of "Interview with Professor Roger Barnes."
Friends while Teaching in Prison
Butch and Willie Bosket
Changes in Prison
Does Rehabilitation Work?
Journey of Hope
RAYMOND: —in 1979-81.
ROGER BARNES: Mm-hmm.
ROGER BARNES: Teaching.
RAYMOND: And you were about to tell me about friends that you made there.
ROGER BARNES: Yeah, I had two guys that were—that I got to know pretty well. Pretty well, indeed. One of them, I'm still very good friends with because he's
still in prison. And his name is Tony Hughes. And Tony is a Native-American and he killed his girlfriend and his girlfriend's child on an Indian reservation in southeast Arizona —southwest
BARNES: And because it was a federal Indian reservation, it was a federal crime and he got two life terms in prison. Under the sentencing guidelines, life is
life, which means that he's eligible for one parole hearing after he has served thirty calendar years, and that's it, just one.
BARNES: And if it's a turn down, it's a turn down and he dies in prison. If it's something else then it's something else. His thirtieth year came two years
ago and we made a decision there with the parole examiner from the U.S. Parole Commission that we would not proceed with the parole hearing that day.
BARNES: There were lots of kind of administrative reasons why we didn't want to do that. So Tony's still in prison, he got transferred from Leavenworth to
Bastrop. I see him a couple of times a year. We speak on the phone about once a month.
BARNES: He calls and we talk until —they have a time limit and then they cut us off, like after nine minutes or ten minutes. I've gotten to know his brother,
Luther, who has passed away. I got to know his daughter, Tracy. So it's —I've known Richard since 1978, and so marks three decades.
BARNES: He's sixty, I want to say sixty-two or sixty-three years of age. I saw him just a couple of months ago and we sat down and —I go up to Bastrop. It's
the same routine. I walk in with my bag of quarters to feed the vending machines and he gets called out and we sit down.
BARNES: I told him, Hell, we're gettin' old, doing this stuff, thirty years ago —it was thirty years ago —and here we are still doing this. I don't know if
Tony is ever gonna get out of prison. I'm afraid that in many respects, he's become kind of institutionalized, and at his age, it's probably gotten to be a kind of comfort zone in prison.
BARNES: But he's a remarkable story because in the thirty-two years now that he's been in prison, he picked up an A.A. degree, a B.A. degree, an M.A. degree
through Kansas. He got that down here in Bastrop after he had gotten transferred.
BARNES: I kind of served as his thesis director and although I wasn't K.U. faculty, so I was kind of a stand-in for our friend, Bob Antonio, who was his,
technically his thesis director. And he's got those degrees, he doesn't have a single disciplinary infraction, not one in thirty-two years of incarceration.
BARNES: He's got a stack of commendations like that for program achievements and accomplishments, and he's got a clean bill of mental health by institutional
psychiatrists. I talk about Tony in some of my classes because it's a good example of at what point, as I put it to my class, when do you call the dogs off?
BARNES: Now understanding that he has himself a bit of maybe this —he's been maybe so prison-icized that he's kind of in there and he's not pushing, he's not
—there's some things he needs to do before we can proceed with a hearing, with an examiner that's sent down by the Parole Commission.
BARNES: And he —there's some other documents that he needs to get and he's not in any particular rush to get those, that's why I say that I see Tony kind of
taking his time. But how long do we —is society served by keeping somebody like that in prison?
BARNES: I mean, he's terribly remorseful about what he did. He was drunk, of course, when it happened. This has been a murder that was —that occurred after a
prolonged argument many days until finally grabbed a rifle [mimics rifle being fired twice] and that was it.
BARNES: But all the time he's been in prison, he's no alcohol, no substance abuse at all, nothing. When do you call the dogs off? I mean when do you finally
see he's not being served any better by being in prison and society isn't necessarily any better protected or served well by keeping him in prison, either.
BARNES: That's a tough call. Back in the days, he —in some respects, he's kind of fortunate that he got the prison sentence that he did, because in some
states that would qualify as capital murder. In Texas, back in the old days, when we had a forty-year thing, the "hard forty," he'd still be eight years away from even making eligibility for
BARNES: So, I don't know.The guy that got —Let me tell you this story and I'll try not to go on too long ‘cause it's not directly a death penalty story, but
it's a —
RAYMOND: It's important [inaudible]
ROGER BARNES: It's a very —it's quite a story and it concerns a guy whose name was Willie Bosket, but I'll call him Butch Bosket.
RAYMOND: How do you spell that?
ROGER BARNES: B-O-S-K-E-T. Early 1990s, let's say 1992-ish, I'm in my office on a Friday afternoon, just like this, pretty quiet on campus. This place turns
into a ghost town. Telephone rings, I pick it up, guy on the other end says, "Hi, I'm Fox Butterfield.
BARNES: I'm the New England Bureau Chief for the
New York Times, and I've just returned from a trip to Kansas. Do you have time to talk?" And I remember kind of shaking my head and chuckling and going, Oh, I know what this is going to
BARNES: And Fox and I were on the phone for two and a half hours. He was calling about one of my former students, Butch Bosket. And yes, I remembered Butch
very well, very well. Butch was arguably the brightest, most intuitively bright student I've ever had in my life.
