of "Interview with Professor Roger Barnes."
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VIRGINIA RAYMOND: For the record, this is Gabriel Solis behind the camera.
ROGER BARNES: Hi.
RAYMOND: And it is December seventh, two-thousand—
ROGER BARNES: November seventh.
RAYMOND: Oh, oh, yes. November seventh.
ROGER BARNES: Seventh.
RAYMOND: Thank you. November seventh.
ROGER BARNES: Sure.
RAYMOND: November seventh, 2008. And we are here in your office in the Department of Sociology at Incarnate Word University. Or the University at—
BOTH: of the Incarnate Word.
RAYMOND: Here in San Antonio.
ROGER BARNES: Yeah.
RAYMOND: Thank you very much.
ROGER BARNES: Glad to be here.
RAYMOND: Before we get any further, you just have reviewed—you're looking at our brochure and you reviewed the consent form and you consented to be
ROGER BARNES: Yes.
RAYMOND: That's right. Okay, good and then thank you for that. And obviously, we're videotaping this as well. We will give you two options. We will in either
option, we will immediately mail you a copy of the DVD as soon as we can, probably within a week.
ROGER BARNES: Sure.
RAYMOND: Then what we normally do, and this is our standard practice, is to transcribe the interview, send it to you, give you a chance to edit it, review
it, and approve it. And then donate it to us for a bunch of purposes, mostly public education, everything non-commercial, and also for placing it in the Center for American History at
University of Texas—
ROGER BARNES: Fine.
RAYMOND: —archive there. And also, only with your permission, sending videotapes to relevant libraries who might also want it.
ROGER BARNES: Sure.
RAYMOND: I'm thinking particularly there's one at State University of New York at Albany that is having—that has an abolitionist oral history
archive. Yeah, talk to them. So the other option is because we are quite behind in transcribing is if you're comfortable with the interview after you review the DVD to donate the interview
materials to us then.
ROGER BARNES: Of course.
RAYMOND: But we'll let you decide that.
ROGER BARNES: When I see it—sure, that's fine.
RAYMOND: Thank you. Okay, so, Doctor Barnes, tell us a little about yourself and bring us up to the point where you first became interested in prisons and
the death penalty.
ROGER BARNES: I'm a sociologist. I graduated from the University of Kansas. Got my degree in sociology and I've taught for twenty years here at the
University of the Incarnate Word. My wife is an academic and we have a daughter who's in law school. We have one, one child and she's in her first year of law school at the University
of Texas School of Law.
BARNES: My involvement in the death penalty goes back quite a ways and so to bring you up to date on that, I've got to go back almost forty years. When
I was a senior in high school, which would have been in the spring of 1969. I met a man whose friendship with me in many ways changed my life, or at least it afforded me some experiences that
were extraordinarily unique. His name was Bill Sands.
BARNES: Bill had been incarcerated earlier in his life at San Quentin Penitentiary in California for a string of crimes. It was there that he got to know
Warden Clinton T. Duffy, a very famous American prison warden, who became Bill's kind of surrogate father.
BARNES: In the mid-1960's, about three years or so before I met Bill, he had written his autobiography, which was widely read. It was for many weeks on the
New York TimesBestseller List in, I want to say, 1965. The title of it was My Shadow Ran Fast.
BARNES: He was a very, frankly, kind of charismatic individual. He's a very gifted orator. He's a very bright man. He had founded an organized called the
Seventh Step, which was a kind of a twelve-step program for ex-convicts. And Bill went on the lecture circuit and he came to my town.
BARNES: I was growing up in Dodge City, Kansas, which is a small town then of about twenty-three thousand people, I would guess, in southwest Kansas, about a
hundred-and-fifty miles straight west of Wichita, kind of on the plains, the high plains. Lots of wheat, lots of corn, lots of pheasants. And my dad was president of Dodge City Community
BARNES: And the community college had a lecture series, and as a consequence of that, many people who came and lectured at the college—and these were public
lectures—would come over to our house afterwards for a reception and party. And so I got to meet a whole lot of very interesting people, but I remember meeting Bill Sands.
BARNES: He and I immediately struck up a friendship. And the circumstances of that went like this—and it's a capital punishment deal. The
Wichita Eaglehad published a pro-death penalty editorial some days or a couple weeks before that evening that I got to meet Sands after his lecture.
BARNES: And here I am, this just-turned-eighteen-year-old, kinda high school senior, and I was heavily involved in all kinds of anti-war activity. And I was
interested in criminal issues, criminal law, really, I thought at the time I might go into law.
BARNES: And so when Sands comes over to our house, I grabbed a copy of this letter that I had written, chastising the Eagle, appropriately enough, for
publishing this pro-death penalty editorial and I pointed out how wrong they were and why they were wrong in taking that position. And so, I grabbed it and I came up to Bill and I said, "Mr.
Sands, do you want to read this letter that I wrote?"
BARNES: And we talked to one another for an hour and a half at that party. Then he said to me, "I'm writing a book about the people that I meet as I travel
around the country and I'd like to interview you in the morning. Can you get out of high school?" Well, I was in the routine habit of skipping high school classes here and there anyway, so
getting out of school was no problem.
BARNES: And I went to his hotel room and we sat down and we taped an interview. And we talked about how you organize people on the plains of southwest Kansas
to be involved in anti-death penalty stuff, but primarily we talked about the war, and all of that, and student activism in general. This was not too long after the rise of SDS and the Port
Huron document and all that.
