of "Interview with Professor Roger Barnes."
Photos of Butch Bosket and Rodney Britton
Phi Beta Kappa Induction
Prison Education Program
Capital Punishment in Bexar County
Sam Milsap (also see Texas After Violence Project's interview with Sam Milsap)
Claims of Innocence
Doubts About the System
Working Toward Abolition
Reverberations of Attica
ROGER BARNES: Earlier, we were talking about Butch Boskett and Rodney Britton. And that's a picture—this is Butch, of course, and this is Butch over here and
this is Rodney. And as I was saying, these two had a sexual relationship and in exchange for Rodney giving Butch sexual favors, Butch made sure—and you can see him and I said he was powerfully
built, he's a very strong man and probably had an antisocial personality disorder.
BARNES: His file at Bellevue Hospital was enormously thick. Any number of mental disorders might have been applied to him. But he protected Rodney from other
predators in the prison.
BARNES: One thing that you might notice in this photograph if—I don't know if the camera can pick it up, but they have—sorry—you notice that on their wrists,
there's a braided Indian band and that was made by Tony Hughes, who I was talking about earlier, and that was made just for Rodney and for Butch.
BARNES: That was a sort of their connection. When Butch was just about finished with his academic work at K.U., I approached the vice chancellor, Francis
Heller, and I asked Dr. Heller if Phi Beta Kappa people would consider Butch for membership in Phi Beta Kappa. And they did. And they said, "Yes, we will." And Butch then became the first
prison inmate in American history to be inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, and he will be the last.
RAYMOND: Is this—what [inaudible]
ROGER BARNES: This is the induction.
RAYMOND: I forgot what year.
ROGER BARNES: This is 1980—eighty—no, nineteen eighty. Yes, 1980.
RAYMOND: Is this a picture that you took?
ROGER BARNES: No. This was a picture that was taken by the Public Relations people at the University of Kansas. And this is Dr. Heller over here and then of
course, I don't know this other man. This is Butch receiving his induction into Phi Beta Kappa.
BARNES: I'll tell you something kind of interesting about that particular afternoon. The prison of—the academic officials from K.U., of course, in their
regalia, went over to the prison. The induction ceremony took place in a room, a rather sizable room, and there were other inmates and there was a news reporter from the
Kansas City Staror the
Kansas City Times, I forget which.
BARNES: And what I remember distinctly about Butch that afternoon was that when things started to happen and K.U. officials started to speak about the
history and the creation of Phi Beta Kappa and what a distinct honor it was—in those moments, Butch started clinging to the side of the wall and kind of almost shrinking down like he wanted to
just sort of disappear into the woodwork.
BARNES: And when it got time to call him forward, he kind of almost had to be pushed by other prisoners to get on out there, Butch, go. And he kind of came
reluctantly, almost embarrassingly.
BARNES:And I gave that some thought later because we sociologists have a term Harold Garfinkel coined it years ago called "status degradation ceremonies" and
those are ceremonies, whether they're played out in a police station or sentencing at trial, things of that nature—
BARNES: ceremonies that are designed to tear you down, to degrade you, to make you lose prestige, lose power, lose influence. And if you think back on it, in
Butch's life, he'd been nothing but a successive series of one after another, whether it was mug shots, fingerprints, convictions, sentences, a new prison, it was—his whole life; the rejection
by his father, his mother.
BARNES: His mother was—Butch's mother was a prostitute and drug addict. His father, James, was in prison most of the time that—when Butch was a young
kid. The rejection was just enormous. Nothing but a series of these status degradation ceremonies.
BARNES: Here, at this age, when he's about thirty-six years of age, see, this is when he now has a status affirmation ceremony into this prestigious academic
fraternity and he doesn't have the slightest idea how to conduct himself.
BARNES: He's never had such an experience in his life and I think that's always what kind of was this sort of dodging and reluctantly coming forward. Just a
small little observation.
RAYMOND: Could you show those two photographs again of where he is on his own. I guess this is—
ROGER BARNES: This one?
RAYMOND: Was that outside at Leavenworth?
ROGER BARNES: Oh yeah, yeah. They were allowed outside, had a big exercise yard at Leavenworth; still do. Yeah. Go out there and—
RAYMOND: He looks—
ROGER BARNES: —work.