BARNES: He was also extremely lethal. Butch Bosket is the subject of a book that Fox Butterfield wrote, called All God's Children: The Bosket Family and the
American Tradition of Violence.
BARNES: It's up there on my shelf, somewhere, up on the top. When Butterfield ,this
New York Timesreporter, he is now their criminal justice correspondent ,and when he was asked by his editor to go to a prison in New York State and interview a young man by the name of
Willie Bosket who was considered the most dangerous prisoner in the New York state prison system, Butterfield ,who had won a Pulitzer for the Times,
BARNES: he was part of that Pentagon Papers group —he had never been in a prison before. So he had extensive experience as a field war correspondent in
Vietnam, but had never been in a prison. So Fox goes to interview this young man named Willie Bosket, who is extremely dangerous, very violent: had stabbed a guard and miraculously missed
killing him by a matter of just a half an inch or so.
BARNES: Willie Bosket had committed a murder, two murders actually —one night, two murders —on a subway in New York when he was fifteen or sixteen years of
age. It had actually led to what was called in New York, the Bosket Law, led to the lowering of the age at which you could try a kid for an adult crime.
BARNES: And Willie Bosket was the son of my student, Butch Bosket. Butch and Willie never met one another, despite the fact that they were father and son.
When Butterfield meets Willie Bosket and gets interested in his story and says, I think I better —I think I might have a series of articles.
BARNES: Heck, I've got a book here. But being a very astute historian, Butterfield has got a Ph.D. in history. He's very, very bright, an extraordinarily
gifted writer, he said, but I need to do my research and I need to find out —Well, of course, doing the research led him to Willie's dad, who was my student, Butch.
BARNES: Well then, of course, as he went back in the family lineage, he discovered that Butch's father, James, had also been an extremely violent man, and
his father, Pud, equally as violent. Pud had been on South Carolina chain gangs back at the turn of the previous century, okay?
BARNES: See, you've got four generations of lethal men. I mean very, very violent. New York police are convinced that Willie Bosket committed more than the
two murders on the subway. I'm sure they're right. But All God's Children was the outcome of some remarkable social history that Butterfield did.
BARNES: He might be trained as an historian, but he's got a sociologist's temperament and sensitivity. It's fascinating —you both would just marvel at the
reading of it —and I, sometimes I have my students read it. They have a hard time with the early history part of it, ‘cause he takes you back two hundred years in American history to the
settling of South Carolina.
BARNES: And sometimes my students aren't really that interested in the history, but if they work through that, then they get into the story, the twentieth
century story of Butch and of Willie. Butch Bosket, my student, had killed two people in a pawnshop in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, when he was a young man in his twenties.
BARNES: His girlfriend at the time was pregnant with Willie. Butch got —he got convicted and he got sentenced to life in prison. Wisconsin didn't have,
doesn't have the death penalty. He arranged to get transferred to the state psychiatric hospital and from there he escaped.
BARNES: And then Butch made his way back to New York City where he robbed banks. Eventually the F.B.I. caught up with him and arrested him and he was
convicted and given a —I'd have to look in the book, but it was a pretty good sentence for bank robbery.
BARNES: And he shows up in my class and that's where Butch and I first meet one another. I liked the guy. He's engaging, he's bright as all-get-out, he can
be funny, he can be extremely emotional, I mean he can get just raging, sort of, but it's kind of a constrained, controlled rage, where the veins on the side of his head would get just like
BARNES: So I got to know Butch real well. In fact, I even wrote a letter to the Parole Commission saying what a good student he was, and urging a parole for
Butch Bosket. Boy, in retrospect, was I way off the mark. Well, eventually he did get paroled and he got returned to Wisconsin to finish out the sentences that he owed on the original
BARNES: And he worked his way through the Wisconsin system pretty quickly. He also acquired a girlfriend, girlfriend had a child, I think a couple of
children. One of them was a young girl. Butch began sexually molesting the young girl. He had gotten a teaching —he had gotten into graduate school in sociology, University of Wisconsin, and
there in Milwaukee, and the home of the original pawnshop murders.
BARNES: So he was back into his old trade, dealing porn and molesting the daughter of his girlfriend. This came to light. This child had bruises on her,
markings on her, and after some inquiries were made, Butch was charged with sexually molesting the girl and was taken to the psychi —taken to taken to the county hospital, I think it was.
BARNES: There, in Milwaukee, is a huge sprawling complex, and he was put into the psychiatric wing under armed guard. They had a deputy there in his room; he
was handcuffed to the bed. The mother of the girl, his girlfriend went and rented a nurses outfit, got a gun, got her car, drove her car to the hospital, went in posing as a nurse, and walked
into the hospital room, and got the drop on the deputy sheriff, okay?
