R.I.P. : Famous Last Words

Until death did him part… with his art. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust, the condemned individual put to rest, by lethal injection has also put to rest their art, and created a market for it, which in the business slang is termed…murderabilia.If comedy is largely about the inversion of expectation, then tragedy is about  summary execution, when the inevitable is a foregone conclusion and the sad  realization of expectation.Public hangings and beheadings are no longer politically correct, though as spectator activity were considered standing room only  entertainment up to 1856 in the Newgate prison courtyard and in the United States until 1936:

Arthur Judah Angel, survived death Row in Nigeria for 16 years

Arthur Judah Angel, survived death Row in Nigeria for 16 years

 

”Hundreds of reporters and photographers — some from as far away as New York and Chicago — were sent to Owensboro to cover what was then the country’s first hanging conducted by a woman. At least 20,000 people descended on the town to witness the execution. Bethea walked toward the gallows shortly after sunrise and was pronounced dead at around 5:45 a.m. that same day. In 1936, reporters blasted what they called the ‘carnival in Owensboro.’ Many scholars say Bethea’s execution — and the coverage it received — led to a banning of public executions in America…” ( NPR )
 

”We all know what really happened, but there are some things you just can’t fight. Little people always seem to get squashed. It happens. … There is no man that is free from all evil, nor any man that is so evil to be worth nothing.( David Castillo, Aug 23,1998 )The act I committed to put me here was not just heinous, it was senseless. But the person that committed that act is no longer here — I am. ( Napolean beazley, May 28,2002 )As the ocean always returns to itself, love always returns to itself.So does consciousness, always returns to itself. And I do so with love on my lips. May God bless all mankind.( James Ronald Meanes, Dec 15, 1998 )”( Last words of the condemned, Texas. National Post )
Claire Phillips, a portrait artist from England, has travelled to the US to paint pictures of those who have spent time on Death Row. Working with human- rights charity Reprieve, her subjects have included Linda Carty, a British citizen who has faced execution in Texas for the last eight years for the murder of a neighbour (the conviction, apparently, was based entirely on the testimonies of her co-accused, three career criminals). Carty is joined by Howard Neal, who was sentenced to death in 1982 for the alleged killing of his niece and half-brother.The art competently conveys the characters behind the convictions. Neal, who has been in and out of mental institutions for much of his life, stares straight ahead with a look of faint amusement, his head quizzically tilted to one side. Carty, on the other hand, is shown closer up, sporting a look of pinched-lip defiance.

Claire Phillips, Linda Carty, 2009

Claire Phillips, Linda Carty, 2009


Through the iron bars of his cell near the gallows of this Nigerian prison, Arthur Judah Angel watched the hangman do his morbid work for almost a decade, witnessing the hangings of more than 450 of his fellow convicts. He committed their names to memory and many of their images to paper ”The 51 that endured were smuggled out by his parents when they visited. These now provide a unique insight into daily life on death row: from the shuffling, chained and hooded figures driven by the guards’ clubs toward the gallows, to the stooped heads and empty expressions of the other inmates, a captive audience at the execution.”( Kim Matas )

Arthur Judah Angel

Arthur Judah Angel

The files of the TDCJ (Texas Department of Criminal Justice) give us the information about his last meal: Two double Cheeseburgers, salad, French fries, 1 litre of chilled Pepsi, Chocolate-Brownies, 1 cup of Blue Bell ice-cream – and a piece of birthday-cake. The 153rd execution in the US-State Texas since the reinstatement of the Death Penalty hits on his


birthday. Ciff Boggess, artist.