RAYMOND: Yeah, so that's a—and then again I just—let's—can we look a little bit longer at that one?
ROGER BARNES: Sure.
RAYMOND: Thank you. So the inmates who are in that room, who are they?
ROGER BARNES: They're basically were inmates who were in the education program.
RAYMOND: I see.
ROGER BARNES: K.U. offered a number of classes. They had classes meeting there, two or three classes, every evening, most nights of the week. That program
has been completely shut down now.
RAYMOND: Do you know when it was shut down?
ROGER BARNES: It was phased out in the 1980s. The death knell came in the 1990s when the Congress of the United States, in its not-so-infinite wisdom,
decided that federal prisoners were no longer entitled to Pell Grants.
BARNES: And of course, none of these guys have any money, and so the Pell Grant was the thing that enabled them to take these classes. So without that, whup,
that takes care of, see that's what I mean about this whole business of backing away from rehabilitation and treatment. ‘Cause this was once a very big program.
BARNES: And there were some successes. I talked about Tony, who's still in prison, and Butch, whose saga is memorialized in Butterfield's book. But we did
have guys who went through this program who got degrees, who went out, and have lived productive lives in society, and I'd like to feel that something that they got through that education
helped them accomplish that. So it's not as though there was altogether a miserable failure.
RAYMOND: What other courses did you teach? You said the first course you taught was Causes of—
ROGER BARNES: Causation of Crime and Delinquency. I've taught History of Sociology. I think I taught—I probably taught an intro sociology course somewhere in
that mix. Gosh, I'm having a hard time remembering exactly what else. We had a corrections course which dealt with, among other things, prisons. I mean it dealt with prisons, but I don't think
I taught that course inside the walls, yeah.
RAYMOND: That's very, very—so much—fascinating. I want to take you back to now or at least the last ten years. In San Antonio, you've been here for twenty
ROGER BARNES: Twenty-seven years, yeah.
ROGER BARNES: Yes, since 1981.
RAYMOND: That's right. Twenty-seven years. Twenty years at Incarnate Word.
ROGER BARNES: Right.
RAYMOND: What would you say about, and this may be an improper question, but in terms of people organizing against the death penalty or not organizing
against the death penalty, being pro, being—what is the mood or what are some of the different currents that you see in San Antonio itself or in Bexar County about the death penalty?
ROGER BARNES: I think there—we're changing. Things are—it's a different climate now on the death penalty than it was twenty years ago, or twenty-five years
San Antonio Express Newssupports a moratorium on the death penalty. That wasn't the case back then. We've seen declines in public opinion in support for the death penalty.
BARNES: We've seen that nationwide. We've seen some Texas polling that supports that. I haven't done any polling here in San Antonio, but there's no reason
to think that the national mood and increasing disenchantment with the death penalty isn't something that's going on here.
BARNES: I'm not the only one who will write columns for the newspaper or letters to the editor opposing the death penalty. There are other voices out there,
other people are—other groups are organized. The Journey of Hope has been here a number of times.
BARNES: Sister Helen Prejean has been here. She gets a big audience when she comes. She's an—so there is anti-death penalty stuff going on more now than ever
BARNES: And we get coverage. On days of executions, there are vigils that take place all around this city, including a vigil in front of San Fernando
Cathedral, which is right in front of the Bexar County Justice Center. So there's simply more—there's a greater degree of organization, a greater degree of publicity.
BARNES: We had a march one time when Sister Helen was in town. We gathered at the Alamo, I'm talking about some hundreds of people including school
BARNES: And we decided that we would march, have a silent procession carrying our banners and our signs and we would process from the Alamo down Commerce
Street and make our way into San Fernando Cathedral where Sister Helen gave a talk on the death penalty.
BARNES: And I remember two things about that: one was that when we passed the Esquire Tavern on Commerce Street, which is a famous drinking establishment and
kind of a rough place. Middle of—it was a Sunday afternoon, a guy kind of came out of the bar, and mind you this is a silent procession;
BARNES: he came out of the bar and he saw our signs and he says, "I've been in prison before. I know some of those sons-of-bitches deserve killing."
BARNES: And Sister Helen turned to him and said, "Now, young man, I want you to think about what you were saying and hold on a second. Every life including
yours is precious."