BARNES: So needless to say, Bill and I liked one another. He had just gotten married not too long before then to a really beautiful woman who had been an
airline stewardess, German girl, really very attractive, younger. This was Bill's, I want to say second, perhaps even—I think he might have been married early as a youngster, so this might even
have been marriage number three. Anyways, we stayed in contact.
BARNES: We wrote back and forth and I even exchanged some letters with Warden Duffy, who was retired at that time. And in the mid-summer, couple months
later, after having first met Bill, he called me up and he said, "I'm going to take a documentary team on a trip, and we're gonna spend about five or six days at Tucker Prison Farm in Arkansas.
And we're gonna spend our time on Death Row there.
BARNES: And we're gonna interview the men on the row. And then from there we're gonna go to Washington D.C. and then New York City and do some interviews
with some United States senators and with Norman Vincent Peale." And he said, "You wanna come along?" He said, "I'd like to have you come along." And I said, You betcha.
BARNES: And so I flew from Wichita to Little Rock and met Bill and this documentary crew. It was—there were nineteen people as I remember on this documentary
crew. The idea was that—Bill had in mind, this was to be a pilot for a program much like today we would see, 60 Minutes.
BARNES: And we spent five days at Tucker Prison Farm on Death Row and that's where I got to know Lonnie B. Mitchell Jr. and just a whole bunch of guys, guy
named Jerry, Jerry Johnson. Let's see who else was in there, Lonnie Brown, Willie Maxwell. He had a very famous case, Maxwell vs. Bishop.
BARNES: And the guy I got to know best was a senior man on the row who was Lonnie B. Mitchell. His prison number was SK8-13. Lonnie had not murdered anybody.
He was a Black man who had been convicted of raping an elderly white woman and had been given a death sentence.
BARNES: This was before the Coker decision, okay? And I think there were five men at all on Death Row there in 1969. Out of the seventeen on the row who had
been convicted of rape and given death sentences, and appropriately enough, I think all five of them were Black men and their victims had been white women.
BARNES: This was pretty Jim Crow south. So, the men on Death Row had some considerable freedom by comparison to how life is like on Death Row today. They
were not in lock-down, they weren't in twenty-three and-a-half hour a day solitary. In fact, they ate in the prison mess hall and they were housed on the Death Row, which was the only part of
Tucker that really resembled the traditional penitentiary.
BARNES: The rest of the prison was a kind of dormitory-style, a kind of Cool Hand Luke setup, so to speak. And inmates worked the fields, and they
raised—they had their own cattle and they had their own crops, except for the guys on Death Row. And, well, we interviewed men on Death Row.
BARNES: We interviewed, probably, I guess, all of them. And I recall us even doing one thing that, by today's standards, this is absolutely ridiculous. We
took two guys out of Death Row, out of the prison and took them to downtown Little Rock. We had them dressed up in street clothes and filmed them walking down the sidewalk.
BARNES: And as they're walking down the sidewalk, kind of window-shopping, Sands steps out and sticks a mic and says, "Hi, I'm—" you know, "who are you
guys?" and "what's your names?" and "where do you live?" And then they break it, "Well, actually we don't live in Little Rock, we live on Death Row."
BARNES: It was all done for some sort of television drama, but it's unimaginable today that you'd take two guys out of Death Row and take them to downtown
Huntsville or Houston. Lonnie Mitchell and I got to be pretty good buddies. And he had come within some hours of his own execution. He had been on Death Row for eleven and a half years at that
point. He had had cellmates executed.
BARNES: And he was fairly well convinced that his day would eventually arrive and he would die in Arkansas's electric chair. The thing that all the men on
Death Row had going for them at the time was a governor by the name of Winthrop [A.] Rockefeller. Rockefeller had stayed all the executions that had come to his desk.
BARNES: He was a Republican and he was morally and religiously quite strongly opposed to the death penalty. And he stayed all those executions, but Lonnie
was convinced that when the day came that Rockefeller left office, whoever the governor was, that probably executions would resume in Arkansas.
BARNES: He would take me around the prison. I remember one time we went into the mess hall to eat and the guys all ate—they drank not out of glasses or cups,
they drank out of like Coca-Cola or Pepsi-Cola cans that had had the lid on the top screwed off. And so it was a drinking instrument and they were sometimes kind of dirty and grungy.
BARNES: And I remember going through the line and following behind Lonnie and he said, "I'll get you a clean can to drink out of." And he just took his time
looking at each one of those until he—and the line backed up and it was sort of like the guys who were serving the food were just like kind of waiting and they just waited because this man he's
dead man walking.
BARNES: And they were a different status. They were a different kind of rank, and so finally we found a good can. And I had had lunch and many, many little
tiny things like that. I remember they showed me the electric chair. The electric chair had been dismantled but it was kept in a little storage room just off of the end of Death Row, kind of
ironically like the traditional thirteen steps from the Death Row to the electric chair.
BARNES: And it was a high backed electric chair made out of some real heavy hard wood with the leather straps and all of that. And I sat in it, kind of eerie
feeling. This was quite an experience. And we spent a lot of time, fifteen-hour days, there. That wasn't all that we did.