BARNES: Took the deputy sheriff's gun away, un-handcuffed Butch from the hospital bed, and then the two of them started making their way out. There was some
confusion, she had either come —I forget the exact chronology here, Virginia, but she'd either come up the elevator and then they were going down the stairs or vice versa. At any rate, in the
exit, they got lost and ended up in the basement of this labyrinth of a hospital.
BARNES: And by the time they finally exited the building, they were at the opposite end of where she had left the getaway car. So they start making their way
through the parking lot. By now, of course, it had been discovered that the deputy —
BARNES: all of this was going down and the place was screaming with police cars, and they intercepted Butch and the girlfriend in the parking lot and there
ensues a good old-fashioned shoot out, bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang, back and forth until Butch is down to two bullets in his last gun.
BARNES: He grabs the girl around the neck like that and shoots her in the head, and then he eats the last bullet, and blows his head off. Oh, I forgot to
tell you, Butch Bosket was the first and only prison inmate in American history to be inducted into Phi Beta Kappa.
BARNES: That whole story sounds so remarkable, just like if you scripted it in Hollywood, that's —it would be something like that. It's true, I mean that's
how that happened. So that's all part of All God's Children. That was my student. There was another part of all this, that you might find kind of interesting from the violence aspect of
BARNES: And that is that Butch had a friend in prison by the name of Rodney Britton, B-R-I-T-T-O-N. Rodney Britton was dangerous as all-get-out. Rodney
Britton was a white guy; Butch was Black. Rodney Britton had his hair real long.
BARNES: He had been arrested in Oklahoma and had escaped from county lock-up, and had kidnapped the deputy sheriff in his escape. Along the way, of course,
ended up in federal court, and he got convicted and sentenced to Leavenworth, where he and Butch hooked-up and I mean hooked-up in the contemporary meaning of hooked-up. They became
BARNES: And so in exchange for sexual favors, Butch would make sure that nobody bothered Rodney. Butch was very strong; he was very well built, very
muscular. Rodney was kind of slight, kind of skinny. Rodney had a penchant for knives and he would keep them in his shoes or in his boots in class at Leavenworth.
BARNES: He'd sometimes —he'd reach over, he'd pull his knife out and he'd kind of look at it and stick it back in his sock into his boot. Well, I had a
friend who was in law school at K.U., and my friend had never been inside a penitentiary. So he wanted to know if he could go up, or I'd —maybe I asked him.
BARNES: I said, "Jeff, you know, I'm —if you want to go in the prison with me, I can arrange that." I did. They were accommodating.
BARNES: And so when we took a break one evening, I'm talking to Rodney Britton and to Butch, and I've got my law school buddy and neighbor with me and Rodney
kind of casually mentions that's he's going to be getting out of prison in February. This was in the fall and that he was hoping he could return to K.U., go to school, and finish his degree,
and my friend says, "If you want a place to live, you can come and stay with my wife and me."
BARNES: And I remember driving back that evening with Jeff and I said, Jeff, you've lost your fuckin' mind. You don't know Rodney Britton and I know him just
enough to know that you don't want him living with you.
BARNES: Well, then we kind of said, Oh look, the chances of this are pretty remote. Well, what happened was that in February, he did get out of prison and he
posted a fugitive bond to fight extradition back to Oklahoma, and he posted it there in Leavenworth, and then he somehow got over, either got on a bus or he hitched or he somehow got to
BARNES: It's not very far from Leavenworth and he showed up on Jeff's front door: Hi, I'm here, me and my earthly possessions in this bag. And so he came in
and they gave him the spare bedroom that they had. And Rodney, yeah, yeah, this is going be not pretty.
BARNES: Rodney had a kind of flip female persona that sometimes —especially if he ingested enough L.S.D. or took enough —did enough coke —he could kind of
slide into this female Rodney deal. All the while, of course, his penchant for knives was ever-present.
BARNES: And he just scared the living hell out of Jeff's wife, of course, and this became oh, after about three or four weeks, an intolerable situation. And
so I went to the prison and I saw Butch. In fact, I was making pretty routine Friday afternoon visits to the prison to see Butch. This was in addition to my teaching at night.
BARNES: And I said to Butch, Look, this situation is intolerable. Rodney has got to go. That's just it; I mean he is dangerous. Rodney had come to my office
at K.U. I had a —I was a graduate teacher and I had a —I mean graduate student who was teaching and I had, along with some other graduate teaching assistants, we had a little collection of
desks and Rodney showed up one-one day.
BARNES: I remember walking home with Rodney, down the hill and saying, Rodney, you gotta get a job, you gotta stop doing the drugs. He quickly had found the
drug sources in Lawrence, Kansas. You gotta get serious about and get into school and do that stuff.
BARNES: But that was all falling on deaf ears. Well, after my conversation with Butch, I said, You gotta get —Rodney's gotta get out of there. He's gotta get
out of Jeff's house. And so Butch called Rodney the next day and said, "Leave. I order" —you see, this is the power that a powerful —that a inmate like Butch has.
BARNES: And it's just that, even though he's in prison and Rodney's out, Rodney's going to do what he tells him to do. And so Rodney did. Rodney called
another prison buddy of his, ex-con, who came over from, I don't know where, and picked up what stuff Rodney had.