BARNES: And she starts in on this guy and I whispered to her, Helen, this is supposed to be a silent procession. She says, "Well, okay, just a minute." And
she has to get the final word in.
BARNES: But one of the things I remembered distinctly about that talk that she gave was that—she's a marvelous speaker and she says to the crowd that's
gathered there—it's pretty substantial group of people, I mean the cathedral was pretty packed and she said in her talk, one of the hardest things to do is to get Christians to do what they
BARNES: It's that part of the Lord's Prayer where you come to "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." She said that's the
BARNES: She said that doesn't have a little asterisk by it that says "this only applies to like when you call me bad names or you stole my motorcycle or
something like that." She said that's an unqualified statement. And she said that's what we're challenged to do.
BARNES: Now that's—see, that's what the Journey of Hope is about, that's what Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation and for Human Rights is about.
They're into this "let's search and find ways to seek reconciliation and forgiveness."
BARNES: Oh, you—I mean that's what's so hard, isn't it? I mean you can—I think most of us would say, Let's just agree that maybe we ought not to kill the
killer. But when you get into the Christian language and point of view of forgiveness, well, then you've entered a whole realm of some really heavy stuff.
BARNES: And sometimes when I talk about that in my sociology classes, my students, understandably, and myself included, can sometimes have a hard time with
that. That's just—that's real demanding.
RAYMOND: You said that every time there's an execution, there are vigils all around San Antonio. Tell me some of those other places that, if you remember,
ROGER BARNES: We have a student organization here on campus. Our students call it "Humane Humans: Students Against Government Execution." And today is
Friday, December seventh; we had an execution in Huntsville last night at six o'clock, Elkie Taylor.
BARNES: And my students had a vigil for him on Wednesday, at noontime. And they have a little program that they read and prayers are offered up for
everybody, not just for the one who was to be executed, but for the prison guards who are participating in it, and for the family of the murder victims, and so forth. So do that—
BARNES: The Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word have vigils over at the convent. They have vigils at St. Mary's University. Then there's a couple of
other organizations that have vigils elsewhere in the city, too. They do one at the archdiocese.
RAYMOND: All of these institution—vigils you talked about right now are related to the Catholic—
ROGER BARNES: Catholic church, yeah.
RAYMOND: Catholic institutions. Are there any of the other organizations that you've talked about—are they Catholic organizations or are they other kinds of
ROGER BARNES: Some of the other vigils are not really church things and so they're not—they don't have that kind of Catholic imprint on them. I would say
that even here while we're—this is a Catholic university—that the students who are part of this anti-death penalty organization,
BARNES: they kind of try to fit together a vigil that is—speaks to those who are Catholic in the organization and then part of that whole ceremony or vigil
is designed for those who are definitely not Catholic, or maybe not even religious at all of anything, so.
BARNES: Oh, but I gotta say that in this city, with a significant Hispanic population, significant Catholic population—the Catholic Church has been a big
part of the anti-death penalty discourse and they have done much to address that and to make that popular.
BARNES: I've been on Catholic TV more than once, talking about the death penalty and so it's a—you've got the faith communities of all stripes; almost all
mainstream faith groups are opposed to the death penalty.
BARNES: The Mormons find a reason to okay it and one group of Baptists, the Southern Baptists, find a way to fit the death penalty into their theology but
when you go looking at the Lutherans and the Episcopalians and the Methodists and the Presbyterians and those other mainstream Protestant denominations: they're on record and have been.
BARNES: The Methodists are a good example. Last year was the fiftieth anniversary of the Methodists' official position, as a church opposed to the death
penalty. One of the times, I was able to get Sister Helen to come here and talk, got her down to Travis Park United Methodist church, and she spoke to a crowd of about seven hundred people down
BARNES: It's not just—and I don't mean to leave folks with the impression that the only faith group here in San Antonio are the Catholics.
BARNES: The Democratic Party here has been pretty good, too, about speaking out on the death penalty. And the various progressive organizations.
RAYMOND: Can you name some?
ROGER BARNES: Yeah, I talked to the San Antonio Progressive Alliance Coalition. Sam Millsap and I talked to them a couple of months back.
RAYMOND: Who is he?