BARNES: The Director of Corrections at Arkansas was a man named Robert Sarver, S-A-R-V-E-R. And I recall going to his house, I think shortly after the crew
had assembled there. Like maybe even the first night. And Bob Sarver had the famous whipping belt.
BARNES: The whip that they used, which was very long. I mean it was very long, like maybe three or four feet long and very thick and heavy leather and about
four inches or so wide. And that's what they had whipped inmates at Tucker with. There were two prisons in Arkansas at the time, Tucker and Cummins.
BARNES: Tucker was the more notorious of the two because in the year and-a-half just before we had gotten there, they had been the subject of a nationwide
prison scandal when the former prison director there, man named Murton, [Tom] Murton, had led a camp—not a campaign, but had led the effort to follow through on rumors about inmates over the
years who had been murdered and whose bodies had simply been taken out and buried in the fields.
BARNES: And they discovered a number of bodies and it was probably the case that some of these inmates had just over the years been disappeared and had been
dragged out and buried in the fields. Murton eventually got crossways with Governor Rockefeller and the prison board.
BARNES: On Rockefeller's recommendation, fired Murton. He was a cantankerous fellow and hard to get along with but probably as the annals of prison reform
are written for the twentieth century, Robert Murton will go down as one of the most important famous prison—you know, I keep calling him Robert Murton because there's a famous sociologist
named Robert Murton.
BARNES: His name is Thomas Murton. I'm sorry about that. So I remember looking at the whip and Tucker was also famous for what they called the Tucker
Telephone. And the Tucker Telephone was one of these old crank telephones. And they had devised this thing to where they would hook it up and they would attach the wires to an inmate's
BARNES: And they grind electricity through them; it was a torture device, but they called it the Tucker Telephone, and it was kind of famous. I mean this is
definitely a medieval prison. It was a bad place. One day, Bill Sands and I took the afternoon and went over to Cummins and I remember driving over there with Bill and I think one other fellow
from the film crew, although there was no filming going on.
BARNES: Bill just wanted to go over to Cummins to meet two men, two prisoners that he had met before on a trip there. And I remember we got to Cummins and
the officials let us in and they—I don't think they frisked us or anything like that. If they did, I don't remember.
BARNES: And, but what I do remember was that we were left alone with these two inmates. And as soon as the guards were gone, one of them said, "Would you
guys like a drink?" And Bill and I said, "Sounds good." He says, "Come here." So we went into this room and it was kind of like a secretarial space, had some old file cabinets and an old metal
desk and the like.
BARNES: And guy reached down back and behind one of the metal file cabinets and reached back in there and pulled a bottle of whiskey. And we got a couple
little cups and poured some drinks and had drinks right there in Cummins.
RAYMOND: What kind of whiskey?
ROGER BARNES: Oh, it was Jack Daniels or something like that. It wasn't moonshine. But I mean that was how that was and—but we spent most of our time over
the course of those five days at Tucker on Death Row. And, as a consequence, I got to know those guys pretty well, or so I thought.
BARNES: And Lonnie Mitchell was semi-literate. He was pretty simple fellow. He was a Black man in his early thirties, but he had been on Death Row since he
was about twenty or so.
BARNES: And Lonnie and I over the course of the following year exchanged letters back and forth. Just one minor point about this particular documentary team,
we went from there to Washington D.C. and there we interviewed Senator Chuck Percy and Senator Daniel Inouye.
BARNES: Now Percy was from Illinois and Inouye, of course, is still Senator from Hawaii. If we went back and if I remember this correctly, I think Percy had
a daughter who'd been kidnapped and murdered. I'm pretty sure of that. From there, we went to New York and we interviewed Norman Vincent Peale, the famous iconic religious fellow.
BARNES: And then from there, we went up to Rushford, New York. It was a little tiny rural village in New York. And we interviewed Philip Wylie, the American
writer, who had been most famous for a book called Generation of Vipers that he had written back in the early forties.
BARNES: And then at this point, I had been gone for two weeks. This was in September, so I had missed two weeks of school. I was going to my dad's community
college and there was some sort of, "Are you ever gonna come home?" And so finally it was time for me to come home and the film crew then flew all the way back to California and I flew back to
BARNES: And I got back into a school routine. And then the saddest of things happened, about six or seven weeks later, Bill Sands had a heart attack and fell
over dead. And to this very day, I have no idea where any of that incredible film footage is. I have no idea where it is. It's never surfaced.
BARNES: When I was younger I made some feeble and very inept attempts to find out where it was and what the disposition of it had been. But, to my knowledge,
it's never aired anywhere and I have no idea who has it. To compound the loss of Bill, his wife committed suicide two days after he was buried, leaving a note that she was going to go join
BARNES: So it was all very, very sad. One other thing, 'cause I get focused on what we filmed at the prison ‘cause it was so remarkable. And if ever that
film footage could be gotten, it would be incredible kind of archival material 'cause there's literally hours of filmed interviews with these inmates and life there on Death Row in the late
sixties at this prison.
BARNES: They also did an interview with me. We went to the capital in Little Rock and there was a pond behind the capital building, and it kind of looked
like maybe a pond on a college campus. And Bill and I strolled slowly on the sidewalk next to the pond and they filmed—they had the cameras all set up and filmed this interview.
BARNES: We talked about anti-war activism and radicalism on the plains of Kansas, organizing students and that kind of thing. So it would be interesting to
see that material, too. But to tell you the truth, I'd just as soon see the film stuff. So, that's how I got interested in—well, I was opposed to the death penalty before that.