BARNES: And Rodney, if I recall, Rodney cut his hair. Had a long ponytail, left it on the bed. The two of them ended up a couple of days later in Arkansas.
They robbed a grocery store or a restaurant and they got drunk as they were driving around, getting away from all of this.
BARNES: They stopped in a little tiny town to get gasoline and it was —the car was running low, just at the point where the gas station operator had closed
up, turned off the pumps, and was locking up everything. And they said, "Can we get some gas?"
BARNES: And the guy said, "I'm all locked up." But so they drove on. Well, just a matter of a few moments later, the town sheriff comes through and he's just
checking on how everything is and the guy at the gas station says, "Well, you know, these two guys came through just a few minutes ago.
BARNES: Smelled pretty bad. They probably were drunk." So the sheriff takes out after them, thinking he's just gonna knock down a couple of guys who are
driving while they're intoxicated. Well, he stops their car, he finds them, he stops their car and he gets out and he doesn't probably walk more than a couple of feet before Rodney gets out and
(two firing gun noises) like that.
BARNES: Shoots the sheriff before the sheriff is able to squeeze off one round that goes through the back window, back seat and hits Rodney's companion. So
Rodney does what you would expect him to do: he pushes his companion out the car like that, leave him wounded along the side of the road, the cop's bleeding to death on the highway, Rodney
BARNES: So Rodney takes off and the car runs out of gas and then Rodney takes off into the Ozarks, into the hills. There ensues the longest manhunt, I think,
in the history of Arkansas policing. And for about five days, dozens, if not hundreds, of police are involved in tracking down Rodney Britton.
BARNES: They finally find him way up there, some place way in the Ozarks, deep, you know. He's in this little kind of shed, this outbuilding that's got a
little raised loft in it. And this deputy sheriff goes in to find —to see what's up there and he starts to climb up the ladder.
BARNES: Rodney's up there (gun firing sounds) like that. He wounds the sheriff; he doesn't kill him. And the sheriff falls down, out of the thing, and fires
back at Rodney, and then they torch the place; real John Wilkes Booth. Then they go in and they find Rodney, of course, dead.
BARNES: We were scared to death back in Lawrence because we feared somehow that Rodney was gonna make his way back to Jeff's house and I live behind Jeff. We
just had a fence so we'd just hop over the fence to see each other. So we were, knowing all this, the Lawrence police for five days just maintained a pretty steady patrol around that
BARNES: 'Course, Rodney never showed up. And they finally got Rodney but that was a pretty tense time. Last time I saw Butch Bosket, I went back to the
prison, and I was pretty pissed because I knew that Rodney was dangerous, but I gotta confess I didn't know he was that dangerous and that this whole thing was going to unfold.
BARNES: Butch was pissed for a different set of reasons. He was pissed because Rodney was dead. And so we had a rather tense and final meeting. As I said,
Butch could get —he could get angry, he could get and he could get worked up. Trying to keep him calm, Sit down, Butch.
BARNES: I remember Bob Antonio and I'd tell him, Stop, sit down and talk to us. He was just so distraught because Rodney Britton had been killed in this
shoot-out. So that was the conditions under which I'd last saw him, and then of course, just a matter of a month or two after that, I moved down to San Antonio.
BARNES: Butch and I exchanged a couple of letters and for the life of me, I don't know what happened to them. And so when Fox Butterfield went to writing the
book, I just went through everything and I couldn't find those letters. It's kind of too bad. But that was —there's the other —there's another Leavenworth story for you: the story of Butch
Bosket and Rodney Britton.
RAYMOND: I have to admit to some surprise that inmates at Leavenworth were allowed to wear boots —
ROGER BARNES: It was pretty —
RAYMOND: —for that exact reason.
ROGER BARNES: Yeah, it was kind of military-style stuff. I mean the uniforms were kind of khaki, pressed, and yeah, they had boots. They had boots; they had
tennis shoes. I had a couple of inmates that cheated on an exam. What do you do to guys who cheat on an exam when they're already in federal lock-up?
RAYMOND: What did you do?
ROGER BARNES: Gave them Fs. (laughs) Didn't break their heart.
RAYMOND: So many things I want to ask you. Being at Leavenworth, seventy-nine, eighty—
ROGER BARNES: Uh-huh.
RAYMOND: —and visiting your friend now in Bastrop periodically—
ROGER BARNES: Yeah.
RAYMOND: —what changes have you seen in federal prisons? Either from that experience or from other visits?
ROGER BARNES: Well, at Bastrop, it's a lot more younger guys. Bastrop, if you kind of think of the federal system, from maximum security penitentiaries like
Marion and Florence and Leavenworth and Atlanta and then you go all the way down to like the camps that you've got like at Spring, Texas and things like that. Bastrop is a federal correctional
institution, F.C.I.; it's not a United States penitentiary.