ROGER BARNES: Sam Millsap is a former Bexar Country district attorney. Sam is—from 1983 to 1987, was Bexar County's District Attorney. He successfully
prosecuted a number of death penalty cases and some of his—the ones he prosecuted, he obtained death convictions. And a number of those men now have been executed, including a guy by the name
of Ruben Cantu.
BARNES: And Ruben Cantu has a very strong claim to innocence. Testimony was, in the Cantu trial, was based solely, exclusively, one hundred percent on the
eyewitness identification of a man named Juan Moreno. Moreno has now recanted his testimony, claiming that he was coerced by the San Antonio Police Department into wrongly fingering Ruben
BARNES: There was absolutely no physical evidence, there was no—there were no blood spatters, D.N.A., ballistics, absolutely nothing other than Moreno's
testimony that connected Ruben Cantu to the murder that took place. And so now we have—the Cantu case is one of three cases, I'd like to say four cases here in Texas, where you have compelling
claims of innocence.
BARNES: And these are cases of not men who are innocent on Death Row. We've had eight people exonerated in Texas, but these are cases of—four cases—where I
think we executed somebody who didn't do the crime.
RAYMOND: Tell me those four.
ROGER BARNES: Carlos DeLuna is a case out of Corpus Christi. Carlos Hernandez is probably most likely the guy who killed this store clerk in a convenience
Chicago Tribunehas covered the the DeLuna case, very detailed coverage there.
BARNES: And it's hard to read the Tribune's series on Carlos DeLuna or to watch the movie about Reverend Carroll Pickett, called At the Death House Door,
where the DeLuna case is prominent in that documentary and not come to the conclusion that something went terribly wrong in the DeLuna case.
Houston Chronicleand the
San Antonio Express Newshas been important in covering the Ruben Cantu case. And Lisa Olsen over in Houston and Mario Robbins, who was formerly with the
Express News, have done a lot to analyze what errors and mistakes probably led to the conviction and execution wrongly of Ruben Cantu.
BARNES: And then you have the case of Cameron Todd Willingham. This is kind of a central Texas case of a fire in which Willingham's children perished.
Willingham was a totally despicable fellow but did he set the fire intentionally?
BARNES: I think now modern-day forensics says and arson investigation says no. This was an accidental fire; wasn't an intentional fire. And he was convicted
exclusively on junk arson science, just junk bogus science.
BARNES: And then the other case is the one that a lot of people have heard about and that's the case of Gary Graham. Gary Graham was charged with the murder
of Bobby Lambert outside a grocery store in Houston.
BARNES: Gary Graham, according to the eyewitnesses who did not testify at his trial—his trial lawyer incidentally and subsequently been disbarred. He
received a terrible trial, received a terrible defense, but the witnesses who saw this take place, but who were not called to testify, said, "Uh-uh, wrong height, wrong build, wasn't him."
BARNES: And if people who are watching this, listening to this want to do something really chilling, they should go to the Texas Department of Criminal
Justice webpage and read the final words of Gary Graham. He changed his name to Shaka Sankofa in the months before they executed him.
BARNES: And read that final statement. It goes on and on and on and on with him saying that, "Texas is committing a murder tonight. I did not kill Bobby
Lambert." He acknowledged all kinds of crimes that he had committed, took full responsibility for those. But he went—they had to drag him, they had to almost to beat him and to hogtie him to
the gurney before they could stick the poison in him.
BARNES: And I mean you can't help but read that and think, Jesus, that's a pretty powerful statement, I mean, is this guy innocent? And I think the answer to
that is yes. And I'm—not just based on that.
BARNES: When you really go through and you look at the evidence and you look at the mistakes that were made in the trial and the failures of his lawyer to
bring forth people who could have provided an alibi for Gary Graham.
BARNES: There was no ballistics that connected him to that murder and he was convicted again almost exclusively on the testimony of a Mrs. Skillern who saw
this for just a few fleeting seconds at night from some number of feet away, only light was a outside light. So there are four cases. And significant thing is all four of those guys are
BARNES: Go back to Sam Millsap for a second, because I think Sam deserves note here. He prosecuted the Cantu case. In the late 1990s, Sam started to have
real doubts about the efficacy of the death penalty and became interested in—with other people, especially lawyers, law professors—in the moratorium movement.