RAYMOND: Actually, may I interrupt you for a—
ROGER BARNES: Sure.
RAYMOND: — tiny bit before we leave Tucker?
ROGER BARNES: Absolutely.
RAYMOND: Earlier when you were talking about Lonnie and the lunch line with the Coke can, you said, "many little things like that." What were you referring
ROGER BARNES: It was just he would take me around the prison and introduce me to other inmates or showed me just different aspects of the prison, simple
little things like, "Oh, I need to take you and show you like the storage place where we store the linens and the blankets" and that kind of stuff.
BARNES: It's almost—it was like having a personal prison tour guide who took some measure—oddly enough—almost of like pride. "Let me show you around where I
RAYMOND: That's interesting. Thank you, I just wanted to—
ROGER BARNES: Yeah, yeah. And what happened, okay, was that in the following months, Lonnie and I corresponded with one another. And then in the fall of
1970, about fourteen months or so after that initial visit, I came up with this idea that it was time to go back to Tucker, and to see Lonnie and Willie Maxwell and Lonnie Brown and those
BARNES: So I recruited a very good friend of mine and I said, Jay, do you wanna go with me. I said, I betcha Mr. Sarver will let us back onto Death Row. And
my friend, Jay, said, "Sure, I'd love to come on the trip." And so I called—I think I wrote Robert Sarver and said, If I came back, do you remember me?
BARNES: And he said, "Yeah, I do." I said, Could we get back on Death Row and see Mitchell and the guys "Yes, you can." And he said, "I would ask just one
thing and that is that we don't have any real nice civilian clothes to give to the guys that we do release from prison.
BARNES: Of course, not the Death Row guys, but the guys we release." He said, "If maybe you could gather up from some of your friends or your dad's friends
some suits that they don't wear and maybe you could bring those and maybe you guys could scrounge up some cartons of cigarettes and some paperback books, ‘cause we don't have any of that
BARNES: And so my buddy Jay and I went around and hit our dads' friends up for suits and we had a bunch of clothes in the back of my sixty-six Mustang. And
we had clothes in there, we threw cartons of cigarettes in there, and some paperback books and we hauled off to Little Rock.
BARNES: And then after getting into Little Rock, the next morning we went out to the prison and got right back in onto Death Row. And I remember that one of
the very first things—I mean I hadn't been there thirty seconds before Mitchell says to me, "Well, did you know that the governor was considering commuting sentences?"
BARNES: Now, here's the story: Nelson Rockefeller had been defeated in his reelection bid in November. And it was his effort at a third term. And—
RAYMOND: You said Nelson. Do you mean—
ROGER BARNES: I meant Winthrop, excuse me, thank you. Winthrop Rockefeller had been defeated in the November election and so he was due to leave office in
January. And well, I told Lonnie, No, I didn't know that the governor was considering commuting any sentences.
BARNES: After all, we were coming from southwest Kansas and not paying a lot of attention to Arkansas politics. And we spent that day sitting around in the
prison, in the cells, or in the breezeway outside the cells, ‘cause Death Row had a series of cells that marched down here, a breezeway and then a big wall with windows up on the top of the
wall, very traditional looking death row. And pretty stark, pretty steely.
BARNES: So, we sat around that day, we drank coffee, we smoked cigarettes and we talked about the things that we talk about—we talked about politics and
girls and sports and who was gonna get a sentence commuted and who wasn't.
BARNES: And Lonnie was convinced that he was not going to get his sentence commuted so we kind of placed sort of symbolic bets on who might get a sentence
commuted and there was some consensus that a couple of guys stood a chance and then there was sort of the resigned feeling by Lonnie and some others that there wasn't any chance.
BARNES: Lonnie had been on Death Row at this point for now twelve and-a-half years, which was in those days, a pretty dog-gone long time on Death Row. It's
about the national average almost now. But back then, that was a pretty lengthy stay.
BARNES: And well, that day passed and the next day, we were back in the prison, and picked up the conversation and I can't remember whether it was the second
or the third day, but one of those days shortly after noontime, somewhere around one o'clock-ish, one-thirty-ish, the doors—
BARNES: there was a single door that allowed entry into Death Row and that door opened and the superintendent, that is to say, the warden of the
penitentiary, came in and he had some other prison officials with him and he had some what looked like journalists and photographers.
BARNES: And the warden simply said, "Gather around, guys. I've got news for you." He said, "The governor's held a press conference in his office in Little
Rock and he has commuted all of your prison sentences." And there was the most incredible celebration I've ever been a party to in my whole life.
BARNES: I mean, men crying and hugging each other and falling to the ground and these shouts of "Praise Jesus" and "God bless Governor Rockefeller" and the
photographer got these guys—got the Death Row guys to gather up the ones who were there.
BARNES: ‘Cause, you see, some of these guys could come and go from Death Row. They weren't always confined there. So the guys who were there, he got ‘em all
gathered up and this is a copy of the front page of the
Arkansas Gazetteon December thirtieth, 1970.
BARNES: And you can see the headline that says, "Fifteen Death Sentences Commuted by WR", that's for Winthrop Rockefeller. And here's my buddy, Lonnie
Mitchell, right there. And Willie Maxwell's in here, and there's Willie Maxwell, right there.