BARNES: These names all kind of connote a level of security classification. So in a classification system, Bastrop would be kind of a middle level
institution. Not nearly—it doesn't have—Bastrop doesn't have as nearly a dangerous inmate population as you would have at Florence.
BARNES: I mean that's a super max. I mean that's the modern-day Alcatraz. What I've noticed is that you have a lot of young guys and you have a lot of drug
offenders. And thirty years ago, it wasn't quite like that. You had an older population and you didn't have as many young guys in it; you didn't have as many drug offenses.
BARNES: These federal sentencing guidelines that got adopted in the eighties and into the nineties, you know, really harsh, really harsh. So you've got a lot
of young guys serving some substantial federal time. And a lot of the sentencing guidelines have removed a lot of freedom that judges have.
BARNES: So their hands are kind of tied. It's made a lot of these federal judges kind of unhappy because of that, because they'd like to be able to take into
account some factors that they're not able to take into account to. So with convictions, they've got a very narrow range of what they can impose and all-imposes sentences and frequently it's
pretty hard time.
BARNES: So that's one of the things. And when I go to see Tony at Bastrop in the big waiting room, I'm always struck by the fact that there are so many
children, young children, that come to see their dads or their grandpas in prison. And you have a lot of minorities.
BARNES: You always had minorities in federal prison, but, boy, you have a lot of minorities: a lot of Hispanics, a lot of Blacks, foreign nationals in our
prison today. And of course, and the thing that has changed —and this is true in the federal system, although I think it manifests itself even more in state prisons —and that is the role of the
BARNES: You had cliques thirty years ago, groups of inmates who got together. But now, I mean the prisons are pretty much the entire social system is
structured around gangs: the Aryan Brotherhood, the Mexican Mafia, and the like. So the —th at's really changed.
BARNES: What prison language, and the prison administrators call them "security threat groups," but that's a kind of euphemism for gangs. And they really
structure the whole social situation, setting of the prison. And I—that's another big change.
BARNES: And then, of course, along with all of this goes just the sheer increase in the volume of people that we have in prison. The biggest increase, of
course, is at the state prison level, but what are we looking at now? About two and a half million people behind prison bars.
BARNES: We've got the world's highest incarceration rate of any nation on the planet. It's just—we're a very "incarceral" society and with all this
incarceration, we lead the western world in violent crime and it's got to be something different. I remember a long time ago, in the mid-seventies, if I said 1976, that'd be real, real close to
this, Robert Martinson's famous book on the "effectiveness of correctional treatment" came out.
BARNES: And what Martinson's research group there at N.Y.U. had done was to survey the existing literature at that time over almost a two decade-long period.
Research that had focused on how effective correctional treatment was. That is "Did prison rehabilitation work?"
BARNES: And Martinson was—is I—when I went, suggested he was very hopeful that he could make a persuasive case to show that prison rehabilitation programs
worked. Well, by the time they got through surveying all this literature, the conclusion was that there was no compelling empirical evidence to substantiate that correctional treatment was
BARNES: So, in essence, it didn't make a heck of a lot of difference whether you—you can have some paper if you write on the back.
RAYMOND: Oh, thanks. I've got —
ROGER BARNES: Oh okay. You know, whether —
RAYMOND: These are questions, these are notes.
ROGER BARNES: Gotcha, all right. It didn't matter really whether you kept people in prison and warehoused them or whether you ran them through this battery
of rehabilitation programs.
BARNES: Leavenworth had at that time a biofeedback unit and I think it was mostly for men who had alcohol addiction problems, and they asked me to come over.
They knew I was teaching through the K.U. program and they asked me to come over and to talk about aspects of incarceration. When you're in prison, boy, anything you can do to break up the
monotony and the routine.
BARNES: So I went over, and the Martinson report had just been published, and I talked about that report and I pointed out that probably it signaled pretty
much the end to the kinds of units that these guys were living in, ‘cause they lived in this unit, this biofeedback program,
BARNES: and said, Look, these programs cost varying amounts of money and if the conclusion that the Martinson people come up with is that these treatment
programs by and large are not really working; are not appreciably better that just warehousing and incarcerating, then you can probably expect to see the federal bureau cut back on that stuff,
which is indeed what happened;
BARNES: and then followed suit were the state departments of correction, who not infrequently take their lead from what the federal bureau is doing. So then
you start to see the rollback. Point being, we just don't have the kinds of rehabilitation and treatment programs that—certainly not like we made an effort at in the 1950s and that some
lingered into the sixties, and some even into the seventies.
BARNES: I take my students out to what we call a state jail, it's for people here in Texas who are convicted of class D misdemeanors —no, class D felonies,
that's it, class D felonies, which means they can only serve a maximum of two years, okay?
BARNES: And I take them out to this prison, it's called a "state jail," but it's a prison, and what you see is a perfect example of how most of these guys
are warehoused. Now if the authorities there heard me say that, they'd say, Well, what about our education program?
BARNES: ‘Cause they do operate a "school." That's really the exception because most of the people who are in prison, their day is spent not going through
school, not going through vocational rehab programs, not getting the kind of anger management, drug treatment programs that they need to have.