BARNES: And Sam said, "You know, I think maybe it would be a good idea to take a look at this system. Let's have a moratorium, take a look at the system."
This is about the same time that Governor Ryan in Illinois had appointed that blue ribbon commission and they were examining those—
BARNES: they had had thirteen people released from death row and twelve executions. And Ryan had let one of those executions go forward but then he said,
"(whistle) That's it, time out on all this."
BARNES: And it was about that time that Sam Millsap started thinking, "You know, this is maybe something we ought to do, we ought to have a moratorium." And
then he—to hear Sam tell this story—he said later—finally one night his wife said to him, "Why don't you just cut out the shit. You really are an abolitionist.
BARNES: You're not just for a moratorium." And Sam said, "You know, I am. I really am." Now this is power—I'm saying "powerful" too much but—and this really
is something because look at what this guy did. He prosecuted Ruben Cantu.
BARNES: I mean if you wanted to get really ugly and dirty about it, and Sam's a dear friend of mine, I never would because I think he's harder on himself
than any of us would ever be and I don't—would never do this to Sam, but somebody who wanted to be ugly could say, "You've got blood on your hands."
BARNES: He is now one of the most forceful poli—abolitionists in the United States and he—Sam talks to law faculties and law schools and he talks to students
and civic groups and talks about Cantu and talks about the mistakes that were made.
BARNES: And says, "The system"—he likes to say, when I'm with him or in the audience, he says, "I'm not like Roger. Roger is opposed to the capital
punishment on moral grounds, in addition to other things. Roger would never kill anybody. He would never—he would never kill a Saddam Hussein or an Adolf Hitler."
BARNES: And I wouldn't 'cause I am opposed on moral grounds in addition to all those other grounds.
BARNES: But Sam says, "I don't really take that stance." He says, "I take the position that the system itself is so seriously flawed and so fraught with
problems that—and it's a system where death is different. If we convict somebody wrongly, we can let them go from prison and maybe they can repair their life, but if you execute them, you can't
go back and resurrect them from the dead."
BARNES: And so his is a very important and influential valued voice. And Sam's absolutely right. I mean it's the system that is so wrong-headed. There's a
line in Tolkien where Tolkien, one of his characters says, "Deserves death! I daresay he does.
BARNES: Many that die deserve death but some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in judgment, for even
the very wise cannot see all ends."
BARNES: And I've always kind of liked that because it captures the idea that death is such a final verdict and—well, we've exonerated a hundred and thirty
people to date in the United States, since we resumed executions with Gary Gilmore back in January of seventy-seven.
BARNES: Now, we've got over three thousand people on the nation's death rows. Where's exoneration number one-thirty-one? It's out there. It's sitting—he's
sitting. Most likely he is sitting somewhere. The system is just terribly broken. It is too expensive to run it.
BARNES: And I suspect strongly that the day will come when we finally do join the rest of the western world—the western industrial democracies and say, "What
have we been doing? Let's let this one go."
BARNES: And you know what would be so compelling about it is that a lot of folks will say, "I can't afford this any more. I just ca—it's too expensive. It
costs too much money."
BARNES: They won't be necessarily moved by the moral argument or by its—or by the mistakes in the system or by its failure to serve as a deterrent or by its
racism or the fact that only the poor and the working poor or working class end up on the nation's death row. It'll be—it might come down to economics.
BARNES: But let me tell you a quick story. A Methodist church that my wife and I went to for some while got a new pastor. And I went over to meet him one
Saturday weekend afternoon ‘cause I knew he was in the office. And so introduced myself to him.
BARNES: And he said, "What do you do?" I teach. I said, I teach at Incarnate Word. "What do you teach?" he said. Sociology. I teach criminology and criminal
justice and courses like that. Out of the clear blue, he says to me, "Do you have any feelings about the death penalty?" (Laughing)
BARNES: So I said—okay, does he get the three-hour version or the three-minute version? So I said, Okay. And so we talked about that and I explained to him
that yeah, I did have some feelings about the death penalty and then I thought, well being a pastor, maybe he'll appreciate this. So I told him the story about the time that Mother Teresa went
to San Quentin's Death Row. Have you ever heard this story?