BARNES: And I was standing, honest, this is true, I was standing just over here, but I'm not a Death Row guy, so I got cropped out of the picture. And then
my friend, Jay, and I went back the next day before we returned to Kansas and we visited with the guys one more time.
BARNES: There had been a funny thing that had happened that morning before the superintendent came in and gave this incredible announcement and that was that
I had kind of longish hair, unlike today where I don't have hardly much of anything, and the guys were kidding me, the guys on the row were like, "You know, you kinda lookin' like a
BARNES: So they convinced me that I needed a haircut. I guess this is one of the funny little things. And so they got me up in the what was kind of the
barber's chair on Death Row and the official Death Row barber came out and kinda, he had a pair of scissors, another thing that's unbelievable. You don't do that today on Death Row, and kind of
trimmed my locks a little bit.
BARNES: It's almost surreal. I think back about all of this stuff. And it was—it was big. I mean I was, then, I was nineteen years old. That was the last
time I saw Lonnie Mitchell. Over the years that followed, our letters kind of began to slow down and he got transferred to the Benton Work Release Center a few years later.
BARNES: Then I had fallen in love with a girl that I eventually married and so our lives kind of began to just separate a little bit. The letters slowed down
and I kind of became part of Lonnie's Death Row past and I think it just kind of died a natural and very courteous kind of end. It just sort of drifted that way and that was okay.
BARNES: I was busy going to K.U. by this time, the University of Kansas, and getting into graduate school. And I went on the one of these things that you can
do to check the births and deaths of people, about two years ago, and I think I found Lonnie B. Mitchell.
BARNES: I believe that I've got the right guy and he passed away some time in the 1980s. So that was, as a teenager, that's kind of how—that was the biggest
of my Death Row experiences. And I'll tell you a little follow-up story to that.
BARNES: Back in the 1990s, the first time I met Helen Prejean was over at St. Mary's University at the School of Law over there. I went over there with a
good friend of mine, Sister Martha Ann Kirk, who's on our faculty here at the University of the Incarnate Word in religious studies.
BARNES: My—funny thing is my mom and dad were down here for a visit and so all four of us trooped over there. I was—this was just a couple years after Dead
Man Walking had come out. She was and she still is to this day, I mean, the real—the spiritual queen of the anti-death penalty movement and I was much taken by the opportunity to get to meet
BARNES: So we had a chance to visit and I sat down with her and I said, I wanna tell you a story if you don't mind. And I told her a kind of condensed
compressed version of the time I was on Death Row and these guys had gotten their sentences commuted. She listened real intently.
BARNES: She's such a wonderful woman. And she looked at me and she said with that great Cajun accent, she said, "Roger, that's just a wonderful story. That's
a beautiful story. Did you realize what a gift you were given?" She said, "That was because you got to be with guys who had their lives given back to ‘em."
BARNES: She said, "I don't get to do that. I take them into the death chamber and they don't come out alive." And I thought, Wow. You know that's—there—our
two stories are really at the opposite ends, aren't they? This thing that we do—this state execution.
BARNES: So to go back then to the late sixties, early seventies, I have just always been involved in anti-death penalty stuff. I teach a class here at the
university called "the Sociology of the Death Penalty" and bring in guest speakers, show documentaries, and have them read all kinds of different books.
BARNES: But I just—a lot of my writing has been on the death penalty, a lot of my research. The bulk of my scholarly publications have been on the death
penalty. So I guess I'm just kind of the death penalty sociologist.
RAYMOND: This—there's so much—
ROGER BARNES: Okay.
RAYMOND: —to this story.
ROGER BARNES: Go wherever you want to go, Virginia.
RAYMOND: Thank you, thank you very much. One little thing is I am assuming from—because of the tone—that the barber that cut your hair was a person on
ROGER BARNES: Yeah, he was a guy on Death Row.
RAYMOND: Yes. So a prisoner, so not, you said, official. Okay, thanks, and using a pair of scissors that were just there on Death Row?
ROGER BARNES: Yeah, they had them. I mean he cut guys' hair and he couldn't cut ‘em with his fingers. He had to have some scissors.
RAYMOND: Yeah, okay, good.
ROGER BARNES: Yeah, yeah.
RAYMOND: Tell me, then take me back even before you met Bill Sanders, and you said you had already been against the death penalty. In fact, you had written a
letter to an editor.
ROGER BARNES: Yeah.
RAYMOND: What was going on in Kansas at that time that—
ROGER BARNES: Oh—
RAYMOND —that made this editorial come about in the first place? And the other question is, how had you already come to these beliefs about the death
penalty, your convictions?
ROGER BARNES: There was never ever a point when I was a kid when I had one of these "aha" moments or, unlike some people, who started out as pro-death
penalty and then learned and read some stuff and said, Ah! Let it go. I just—and I think the explanation here is probably my parents. I'm an only child.
BARNES: My dad was a historian who served as a community college president for twenty-four years, but he wasn't a Kansan, and neither was my mom. They both
grew up in Chicago as youngsters in the—they were both born in 1917.
BARNES: My dad dropped out of high school in the 1930s, in the middle of the Depression to go to work and help support his five siblings and his parents. And
then he and my mom got married in 1940. And they—and then in forty-three about, my dad went into the army and eventually ended up being shipped over to France and worked in the fifth army,
general hospital there in Nice.