BARNES: They're just warehoused. And when you realize that probably somewhere around ninety-six or ninety-seven percent of all prisoners are eventually going
to get released —One of my nonstop rants with my criminal justice students is always, what we want to have are people coming out of prison better equipped to make it in society than they were
than when they went into prison.
BARNES: Well, for the life of me, I don't really see that happening. When it does happen, it's almost as oftentimes—it happens by what the prisoners do
themselves to themselves, not so much what the institution does to them. And so no wonder we've got this recidivism rate of two-thirds, sixty-six percent.
BARNES: That recidivism rate's been holding steady for years and years and years and years. It's just —to me, it's just evidence of the failure of what we're
RAYMOND: Sorry, tell me what you mean by what prisoners are doing to themselves.
ROGER BARNES: Sometimes, you get in prison—some—a guy who now all of a sudden doesn't have access to drugs and so is necessarily forced to get clean.
BARNES: You gotta get the booze out of their system, gotta get the coke out of their veins. And then all of a sudden there might be a period of maturation, a
period of somber reflection, a realization that they've marred the lives of other people including their family members.
BARNES: They've left kind of a scorched earth, and it's time to grow up, damn it, and do something because if you—if you're gonna get out of prison some day,
there's just this—sometimes there's this realization, You know, I gotta clean up my shit, and I gotta do it.
BARNES: And so sometimes it happens that way. And it's not as though you can say, Well, I can point to my involvement in this drug rehab program over here,
and I've picked up my G.E.D., and I'm taking college classes over here, and along the way, I've learned a trade in air conditioning or something like that.
BARNES: It's not like those are the things that have come together. Now, grant you, sometimes, occasionally, and sporadically, little bits of that does
happen, but oftentimes it's just the inmates who just—they sit by themselves and they realize, You know, this isn't working and here I am again. And some of them get religion. So sometimes
those are the pieces that have to come together.
RAYMOND: I'm very interested in your friend, Tony Hughes —
ROGER BARNES: Yeah.
RAYMOND: —and you said has happened in the sense that he's not even really trying; he's not in any hurry to get out of Bastrop, out of federal prison. Can
you talk—and you used the word "institutionalization" and prison,"prisonitization."
ROGER BARNES: Prisonize. Prisonized.
RAYMOND: Prisonized or something. Can you tell me what you mean by that?
ROGER BARNES: Donald Clemmer is the one who back in the early 1940s wrote a book called The Prison Community and he's the one who introduced the term
BARNES: And what he meant by that was a point at which an inmate becomes so thoroughly enmeshed and involved in the inmate subculture that that set of rules
and the culture that the inmates share amongst themselves is a more powerful influence than the "official" rules of the prison.
BARNES: What Clemmer kind of argued was that there's a period during the incarceration stay when that happens and there's been—there was some research in
response to that that said, well, the rate of prisonization is oftentimes the most intense at the midpoint of a prison sentence, that when they first get to prison, they're not really involved
in that culture and then when they start realizing,
BARNES: Uh-oh, I do have a possibility of parole in months, or a year and-a-half, or two, then they start to maybe disengage a little bit from such a total
immersion into that. What I use—I think the term "institutionalization" in my friend, Tony's case, implies something a little bit different than that.
BARNES: And I think what it means is that he has accommodated his orientation, his definition of the situation to the realities of prison life, so that there
might very well be—bear in mind here, I am not a psychologist and I'm speculating, but I know—I've known Tony for thirty years and I think there are probably some things about freedom at this
point that are a little bit scary.
BARNES: Getting a job, paying rent, driving a car, the expectation of establishing relationships with strangers including women: all of this might be just a
little bit —whooo! The world that he's been circulating in and living in for three decades now, and doing pretty well in, has provided a measure of some psyche protection for him.
BARNES: And he's not threatened, he's not the victim of violence, he's able to get up and do his job and have meals and people write letters to him and he
does his painting and he teaches young Indians about their culture. And I think he's accommodated himself and adjusted to that prison role.
BARNES: And the possibility of leaving that entirely and moving into this very post-industrial, highly tech-oriented culture is probably a pretty frightening
situation for him. Institutionalized in that sense is what I mean. Does that make some sense?
RAYMOND: Yes. Thank you. You referred to and touched that painting. I wonder if you could show us.
ROGER BARNES: Sure. This is a painting that Tony did. It's actually a painting of a picture. I think he got this out of like a Smithsonian magazine or a
natural history magazine. This is some pottery shards and you can see some corn.
BARNES: And so what Tony likes to do is he likes to take photographs and then he paints the photograph. And I'm his middleman. He has this thing where he
paints photographs of family members of other inmates and then he sends them to me and then I mail them on.
BARNES: ‘Cause see, he can't mail his stuff to the family of another inmate, but I'm on his mailing list so he'll take a—just make up a name—he'll take
Ernesto Ramirez's the picture that he has of his daughter and his wife, and he'll take that and he'll paint it, make a pretty good—bigger than this. He'll paint big pictures like that.
