one for each of the six people whose visiting lists I was on. 
  •  RUBAC: "You will no longer be allowed to visit Gary Graham, you will no longer be allowed to visit Dana Williams, you will no longer be allowed—" So, I just got—over the years I fought it and I finally just kind of gave it up. After about five years, I couldn't get anywhere. 
  •  RUBAC: And then my daughter graduated from law school a couple of years ago. And I said okay, I need a lawyer. I want to get back in and visit my friends. I said, I only have a few that I know personally that I used to visit. 
  •  RUBAC: Actually one of those six people whose list I was on is still alive—Tee Earvin. The others—one was a juvenile and he was taken off of Death Row, one died of AIDS, and the others were executed. So I couldn't even tell friends goodbye before they were executed. 
  •  RUBAC: So anyway, now I am back in visiting. But that was quite, quite an ordeal. I started in 2009. It was ten years before I could visit. I guess they thought that was going to shut me up, but sorry. That didn't work. 
  •  BACON: So what is it like to go to Death Row, to visit people? 
  •  GLORIA RUBAC: It's on the one hand, great to see people, to talk to them, give them a little moral support, to find out about the conditions, which are just atrocious. 
  •  RUBAC: And then on the other hand, it's frustrating, and just maddening because when you visit, you find out about all of the B.S. that goes on behind the walls. 
  •  RUBAC: Just from who has recently gotten gas to who just got beat up to who's been denied medical care and his foot is turning black and he doesn't know why. So I leave there with all kinds of emotions. 
  •  RUBAC: I'm always glad to see my friends but then I'm usually furious when I leave. Hearing something firsthand I guess has a little more of an impact than somebody writing, telling you what happened. 
  •  RUBAC: So I was there the week before Michael Riley's execution which was on May 19 and I had never met him, but my friend Tee and him had both kind of grown up there together and they knew each other. 
  •  RUBAC: Tee was at least able to wave at him and mouth a few things at him. I had met his sister through email, so I got to meet her. I guess it was the week before his execution, so it was kind of sad. 
  •  RUBAC: It's very repressive in there. I mean they treat the people who visit like we're criminals. In fact, the last time I visited, I left my windows cracked about that much, which I always had done and they called me out of the visiting room 
  •  RUBAC: and said there was a problem—I forget how they worded it—A security problem with my car. And I am like, Did somebody steal it or what? So I had to go up and talk to some higher-ranking person. And they said, "Your windows are down, are you planning an escape?" 
  •  RUBAC: I said, I don't plan on escaping. I plan on walking out of here when my visit is over. And they were like, "So why did you leave the windows down? So somebody could get in your car?" And I said, " No, because it's hot, and I always leave my windows down." 
  •  RUBAC: I said, They're just cracked. And then they told me, "We have a prisoner who is cleaning up on the grounds. What if he got in your car and held you hostage? You'd be charged with aiding his escape," and I'm like, Whatever, I'll roll up my windows. 
  •  RUBAC: So this took about thirty minutes out of my visiting time—this big security breach of an inch crack in my windows. But just in general, the visitors are treated very disrespectfully—like the visitor has committed a crime and should be locked up too. 
  •  RUBAC: So that's aggravating. But since I haven't been visiting that long, I just smile at them right now. I don't want to get my visiting privileges revoked too quickly. But it's quite an experience, quite an experience. 
  •  BACON: How often do you go? 
  •  GLORIA RUBAC: Every week or every other week. 
  •  BACON: I wanted to go back and correct me if I am wrong. You said Clarence Brandley—his case is what initially got you interested in Death Row? Could you talk a little about that? 
  •  GLORIA RUBAC: Sure. Clarence is a Black man. He was a janitor at the high school in Conroe. He is one of five and the others were all white—he was the only Black person. He was probably also the only one playing with a full deck. 
  •  RUBAC: But right before school started in 1981, there was a girl's volleyball tournament, and a young white girl named Cheryl Ferguson was murdered—raped and murdered in the bathroom in the gym. It was horrible. 
  •  RUBAC: And so the high school of course wanted to solve the murder before school started, because people were understandably freaked out about this. So they picked up Clarence and this old man named Icky Pease. 
  •  RUBAC: He was an old white guy. I don't know if he was retarded or just an alcoholic whose brain had—well he wasn't all there. 