BARNES: And then he came back and decided, "Well, you know what? If I'm gonna do anything, I need to go to school." And so my mom worked, my dad did the G.I.
bill. They—my dad got a master's degree from Pittsburgh State Teachers' College in Pittsburgh, Kansas, and then got into Kansas Community College work.
BARNES: And went from Fort Scott, Kansas where he taught and was assistant dean of the community college then to Pratt, Kansas, which is another small town
that has a community college. Kansas has a pretty nicely developed community college system.
BARNES: And then in 1959, we moved to Dodge City and my dad became president of Dodge City Community College. Well, that all sounds kind of like that's a
nice little story, except one important thing about it is that my dad was a Socialist.
BARNES: And never made any bones about it, which I've always appreciated, that he was somehow able to pull off a very successful career as a community
college president and never hide the fact that, well, if you sat him down and talked to him, he'd be glad to tell you about joining the Young Socialists League in Chicago and leading rent
strikes and standing on soap boxes in Grant Park and orating the policies of Norman Thomas.
BARNES: And so, as a kid, I grow up in this house where, one, it's a kind of middle-class, upper middle-class by Kansas' standards, family and I'm surrounded
by lots of books and magazines and newspapers. My dad was a voracious reader.
BARNES: And then by virtue of like this lecture series I started telling you about, there's a stream of very interesting politicians and lawyers and artists
and journalists who came through our house that I got to spend time with. So it was a pretty engaging time for a kid in junior high school and high school.
BARNES: But, you see, I grew up with these stories about Norman Thomas and Grandma Parsons, the widow of Albert Parsons. Albert Parsons was one of the
Haymarket guys that got hanged.
BARNES: And my dad always loved telling me all about the time he met Grandma Parsons at this secret clandestine meeting in this lofted warehouse in Chicago.
So I've got this very liberal set of parents.
RAYMOND: May I just ask you, I know who Albert Parsons is, but I don't know who Grandma Parsons is.
ROGER BARNES: Oh, it was his widow.
RAYMOND: Oh, okay.
ROGER BARNES: Yeah, that, Grandma Parsons, as she was known to the Socialists. Yeah, Lucy Parsons.
RAYMOND: Oh, oh, that's who that is.
ROGER BARNES: Yeah, I'm sorry. Yeah, Lucy Parsons.
RAYMOND: Okay. I didn't know [inaudible] and she's from Texas.
ROGER BARNES: Oh, yeah, she's from Texas. And she's kind of like, she's like Tiger Woods. She's a conglomeration of a whole bunch of different people. White
people, Black people, Indian people, Hispanic, the whole works.
BARNES: Very interesting woman, lived a long time. And so, that—those are the—that was the kind of environment that I grew up in, very liberal,
unapologetically so, and coming with that territory was the opposition to the death penalty. I mean, it was just a given. It was just a given.
BARNES: We would have conversations at dinnertime at my house while it was just the three of us when I was a kid, except that we had other really close
family friends. I mean, extremely close friends, and lawyer friends and teacher friends,
BARNES: and so it was an opportunity to be around pretty bright, pretty well-educated and informed people, most of whom didn't subscribe to this barbaric
notion that the state ought to be about the business of putting people in electric chairs or hanging them from ropes, which is what Kansas did in the 1960s.
BARNES: There's another angle here, you asked about how I got interested in this. You see, in 1965, Kansas executed five people there in Lansing where the
state penitentiary is and of course all five of them were hanged. And probably the two most famous who were hanged were the subject of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, Perry Edward Smith and
Hickock, his friend, Hickock.
BARNES: And you see, the Clutter murders happened only about fifty-five miles away from Dodge City. It occurred in a little tiny town called Holcomb, Kansas,
which is just a just a stone's throw outside of Garden City. It's about fifty, fifty-five miles from Dodge.
BARNES: And that was big; that, I mean, everybody was boo—I was eight-years old, I think. Those murders happened in 1959. And by the time they caught up with
Hickock and Smith and got them tried there in Finney County, got them convicted and sentenced to death, and then they held them there at Lansing and carried out these executions.
BARNES: It was terrible; hanging these two guys; it was gruesome as all get out. But In Cold Blood, they made it into a movie when I was in high school.
That's the original In Cold Blood with Robert Blake. So, the Clutter murders, the book, the movie, still kept a lot of focus on murder and crime and executions.
BARNES: And so if you were paying any attention, and I was trying to, you couldn't avoid knowing something about what we were doing by hanging people and I
just thought that was, it was an abomination. I had the good fortune of just about everybody I talked to, or who I considered important enough and a valued friend, held the same point of
BARNES: So, needless to say, of course, we were outnumbered but it didn't matter. I had probably my closest—he was kind of like an additional dad to me—was
my father's best friend who was a lawyer. His name was Don Smith. Don was a lawyer, his father was a justice, actually became Chief Justice of the Kansas Supreme Court.
BARNES: And here's something that's kind of interesting: when Bill Smith—William Smith would come to Dodge City from Topeka, where he lived as Chief Justice,
well then the Chief would come to Dodge and he and Don, his son, and my dad would sit down in the the living room of their house, there on west La Mesa Avenue in Dodge City.