ROGER BARNES: It's a great story. She goes to Death Row at San Quentin and she has a guard, a prison guard who's her escort there for the entire day. And of
course, this is a huge death row. It's half again as big as Texas' unit, the Polunsky unit.
BARNES: There's over six hundred men on death row at San Quentin. At the end of the day, Mother Teresa—as she's getting ready to leave the row, she turns to
her guard-escort, and she says in a voice that shoots down the death row, loud enough and intentional enough to be heard by the prisoners, she says to the guard, "Remember, what you do to those
men, you do to God." And she exits Death Row.
BARNES: So I lay that line on my new pastor friend, Jim. A couple Sundays later, he comes up to me and he says, "You've really changed my life." How's that?
BARNES: He said, "It was that quote from Mother Teresa." He said, "I've not been able to shake it and in the last two weeks, I've had to do some research.
And I've been doing some reading on this topic and I've been doing some praying about it and I've finally come to the conclusion, I've gotta let it go. I've gotta let it go. I can't support the
death penalty any longer."
BARNES: So I praised him and I said, That's wonderful, Jim. Said, I really am glad to hear that. And now I said, Let me ask you, why did you support it up to
now? And he said something that I think is very telling, and this addresses the issue that you asked earlier about "what was it like twenty years ago?"
BARNES: He said, "I'll tell you why I was in favor of it." He said, "Because I grew up in Texas and we did it. And I never heard any legislators talk against
it. And I never read any newspapers write against it. And I never had any teachers teach anything about it.
BARNES: And I never heard any clergy say anything from the pulpit about it. I just figured if we had it, there must be some reason that we have it; it must
be doing something right." He said, "And in the last two weeks, I've learned differently, thanks to you."
BARNES: And I think that's kind of what's going on in Texas. There's a dialogue, an awareness, a consciousness that wasn't here two decades ago. Every major
newspaper in Texas has taken a position, either for moratorium or for abolition. The
Dallas Morning Newsbeing the last one to take an abolition position.
BARNES: We now have a bill that is going to be introduced in the Texas House, an abolition bill again in this upcoming session. And I'm meeting on Wednesday
of next week with a state senator here who most likely is willing to file an abolition bill in the Texas Senate.
BARNES: And we'll be talking to her to see if she's rounded up the people she said she would round up to co-sign with her. And that was unheard of ten years
ago. It was unheard of six years ago. Public opinion is shifting on this.
BARNES: You've got students now that are speaking out against it and campaigning against it and rallying against it, marching against it. I think it's
finally looked at for what it is. It's a grotesque human rights violation. And it's real hard to—
BARNES: on the one hand, lay claim to the mantle of human rights and human dignity and democracy and say that you really are for strapping somebody to a
gurney and injecting the poison into their veins. I got a feeling that in the end, whether it's the economics thing and all these other arguments, or that we just plain wither and tire of it
and step back and say, "Too much. Stop. Something else."
BARNES: We just—I'd like to think that the better part of us just is going to come to where we don't have the stomach for this. There's always going to be
people who—none of that will matter to them.
BARNES: The sense of satisfaction that they get, knowing that somebody has been intentionally exterminated will make them somehow feel warm and fuzzy. But
I've got a feeling that ultimately, that's gonna be a minority voice.
BARNES: Look at what we know. We know right now that in this state, you put it to people: life without parole, execution, which one you going to? And it's
fifty-fifty. Death penalty convictions are going down, death sentences and capital trials are going down, public support for it's going down.
BARNES: Inching away, inching away. The court is helping ‘cause the Supreme Court says, "Well, let's exempt the mentally retarded, let's exempt juveniles."
The mental illness thing is next up. They've adopted this judicial philosophy of—the whole notion of—oh, what's the wording? Help me. It's—of human—got to a point where I just forgot the
language of the court. Recognizing what other countries, other people do.
RAYMOND: International law?
ROGER BARNES: International law. Evolv—thank you.
RAYMOND: Evolving —
BOTH: —standards of decency.
ROGER BARNES: Evolving standards of decency criteria. And as you look at that and what they've used to justify that; they've looked at what do other nations
do, what do other states do, what's the public think about this?