  •  RUBAC: But they questioned the two of them and then they looked at Clarence and they said, "Since you're the"—and they used the N-word, "You're elected, we are charging you with Cheryl Ferguson's murder." 
  •  RUBAC: The Texas Rangers supposedly spent five hundred hours investigating this case. Well, they didn't investigate squat 
  •  RUBAC: because if they had, they would have found out that two of the janitors were making speed in the chemistry lab when they were supposed to be cleaning and there was cops in on it with them—Conroe police. And it was those two guys that murdered the girl. 
  •  RUBAC: I guess this was before D.N.A., or whatever, but there was a pubic hair found on the girl that was like red or something—it was obviously not from an African American person. But that was neither here nor there. 
  •  RUBAC: Finally, Clarence's family supported him. He had like ten sisters and brothers and his mom and dad. The whole family supported him until he got out. 
  •  RUBAC: He had an evidentiary hearing, got a change of venue from Conroe to Galveston, and in that hearing all kinds of stuff came out. 
  •  RUBAC: The man that prosecuted him had been promoted to judge, and as a judge he promised the court reporter that he had some sort of relationship going on with it—he was going to have Clarence executed on her birthday as a birthday present. 
  •  RUBAC: That was some of the kind of stuff that came out in court, but it also came out about these two young white janitors and it became pretty obvious. 
  •  RUBAC: One of these guys' girlfriends had found bloody clothing in her house—no, in the dumpster and asked him about it, or saw him put it in the dumpster. It became real clear who was guilty of it—they never even went after them. 
  •  RUBAC: But this retired visiting judge ordered Clarence released in the fall of 1990. And we thought, Oh wow, great, Clarence is going to be home for Christmas. 
  •  RUBAC: Well, he wasn't home that Christmas and it was maybe a year later, because the State of Texas appealed it. So I think it was a year later he finally got out—in 1991? Was it 1991? 
  •  RUBAC: I don't remember now, but he did get out and we had—a Coalition to Free Clarence Brandley—we had a big welcoming party, a big celebration. 
  •  RUBAC: When Clarence was at the jail in Galveston, during his hearing that we went to well, those who could—I was working at the time. I took a few sick days off and went. 
  •  RUBAC: But while he was down there for that maybe two or three weeks' hearing—it was his birthday and we had a birthday party for him out in the yard where the jail is. And I remember him calling me from the county jail. 
  •  RUBAD: And I said Well, we're gonna get you out of here. And I said, "What do you want?" He said, "Man I want some of my mother's liver and onions. That's what I want, first thing." So anyway he did get out—that was an incredible victory. 
  •  RUBAC: And one of the people that helped work on the Coalition to Free Clarence Brandley was a nun named Sister Jeanne Amour. And Sister Jeanne was working at St. Peter Claver Church in Northeast Houston 
  •  RUBAC: and she told us several times, "When we get Clarence out, I want you all to look into this case of this man named Gary Graham." 
  •  RUBAC: "His mother, Theresa Graham came to church and had written in pencil on little scraps of paper. 'Please help my son, he's on Death Row and he's innocent.' She passed them out at church. And I had been talking to her about her son. I have gone to meet him—I think he is innocent." 
  •  RUBAC: So many of us after Clarence got out, turned our attention to Gary Graham, who later changed his name to Shaka Sankofa. And that was a whole other struggle that should've ended with him walking out because I'm convinced he was as innocent as the day is long. 
  •  RUBAC: But when he finally got good lawyers, and they did investigation, they found witnesses that had never been interviewed. I think they had seven new witnesses that were never ever, ever heard in court. 
  •  RUBAC: And he was convicted on the basis of one eyewitness. And if you look at all the news that is coming out, particularly in Dallas about these guys, a lot of them were in prison for rape. It's eyewitness testimony. 
  •  RUBAC: There's a new book out called, Picking Cotton written by a woman who was raped by a man whose name was Cotton. She identified him. She said she looked at him—she knew she would be able to identify him. She got it wrong. 
  •  RUBAC: So eyewitness testimony is—I mean I don't know if you could describe who just served your Mexican breakfast over there—probably not. 
  •  RUBAC: I mean—I bought a bagel this morning. I don't have a clue. It was a woman, that's all I can remember who sold me the bagel. Our minds aren't wired to remember what people look like. 