BARNES: And then he'll box them all up and send them to me and then he'll—when we talk on the phone, he'll say, "Now the address for that one is —" and I'll
write it down and then I'll take it to the post office and spend six bucks or seven bucks to mail it out. I've got—I've got one of his—I just mailed off two of his paintings earlier in October.
I've got another one that just arrived the other day, so —put them in the mail.
RAYMOND: Are we doing okay? Thank you. I'm going to sort of shift again.
ROGER BARNES: Sure.
RAYMOND: It sounds like from what you're saying that you arrived in Texas, eighty-one-ish?
ROGER BARNES: Eighty-one.
ROGER BARNES: Summer.
RAYMOND: The summer of 1981. And 1982, Texas reinstates or starts executing —
ROGER BARNES: Charlie Brooks. That's December seventh.
RAYMOND: That's December seventh, 1982. I'm curious, when did you become an activist in this—aside from your research—in a more outward sense, with respect
to the death penalty in Texas?
ROGER BARNES: I was always kind of doing it, but the activism part, giving speeches and lectures and organizing, that was usually confined either to the
university that I was at, initially U.T.S.A. and then later here, or to different church groups. The activism became more organized in the—about ten years ago.
RAYMOND: Okay, before we get to that, can you tell me what church groups you would go talk to and how that came about?
ROGER BARNES: Oh. Well, I'm a Methodist, United Methodist, so I would talk to Methodist groups or talk to Presbyterian groups. And mostly I just get
invitations to come to Sunday schools or an occasional M.Y.F. —Methodist Youth Fellowship group.
RAYMOND: And they knew about through your scholarly writings?
ROGER BARNES: Well, yeah, they probably knew more about it through things I would write for the newspaper or write for the
Current, our other newspaper in San Antonio.
RAYMOND: And so then what happened ten years ago?
ROGER BARNES: Well, ten years ago, I think a little bit more. I think it was more like around ninety-six or ninety-seven. We, meaning activists who kind of
had formed informally, or grouped together informally —Dave Atwood really led the charge.
BARNES: Dave's over in Houston, and he really was the one who said, "Come and let's organize and let's put together a chapter of the Texas Coalition to
Abolish the Death Penalty and let's get ourselves in that kind of group, as part of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty."
BARNES: So that hooked up activists from all around the state. And now we're doing things as an organization and our membership is growing and we're hiring
an executive director now. And I'm involved in that. And so we're going to be doing some pretty good lobbying with the legislature this upcoming session.
BARNES: But primarily, we are—we are an educational group. We give talks and we help sponsor things like the Journey of Hope and try to spread the word that
RAYMOND: Can you say for the people who will be watching this in the future what the Journey of Hope is?
ROGER BARNES: Yeah, the Journey of Hope is an organization that was founded back in the 1990s by a man named Bill Pelke. And Bill had other people who were
part of that early effort but Bill's story —and he tells it very, very well and—have you heard Bill's story, Virginia?
RAYMOND: I've read it.
ROGER BARNES: You've read it.
RAYMOND: But —
ROGER BARNES: I'll tell the story.
RAYMOND: Yeah, because that's what —
ROGER BARNES: This—Bill Pelke's grandmother was murdered by a group of young girls. The youngest of whom I think was fifteen at the time. And they went to
Mrs. Pelke's house, this is in Indiana, and asked Mrs. Pelke if she gave Bible lessons and she said no, but if they'd come inside her house, she would write down the name of a friend who did
give Bible lessons.
BARNES: When they went inside the house, these three girls, Black girls, they jumped her and they murdered Mrs. Pelke. They stabbed her to death and they
stole her car and some—just a small amount of money and they—Pamela—I hate to say names when I'm not absolutely sure but—Paula—no, I am —Paula Cooper was the ringleader of this group.
BARNES: And Paula Cooper was given a death sentence for the murder of Ruth Pelke and became the youngest person on the nation's death row at that time. At
the time, the Pelke family, when they were asked by the district attorney if it was okay, if they had any objection to pursuing a death sentence, the Pelkes said, "No."
BARNES: And as of—sometimes as happens, when Bill tells the story, he points out that they put it to them like "your mother was a pretty—your grandmother was
a pretty important person and you loved her and to honor her, we think we ought to get the death penalty."
BARNES: And that all made sense. Well, Bill's a steelworker and he operated a big crane. After he—after Paula Cooper was given a death sentence and put on
the women's Death Row there in Indiana—Bill is on his crane one late afternoon, early evening at a steel plant and he has this kind of epiphany where he sees in his mind's eye a picture of his
grandmother and this time the tears are coming down her cheeks.
BARNES: And he sees his grandmother crying because Paula Cooper's on Death Row. And so he comes down off the crane and says to himself, I've got to meet
Paula Cooper. Well, initially Indiana authorities tell him no way, but they finally relent, they allow him to have some visits with Paula Cooper.
BARNES: And in rather short order, Bill becomes convinced that execution is not the solution. And he gets a lot of help from people in Italy and is able to
then create an organization that he calls "The Journey of Hope: From Violence to Healing."