BARNES: I'm not a legal scholar—far from it. But you kind of wonder, hm, if the stick with that, is that evolving standards of human decency going to paint
them into a corner, to where eventually they've gotta say, you know what, guys? We've gotta let this whole thing go. It is a violation of the Eighth Amendment, finally, if you're talking about
the evolving standards of decency.
BARNES: So we'll see if that day comes. Well, here we are just—we're having this interview, what? Three days after a Black man just got elected President of
the United States? Which made me extremely happy. And I voted for him. I was glad to do that. I mean it was wonderful.
BARNES: Who'd of thought twenty years ago that this day would ever come? I'm not willing to say that the death of the death penalty is something that's going
to happen in a hundred years. It might be closer to us than we realize. It—maybe it's the courts that finally say "enough."
BARNES: Maybe it's the financial wizards in the state budget committees, in the state legis, who go, "Holy shit! Look at how much money we're sticking into
this thing. Are you kidding me?
BARNES: Couldn't we spend this money on alcohol prevention programs and delinquency prevention programs and creating safer communities and neighborhoods?" So
we might be a little bit closer to some social change here than we realize. I sure hope so. There goes my scholarship if we do it. (Laughs)
RAYMOND: You'll have to become a historian.
ROGER BARNES: Yeah, I kind of am, anyways. Yeah.
RAYMOND: This is wonderful. Gabe, do you have questions?
GABRIEL SOLIS: I don't know. I've just been sitting here and listening and learning. And it's just been a great interview. Thank you.
ROGER BARNES: Good. Thanks, Gabe.
GABRIEL SOLIS: We've learned a lot.
RAYMOND: Thank you so much. You've taught me a lot during these—this period of time, whatever it was.
ROGER BARNES: Well I—you guys have—you have remarkable patience to sit here and listen, and so patiently.
GABRIEL SOLIS: That's—
RAYMOND: That's what we do.
GABRIEL SOLIS: The story that you gave at the beginning when you—with Bill Sands, going out to visit Death Row; that was just an amazing story.
ROGER BARNES: Yeah, it was.
GABRIEL SOLIS: It was a great experience so early on.
ROGER BARNES: Yeah, it was a really amazing moment. You know, I knew it at the time. I knew. That's why I jumped when I—when that opportunity came. And it's
kind of funny, I look back on that. If I hadn't—I knew who Bill Sands was.
BARNES: I'd read My Shadow Ran Fast. And boy, was I excited about the opportunity to meet him. I'm an eighteen-year old kid and I thought—but if I—if the
Eaglehadn't of published the editorial, I hadn't written the letter, if they hadn't published it, I hadn't had the guts to, "Mr. Sands, look at my letter.
BARNES: You want to read my letter?" and if he hadn't read it and said, "Oh, this kid's got something to say," and all of that, then I'm never in Arkansas,
that story doesn't happen, I don't have this to share. Sometimes, fortune intervenes in some positive ways.
RAYMOND: You know what I forgot to ask you something I wanted to share about you.
ROGER BARNES: Sure, go ahead.
RAYMOND: When you—since you're going back to 1968-69. In 1971, Attica prison happens.
ROGER BARNES: Oh God, yeah. September.
RAYMOND: Yes. So, September 1971, you are already have this experience with the death penalty and prisons. Can you tell me how that reverberated in your life
and your thinking?
ROGER BARNES: I had just arrived at the University of Kansas. I had a dormitory room. I‘d had a room by myself. And I remember watching Attica, ‘cause you
know Attica happened on T.V. I mean it was covered by the world press.
BARNES: I remember those negotiations in D-Yard and Bill Kunstler and Bobby Seale and, oh boy, Tom Wicker, and that failed conversation with Nelson
Rockefeller, to try to get Nelson to come to Attica. And that Monday morning assault. I remember Attica real well.
BARNES: In fact, I think when I was a senior or certainly a first-year graduate student, but I think I was a senior, I took the book that came out, the
official report on Attica, and I had—they had those—a lot of pictures in that thing and I had a collection of slides made up and I—oh, they're around somewhere.
BARNES: Anyways, I had a collection of slides made up and then I did a thing on the sociology of prison riots and a kind of natural history of prison riots,
stages that prison riots go through, and the causes of prison riots.