  •  RUBAC: So, Shaka was executed finally in 2000 after a long, long, long struggle. And even that day of his execution, it was supposed to have been at six o'clock—I don't think it took place until after eight that night because there was appeals still being filed all day. 
  •  RUBAC: I know the State of Texas knew he was innocent. I know Harris County knew he was innocent. But he was a kid that was in jail already for a bunch of robberies and this murder happened and they just pinned it on him. 
  •  RUBAC: But they had no evidence, except this one woman who saw him in a dark grocery store parking lot from thirty feet away through her dirty windshield. And that was it. 
  •  RUBAC: But while he was alive, he was an incredible, became—I first met him in the eighties as a matter of fact. I think Clarence Brandley introduced me to him. And I started visiting him. 
  •  RUBAC: He became so politically aware and so aware of how the criminal justice system and particularly the death penalty is just really so racially biased that he said, "I feel like I am a part of history." 
  •  RUBAC: And I said, Well, you are. You are on Death Row. You've had execution dates. But he fought and he fought and he fought. He published a newspaper called The Endeavor Projectthat one of our members edited and had published—sent out all over the world. 
  •  RUBAC: In fact, I just got an email from an older man in Italy that we met because he used to distribute the Endeavornewspaper. There was quite a struggle around his case. It'll be nine years Monday. June twenty-second, two thousand, he was executed. 
  •  RUBAC: So that was a defeat for us. I think it showed that we just hadn't done enough to save his life. 
  •  RUBAC: Even though people all over the country were, oh my gosh, every place Bush spoke, people were protesting, doing civil disobedience, disrupting his speeches from New York to Los Angeles and points in-between. But it just wasn't enough. 
  •  BACON: Would you mind talking a little bit more about the struggle, how you were struggling in that sense and what you were trying to do? 
  •  GLORIA RUBAC: For Clarence? 
  •  BACON: For Gary. 
  •  GLORIA RUBAC: Just creating public awareness, educating people—for all of the cases. There have been three main cases that I have been involved in—well, I shouldn't say three— 
  •  RUBAC: but in all of them, it's creating public awareness, whether it's marching, or protesting somewhere, or writing letters, going to the legislature, or contacting the Governor, going to speak at churches, making t-shirts and selling them, 
  •  RUBAC: one of the things we did for Clarence Brandley—it was an idea of somebody who was involved in the Freedom Summer of 1963 in the South during the Civil Rights Movement. 
  •  RUBAC: We did "Freedom Rides," we rented a school bus for a day, and we drove from shopping center to shopping center to neighborhoods, handing out flyers and talking to people. 
  •  RUBAC: So really just campaigns of public awareness on the particular case, whether it was Shaka or Clarence or Frances Newton, Kenneth Foster. 
  •  RUBAC: I know when we were working on—it was Clarence's case, we had bumper stickers, no, no-no, it was Gary —it was Shaka. We had bumper stickers that so many people had in Houston. 
  •  RUBAC: I mean, you'd drive down the street, and every time you'd—people would see your bumper sticker and honk at you—and we even had a day one time for people to drive with their headlights on all day for Shaka. 
  •  RUBAC: And you drove around town and people had their headlights on. It was amazing. 
  •  RUBAC: It was campaigns because once people, particularly a case of innocence, people find out about it, and understand it and realize that, "Yeah, the court system isn't perfect. Yeah they do get it wrong." 
  •  RUBAC: Then they are more open to learning about this individual's case. And we've done that for a number of people. 
  •  RUBAC: The two cases that I have been involved in that we have won were Clarence Brandley and Ricardo Aldape Guerra. 
  •  RUBAC: And I think of Ricardo, when I think of this case of the guy from Mexico that killed a cop last year and didn't get the death penalty because the first time I met—no I had met Ricardo several times. 
  •  RUBAC: A friend of mine was visiting from New York and I took her to the prison to meet Ricardo. And when she met him, I was visiting a friend next to them and I heard them talking, and he told her. 
  •  RUBAC: And she says, "Well, you know, you should be encouraged that all these people are doing all this for you." 
  •  RUBAC: He said, "No, they're gonna kill me." They say I'm a wetback, they say I killed a cop. I didn't kill a cop—I didn't kill anybody. But they are gonna kill me." And fortunately, he got off. 