BARNES: This is an organization that is made up of the family members of murder victims and the family members of people who were on Death Row. And these two
groups of people come together annually now for some time.
BARNES: They pick a state, they go to that state, usually in the fall, and they travel around, giving lectures on their personal —very, very personal-stories
about— see, these are people who have had children, parents, grandparents, husbands, wives murdered and they say, "Don't kill in my name. I don't want this.
BARNES: This isn't going to bring my loved one back to life and all you're gonna do is spread this violence and here will be another family, the family of
the condemned prisoner, who is going to lose their father, their son, their uncle, their brother."
BARNES: One thing to listen to an academic talk about it, and we roll out the numbers, and roll out the studies, and cite chapter and verse on all that
stuff; and then you end up with somebody like Marietta Jaeger-Dean, who lost her daughter on this camp-out years ago, when the family was out in Montana, camping out.
BARNES: And a really bad man who was terribly mentally ill, cut a hole in the side of the tent and in the middle of the night, snatched Marietta's little
girl, Susie, and did terrible things to her, including killing her. And then, on the eve of that killing, he called Marietta seemingly to taunt her.
BARNES: Well, Marietta had a tape recorder nearby the telephone. And she flipped the tape recorder on—and you gotta listen to this, this is incredible—and
Marietta talks to this man who had killed her daughter and they hadn't found the daughter by this time, didn't know where Susie was.
BARNES: And I think the police had said, "You know, in this kind of a case, he might try to contact you." And I think that's why Marietta had the tape
recorder nearby. And he did. And so she talks to him and she says to him things like, "Well, are you okay? How are you?" and keep him on the phone—and to make a short story of this, what
happens is that they are able to find this man.
BARNES: They arrest him and then he commits suicide before they go to trial. Commits—as I remember, I think he committed suicide while they were holding him
in jail. Well, listening to an academic prattle on about all of this and talking about the law and talking about the studies is one thing, but to listen to Bill Pelke or Marietta Jaeger—whoa,
that's a whole ‘nother thing.
BARNES: I've seen them talk to students, student audiences and public audiences where people just stand there in just utter, just disbelief, just the tears
roll down and they just can't—the agony of these personal stories. And then to hear these people say, "And don't take this man and execute him. That's not what I want." It's like whoa.
BARNES: I mean how—what's your comeback to that? So that's why I think those voices are so incredibly powerful, or groups like Renny Cushing's Murder
Victims' Families for Human Rights and the other group, Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation.
BARNES: I mean here are folks who're saying—these folks have experienced the most profound and the deepest kind of brutalizing loss that you can imagine. And
when people say to me, "Yeah, well, it's easy for you to be against the death penalty because you haven't lost a family member.
BARNES: You'd feel differently if somebody killed your wife or killed your daughter." And I say, You know, thank God I haven't. I don't wanna be part of that
club. Who the hell would ever wanna—I don't—nobody—none of us want to be part of that club. But I do know people in that club and I can tell you what they have to say.
BARNES: And listen to their stories. Boy, oh boy, it's like—that's just some real potent stuff. I guess the point is you know that it's not always the case,
is it, that these families that have experienced this profound tragedy want justice. I wanna be there and watch them stick the poison in his veins and, oh, applaud and we'll have a party
BARNES: That's one of the great lies that way too many Assistant D.A.s and D.A.s tell the families of these victims. They tell them, "You'll feel better. You
need closure. The execution will be closure. When you watch that happen you'll feel better when it's over with." And that's all a bunch of poppycock.
BARNES: It's not—that's mythology, mythology in the sense that it isn't true. I—That's why I think those kinds of voices are the ones to listen to. Renny
Cushing, whose dad gets shot when he opens the door of his house, dies on the living room floor of the family home. And there's Renny going, "Mm-mm, mm-mm.
BARNES: Not in my—I don't want—I don't want the killer to be put to death. That's not what we want." That's just—I think you can't ignore those voices and
when you listen to them, they are so—they are so important. Not only are they emotionally tugging at you—
BARNES: and I've—whether you're talking to a group of hardened Republican businessmen or whether you're talking to the choir at the Methodist Church,
inevitably, those stories affect people in very deep ways ‘cause they're so emotionally compelling.
BARNES: But those voices had a lot to do with the reason why last December, December of '07, the New Jersey legislature laid to rest the death penalty.
Because those victims groups said, "This isn't gonna do us any good, folks."
BARNES: And then the police came out and said, "Well, you've pumped two-hundred and eighty-five million dollars into this rat hole that we call the death
penalty, haven't executed anybody, and two-thirds of the cases have been overturned on appeal; and what a miserable way to waste money.
BARNES: You wanna fight crime, give us some money, put it into drug rehab programs, crime prevention programs, and we'll fight the death penalty better—we'll
fight crime better than the death penalty." So the legislators there in New Jersey, they listened to these murder victims and came away, going, "Hm, well now, I guess that's not always the case
these victims want retribution."
RAYMOND: We are getting close to the end, but I do have more questions.
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.
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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
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