BARNES: And they'd talk politics, drink and smoke and talk politics. And Donny, who's a couple years younger than me, Donny and I would sit up at the top of
the stairs as little kids. I mean I'm talking when we're like in elementary school and junior high school, and we'd listen to these conversations, just enthralled about business of the court
and matters of the legislature and the law and all of that. And so it was that kind of environment that I got early on exposed to.
BARNES: And so learning about the death penalty, learning what we do, and coming to think that it was just wrong was something that was just like a fish to
water as far as I was concerned. I mean, I just never ever considered the prospect of the death penalty being something which advances a civil society.
RAYMOND: Was there's something in 1969 that provoked specific—that provoked that—and I know this was a long time ago, but just that provoked an editorial in
favor of the death penalty. Were people trying to—was there a bill pending to abolish it or for some reason—
ROGER BARNES: That's a great question and I don't know what prompted that editorial. I betcha if we went back in the archives of the
Wichita Eagle, we could probably uncover both that letter and the editorial that I was responding to, and we probably—there might have been something like that, an effort to
BARNES: I can remember exchanging some letters back then with a couple of state legislators, guy named Bryan Moline or Molina, and another state legislator,
telling them that I thought—I guess they must have introduced an abolition bill and said, "Way to go. You've got my support."
BARNES: So maybe it was something like that. But what's interesting now is the last time I saw the
Wichita Eagle editorial position on the death penalty, they were taking an anti-death penalty stance.
RAYMOND: Very good. Still, it's one thing to have abolition of the death penalty be one of your almost assumed beliefs—
ROGER BARNES: Mm-hmm.
RAYMOND: —you know, a given, in that kind of environment perhaps. It's a different thing to focus on that and to make that your life's work, both
intellectually and also as politically in terms of the Texas Coalition to Adopt—Abolish the Death Penalty.
ROGER BARNES: Mm-hmm.
RAYMOND: Is there—was it-can you talk about that? Or—?
ROGER BARNES: Well, yeah, I think one of the things is that I'm an educator. And I like to educate people. And I like to see students learn. And I like it
when there are breakthroughs and when people go, "I didn't know that."
BARNES: And when I feel that I've been able to help them acquire some knowledge and an awareness and an understanding, that's why I do principally sociology
of law kinds of stuff. I teach deviance and I teach criminology and criminal justice and the death penalty class and sociological theory. That's what I was really trained in, that stuff, you
see. But I like to teach statistics.
BARNES: ‘Cause I get these students who are scared to death of statistics and so they don't think they can do it ‘cause they hated math in high school. And I
liked being able to get them so that I can teach them statistics and watch them learn.
RAYMOND: I should take your course.
ROGER BARNES: And (laughs) And I guess in a way I never really much thought about it except that maybe that's part of the deal is that the death penalty is a
never-ending opportunity to engage with people and to educate and to inform and to enlighten.
BARNES: And I've always thought that if sociology has some kind of value, it must address issues outside of the narrower realms of academia. I mean my
sociological hero is C. Wright Mills. And so Mills was this larger than life fellow whose motto was "Take it big!" And he just pissed off everybody that he had any relationship with.
BARNES: And he died, unfortunately, very young. He was only forty-five years old. But his sociology, he was as excited about speaking to students and
addressing a public audience as he was worried about the "professional" sociologists of his day.
BARNES: So I grew up with this. I mean, my dad gave me a book I still have on my shelf up there. It's The Collected Papers of C. Wright Mills, there.
It's up there somewhere. He gave me that when I was in high school. Yeah, I looked at that and I said, This is—this is nice.
BARNES: He says, "Well, you oughta get around to reading this guy. He's pretty darn good." So it wasn't until I got to K.U. and decided I would major in
sociology and I—well, better read Mills. Well, I got hooked.
BARNES: So I think in the kind of sociology he did and that I grew up being so impressed by and that's part of why I belong to the Texas Coalition to Abolish
and why I'm the head of this student group that we have on campus that has vigils on days of executions and why I go out and I write editorials for the newspaper and I go give talks to civic
groups and church groups and other school groups.
BARNES: And I can talk about other stuff, and I do, besides the death penalty, but inevitably I get asked to, I guess maybe they think I know something about
it, and so they want me to come and talk to them about it. You know, there's so many different angles to take on the death penalty, so much to write about, and so much to say.
BARNES: I mean you can talk about the economics of it, the morality of it. You can talk about life on Death Row, the sheer humanity or inhumanity of it. We
can talk about the innocence issue. We can talk about its failure as deterrence. I've been part of this battle long enough to where I can remember going back in the sixties and seventies
where there was quite a debate about whether it advanced public safety and did it function as a deterrent.
BARNES: Now you notice that that discourse has just basically all dried up and disappeared. I mean, even staunch proponents of the death penalty don't really
try to advance the deterrence argument because it just doesn't hold up.
BARNES: So with them it's like if you're gonna argue this case, you gotta argue that on some other grounds 'cause, well, if you got any knowledge at all
about the studies that we have on deterrence, you know that it doesn't work as a deterrent. So there's any number of angles to take.
RAYMOND: So you went to graduate school and became a sociologist. Can you tell us a little bit about your route until you got into here, into the University
of the Incarnate Word or is that—?
ROGER BARNES: Yeah, it's not a seamless kind of thing. My wife is an occupational therapist and she got her baccalaureate degree and her master's degree from
the University of Kansas in occupational therapy.