  •  RUBAC: There was broad, broad support for him in the Mexican community here and a lot of organizing went on. 
  •  RUBAC: And unfortunately, as soon as—it was so funny, he was at the county jail, he had his case overturned and the Harris County D.A. kept saying they were going to retry him and we knew that they couldn't 
  •  RUBAC: because in federal court at the evidentiary hearing, they had just blasted everything they had done wrong in his case from the line-up—people who picked him out of a line-up—he was sitting in the hall and they had walked them back and forth in front of them before he was in the line-up 
  •  RUBAC: and so many things—I can't even remember now, irregularities. We knew they couldn't retry him. 
  •  RUBAC: So I was on my way to visit him at the county jail one afternoon and I pulled up in front of the jail and I saw his mother. I told her in Spanish, I said, What are you doing here? And she said, "They say he is going get out" 
  •  RUBAC: And I looked around and I saw these news trucks and I am like "Oh my God." I had just gotten off of work. And like wow, what is going on? He got out that day, went from the jail to the airport. He didn't want to spend five minutes in Houston. 
  •  RUBAC: He had only been here three months when this happened to him. And he went back to his parents' little village outside of Monterrey, Mexico. I talked to him on the phone a lot. 
  •  RUBAC: And I say, Well we are going to wait until everything dies down before I come see you, because he was greeted like a hero in Mexico. 
  •  RUBAC: When he was locked up here, there were corridos, or what do they call them—ballads written about him that were played on the radio stations in Mexico. And he kind of personified this horrible neighbor to the North, screwing over Mexican citizens. 
  •  RUBAC: So he would call me and say, "I'm hiding at a cousin's house because there are too many people at my house. I don't have a moment's privacy." But anyway, he wound up doing a soap opera, filming it in Mexico City. 
  •  RUBAC: I guess it was going to be his story, because it was called—I guess in English it would be like "Up to the North," or something like that. 
  •  RUBAC: And he was killed in a car wreck before I ever got to see him. Oh my God, I thought somebody put a dagger through my heart when I got a phone call that said that he had been killed. But that was one of our big victories here. I feel bad, how tragic for him. 
  •  RUBAC: I still have my t-shirt with a silkscreen picture of him that says, "Soy innocente." I'm innocent. But how sad for him to go home and — 
  •  RUBAC: Seems - well he got out on tax day. I remember because I was going to visit him at the jail one day and I thought, Oh God, I haven't done my taxes yet, but that's all right, I'll go visit Ricardo and then I'll do them. 
  •  RUBAC: And it was that summer when he was killed. So he had been out three or four months and died in a car wreck. 
  •  RUBAC: Now another person who was a victory was Kenneth Foster and that was a very exciting case. And he was somebody who was arrested under the Law of Parties who hadn't killed anybody. And we were part of that here in Houston. 
  •  RUBAC: He didn't get off—he is still in prison though unfortunately and I don't think he should be in prison because he didn't do anything. But at least he gets to hug his grandfather and his father and his wife and his daughter. He's alive. 
  •  RUBAC: And Governor Perry actually commuted his sentence from death to life. And there are two aspects about the Law of Parties. Perry, when he granted his clemency—I was actually surprised that he did it because it was just hours before his execution. 
  •  RUBAC: He said, "Well, we need to look into the fact that he should have had his trial separate from the shooter." So that was part of the bill that we were hoping to get passed this year. 
  •  RUBAC: The other part was that a non-shooter arrested under the Law of Parties should not be able—it was supposed to be changed so that they wouldn't be able to receive the death penalty if they hadn't killed anybody. 
  •  RUBAC: And it was that part of the bill that Perry, for some reason, I guess he thinks people who didn't kill anybody should be executed as long as they are tried separately. But that was another victory is Kenneth Foster's case. 
  •  BACON: I want to ask you a little bit about the death penalty abolition and your involvement with that. 
  •  GLORIA RUBAC: With our organization—? Well you know it was after—Clarence had gotten out and after there was '93, Shaka had gotten a date and we got a stay—there was a lot of activity going around his case and a number of us started talking. 