BARNES: And I remember presenting that at the Department of Sociology there at K.U. We would have these occasional—these monthly meetings where faculty—I
think I was a first-year graduate student, because faculty and then graduate students would all come together in a big commons room and we would have drinks and treats and stuff, and there'd be
some kind of a little program.
BARNES: I remember being in the program, showing the slides at Attica and talking about the sociology of this prison riot. Oh yeah, I remember that.
RAYMOND: At what—and how—what was the effect among people who were studying sociology, particularly with prisons, and doing the kind of research you were
doing, about the reverberations of Attica, the event, the conditions leading up to it, responses, opinions about prison, were there?
ROGER BARNES: Yeah. The general sentiment among my sociology colleagues was one of absolute abhorrence. The prisons were these—the prison is a state
apparatus and read "state" in big terms, in Weberian terms, that which claims a monopoly on the legitimate means of violence.
BARNES: Well, the larger state, of course, had just been conducting an illegal war, not only in Vietnam, but also in Cambodia. And the University of Kent
had, along with many, many, many other universities, had gone through that terrible period after Kent State were—everything got shut down. Students went home.
BARNES: The university stopped business. We—I participated in more than one anti-war demonstration. I can remember, boy, that's a whole another set of deals.
Whether it's the larger, federal state or the New York state government or these other states that are carrying out executions.
BARNES: This was all viewed quite badly. And it was just another example of the atrocities of state misuse of money, state misuse of human lives, and the
barbarity of state action. And I think students were just abhorred at what had happened at Attica.
BARNES: And of course, as young students, we take some guidance from our faculty and sociologists tend to be pretty liberal by function of our education and
by the things that we read and the things that we—not only things that we read ‘cause we're not reading propaganda, but by virtue of what we read, what research we do, and what we come to know,
and the insights that we have.
BARNES: And I'd like to think that as a group, sociologists are a pretty trustworthy bunch of surveyors of society, surveyors of the national scene, and have
a pretty good read into the temperament and into the conditions of this social system.
BARNES: And this social system was not in good health in the sixties and in the seventies. Whether you were looking at what was going on in the inner city or
what was going on in Vietnam or what was going on in the Atticas of this world. I mean one can—well, I won't draw a parallel to today, but certainly as, to answer your question, to go back to
that period of time.
BARNES: There was a lot of conflict, a lot of chaos, a lot of social disorganization, there was a lot of people who were suffering.
RAYMOND: As a person who's studied and thought about prison riots, I wonder if you did any work or thinking or writing about the Cuban Marielitos who had
riots and burned down, not completely, but burned down the prison in Atlanta and one in Louisiana. Was that something you that studied or wrote about?
ROGER BARNES: I didn't write about it and I haven't studied it a whole lot except that the Atlanta situation—we actually learned some things from Attica
‘cause that came after Attica. And one of the things, one of the lessons that was learned at Attica was that, hey, you rushed in way too soon.
BARNES: The pri—it was a classic example of that line in Cool Hand Luke, "What we have here is a failure to communicate." Because the prisoners thought they
had nothing but time on their hands and they had no intention of killing those forty-some hostages that they were holding, ‘cause that's their negotiating, their bargaining chips.
BARNES: The state, however, looked at that and said, every day that passes in the eyes of the world were looked at as a weaker and weaker entity. And we
can't let this go on any longer. And so Rockefeller orders that assault. And you end up with all those dead—it was the bloodiest day of fighting between Americans since the end of the Indian
Wars in the 1800s.
BARNES: And when Atlanta happened, we realized, hold it a second. Let's take a lesson from Attica and let's not go rushing in there. And they spent a lot of
time before they were able to see a very different resolution at the Atlanta riot. So maybe we learned that from Attica.
BARNES: But there was a lot of other things that were going on. I mean you're looking at the riots of the Black Panthers at that period, the Weather
Underground, the Bill Ayers of this world, and our society was experiencing so much turmoil. And then you've had—throw Nixon and Watergate into this whole mix. I wrote my master's thesis on
Watergate and so at least Watergate provided one thing.
RAYMOND: Wow. Well, thank you.
ROGER BARNES: Yeah, my pleasure. I enjoyed it. [END OF INTERVIEW]
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
Type of Resource:
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