BARNES: She was teaching in—after we got married, I'm working on my dissertation and she's working for the Topeka public school system. She's commuting from
Lawrence to Topeka. It's a distance of about thirty miles.
BARNES: And Karen got it into her head that she wanted to become a college university academic and so there was a job that opened up here at the U.T. Health
Science Center, just a regular faculty assistant professor position in occupational therapy, and I had about two or three chapters left to write on the dissertation, and I was teaching at the
United States Penitentiary at the time.
BARNES: I taught there for two and a half years through the graduate program that we had. I felt badly about leaving that, but I said to Karen, Well, you
know, if they're gonna hire you down there, I can finish up the dissertation down there and let's see what happens. So we moved from Lawrence down to here; packed up all of our belongings.
BARNES: I sold my baseball cards for three hundred dollars. Yeah, I wish I had that shoebox back. But we needed the money to pay for the truck, and we loaded
up our stuff and we moved down here and got a little rental house and then I went around to different schools and applied my—sent my resume around. I was A.B.D., of course, and I actually got
hired at the University of Texas at San Antonio as a full-time adjunct faculty.
BARNES: I had four courses. I actually, that was the first time in my life I got a paycheck that totaled a thousand dollars a month. And so I taught there
and then got down to the point where I had about one chapter left on the dissertation. Then I was—I had been a sabbatical replacement.
BARNES: The guy came back and so I taught part-time. I taught a course at Texas Lutheran, I taught a course at Our Lady of the Lake, I finished up the
dissertation, defended, and a job opened up at U.T.S.A. I applied and interviewed and went through the whole process and they hired me.
BARNES: And so I had a full-time academic position and now my wife did. We were two academics and we were in the same city, different schools, but that was
all wonderful. Let's—I had—I didn't run into any problems or anything at U.T.S.A. I just wasn't—it just wasn't all that—didn't fit me and how I saw myself and how I wanted to have my
BARNES: So after about, after four years there, I said, You know—to Karen—I said, Look, we gotta talk about this because you're coming up for tenure next
year and you're probably gonna get it and I'm not real happy at U.T.S.A. I hadn't gotten any into any arguments. It wasn't a political deal.
BARNES: It just was, well, just some schools, you just don't feel that comfortable at. And so I said to her, Why don't I look around and let me see if
something happens to open up here. So she went ahead and she got tenured and then a position did open up here at Incarnate Word.
BARNES: And I just—the fortunate series of events, and I interviewed here and I've been here now for twenty years. They made me an offer and I told all my
friends at U.T.S.A. I was taking it and I was leaving. And I've been here for twenty years now. It was one of the best things that's ever happened.
ROGER BARNES: Yeah.
RAYMOND: Good. Tell me—I want to do a couple things, but what—could you tell us about the U.S. Penitentiary that you taught at for a while and what years
ROGER BARNES: Mm-hmm. Well it would be 1978 to 1981 and probably—yep, seventy-eight to eighty-one. And well, that's—there's a lot of stories there. First
class I taught was Causation of Crime and Delinquency, which was quite interesting, teaching crime and delinquency to federal inmates.
BARNES: I would go in, it would be an evening course, would last from like six-thirty to nine o'clock. The University of Kansas had a graduate program, a
master's degree program and an undergraduate program in sociology going on inside the walls.
BARNES: I would, once a week, I would drive over from K.U. It only takes about forty minutes or so, forty-five minutes maybe, to get from Lawrence to
Leavenworth. It's kind of a pretty drive. I'd get there at the penitentiary, park my car, walk up these big—it's kind of designed—the front of that building columns kind of looks like a capitol
building in a way.
BARNES: Walk up the steps, open up, go through a series of gates, bars, sally ports, and then into the education wing. Leavenworth, kind of a classic
auburn-style or Pennsylvania-style design where you've got wings that go—you've got a main wing that goes off like this across the front and then you've got two wings that shoot off-off the
BARNES: I go into the education wing and then we'd have class and so I got to know these guys pretty well—very well. One of them was the guy who did this.
[END OF TAPE 1]
Roger Barnes is a professor of sociology, specializing in the death penalty, at the University of the Incarnate Word. In Video 1, Mr. Barnes discusses his youth, family, politics and education in Kansas; the beginning of his interest in the prison system and the death penalty; his involvement in a documentary project directed by his friend Bill Sands; his visits to Death Row in Arkansas in 1969 and 1970; and his eventual move to teach in Texas. In Video 2, Mr. Barnes talks about his experience teaching at the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas from 1979-1981 and the students he met there; changes in federal prisons and sentencing guidelines; warehousing, "prisonization" and institutionalization of inmates; and his involvement in public speaking and death penalty activism in Texas. In the beginning of Video 3, Mr. Barnes further discusses his former students in the education program at Leavenworth. He then shares his thoughts on the changing climate around the death penalty in San Antonio and Bexar County; the role of faith communities and official political parties in death penalty activism; and trends in death penalty debates today. This interview took place on November 7, 2008 at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas.
1 of 3
Roger BarnesRole: Narrator
Texas After Violence ProjectRole: Collaborator
Virginia Marie RaymondRole: Interviewer
Gabriel Daniel SolisRole: Videographer
Jennifer AnkerRole: Transcriber
Gabriel Daniel SolisRole: Proofreader
Texas After Violence Project
University of Texas Libraries
Type of Resource:
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