  •  RUBAC: We said, You know, there's four-hundred and I forget what it was then —eighty people on Death Row. We can't work on every single case 
  •  RUBAC: And so many of them, if they were not innocent, they didn't have good lawyers or there were so many irregularities in their trials that is just not right. But we can't do that. 
  •  RUBAC: So anyway, we kept talking about how we really need to just have a group that's opposed to the death penalty in general. So we founded the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. 
  •  RUBAC: And then a few years later, some of the people involved in that kind of decided they were going to take it over or whatever. I don't really even want to get into that. And so the majority of us. And they had threatened to arrest us if we didn't quit using that name. 
  •  RUBAC: I'm like, This is crazy! We founded it, but whatever. We decided we were going to fight the death penalty, not them, so we changed our name to the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement. 
  •  RUBAC: And we said, we are not going to fight them, they can have the group, they can have the name that we built, whatever. We are going to continue fighting the death penalty. So that was, I don't know, I guess the mid-nineties. 
  •  RUBAC: I don't even remember exactly when we started the group and then the name changed around 2000 or so. And our organization is a very activist organization. We have many of us in the group either have family members on Death Row, or we visit people on Death Row. 
  •  RUBAC: We are based in the Black community, at Shape Community Center, which was actually the problem with the people that left. 
  •  RUBAC: We believe in fighting on all fronts, we went to lobby the legislature. But we will also go disrupt a meeting and get in somebody's face if we think it is appropriate. We just use all kinds of tactics to create awareness and to disrupt business as usual. 
  •  RUBAC: We protest in Huntsville on days of executions. They have a vigil here in Houston, but they told us we couldn't make noise during the vigil. And we're like, Well. 
  •  RUBAC: The day they told us, we said, This is our friend being executed and he wanted us to raise hell and we are going to. So we don't really participate in the vigils here anymore. 
  •  RUBAC: But we prefer to go to Huntsville and get on the bullhorn and make a scene because there is a murder going on, and I don't think most normal people are quiet if there is a murder going on. They are like, "Stop." 
  •  RUBAC: So that's what we do. But we are just a very activist organization. Right now, we are organizing - in fact, it just came out yesterday that Judge Sharon Keller who is the presiding Judge over the Texas Court of Criminal appeals which is our supreme court in Texas for criminal matters - she is being tried for being—I think there are seven different charges—all of them having to do with her not being fit to be a judge because she closed the court at five o'clock instead of hearing a death row appeal in September of 2007. 
  •  RUBAC: And, we just found out yesterday they've changed it from Austin, to San Antonio. But we're organizing to be there in San Antonio to have a press conference and a demonstration before her trial starts that morning and to be in the courtroom. 
  •  RUBAC: So at our last meeting, we had at least a half-dozen people who say they would be willing to take off work and go and people in Austin, we're working with groups in Austin to organize for that 
  •  RUBAC: We are organizing a film showing about Mumia Abu-Jamal, the newest film about him called, Imprisoned My Whole Life. So we stay busy. 
  •  BACON: I think we're going to pause right now --- 
 
Featured Segments 
  •  Prison Rodeos and Ruiz v. Estelle 
  •  "Indecent Exposure" Ordeal 
 
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Metadata

Title:Interview with Gloria Rubac
Abstract:Gloria Rubac, a retired teacher and writer, has been a committed civil rights, prison and death penalty activist since the early 1970s. In Tape 1, Rubac discusses the inspiration for her early activism; her introduction to prison activism in the 1970s; and her growing involvement in protests against the death penalty in the 1980s after its reinstatement in Texas in 1976. Rubac then describes her friendships with and advocacy on behalf of numerous death row inmates since 1982. At the end of Tape 1 and the beginning of Tape 2, Rubac describes her role in the founding of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, her current involvement in the group Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, and the differences between the two groups. In the rest of Tape 2, Rubac reflects on her presence in Huntsville during executions; witnessing executions; attending funerals for executed friends; and her activist strategies and commitments. This interview took place on June 19, 2009 in Houston, Harris County, Texas.
Sequence:2 of 2
Contributors:
  • Kimberly Ambrosini-BaconRole: Interviewer
  • Sabina Hinz-FoleyRole: Videographer
  • Karen ReedRole: Transcriber
  • Lydia CraftsRole: Proofreader
Date Created:2009/06/19
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:tav00015
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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