Clifford Boggess

Clifford Boggess

 

”Cliff described his relationship with his works: “If I die down here, I will have no children to live on after me. No one to carry my name. My paintings ARE my children. I give them birth in the deep recesses of my soul and my mind, I care for them and nurture them as I bring them to maturity, and then I send them out into the world, hoping they will be well cared for, and that someone else will love them as I do.” Although the motives of his works were very different, the pictures that reflected his prison life mattered to him the most. “My Death Row Series is to be my most important set of paintings, my LEGACY to live on after me and speak for me when I’m gone. I want to show the people in the freeworld the pain, separation, and cruelty of Death Row, and what it’s like to live here. And I want to also show them that the men here are NOT animals, but that we are still HUMAN BEINGS!”

Clifford Boggess ''The Gurney''

Clifford Boggess ''The Gurney''

In 1973,Philip Zimbardo  created a lab experiement to study conformity. He investigated how readily people would conform to the roles of guard and prisoner in a role-playing exercise that simulated prison life. He was interested in finding out whether the brutality reported among guards in American Prisons was due to the sadistic personalities of the guards or had more to do with the prison environment. converted a basement of the Stanford University psychology building into a mock prison. He advertised for students to play the roles of prisoners and guards for two weeks.The study was shut down after six days.The conclusion, simply stated was that people will readily conform to the social roles they are expected to play,… even to the extent of committing murder to fulfill that destiny.

 As the prisoners became more submissive, the guards became more aggressive and assertive. They demanded ever greater obedience from the prisoners. The prisoners were dependent on the guards for everything so tried to find ways to please the guards, such as telling tales on fellow prisoners.One prisoner had to be released after 36 hours because of uncontrollable bursts of screaming, crying and anger. His thinking became disorganised and he appeared to be entering the early stages of a deep depression. Within the next few days three others also had to leave after showing signs of emotional disorder that could have had lasting consequences. (These were people who had been pronounced stable and normal a short while before.) …Most of the guards found it difficult to believe that they had behaved in the brutalising ways that they had. Many said they hadn’t known this side of them existed or that they were capable of such things. The prisoners, too, couldn’t believe that they had responded in the submissive, cowering, dependent way they had. Several claimed to be assertive types normally.”


Public hangings outside Newgate Prison (now the site of the Old Bailey).

Public hangings outside Newgate Prison (now the site of the Old Bailey).

 

Since the 1970s, Aron Ranen has been active as an underground documentary filmmaker specializing in compelling, off the beaten path subjects . Death Row Art Star  is a story, about prison art, but more particularly it is a portrait of the unusual patroness and publisher of this art. In addition to her photo studio, the 70-year-old religious glamour photographer Audrey runs a small publishing company. She collects art made by prisoners and puts it in a magazine that sells well to inmates all across the country. The contributions include work by America’s cruellest serial killers, who have now repented. The most popular drawings are those by Alfredo Valdez; not a serial killer, but still one of the many inmates on death row in San Quentin prison. Audrey receives a lot of fan mail for Valdez through the magazine. The fact that she changes parts of Valdez’s drawings now and then and adds a picture of Jesus Christ does not seem to bother anyone.

Billy Austin
(Steve Earle)

My name is Billy Austin
I’m Twenty-Nine years old
I was born in Oklahoma
Quarter Cherokee I’m told
Don’t remember Oklahoma
Been so long since I left home
Seems like I’ve always been in prison
Like I’ve always been alone
Didn’t mean to hurt nobody
Never thought I’d cross that line
I held up a filling station
Like I’d done a hundred times
The kid done like I told him
He lay face down on the floor
guess I’ll never know what made me
Turn and walk back through that door
The shot rang out like thunder
My ears rang like a bell
No one came runnin’
So I called the cops myself
Took their time to get there
And I guess I could’a run
I knew I should be feeling something
But I never shed tear one
I didn’t even make the papers
‘Cause I only killed one man
but my trial was over quickly
And then the long hard wait began
Court appointed lawyer
Couldn’t look me in the eye
He just stood up and closed his briefcase
When they sentenced me to die
Now my waitin’s over
As the final hour drags by
I ain’t about to tell you
That I don’t deserve to die
But there’s twenty-seven men here
Mostly black, brown and poor
Most of em are guilty
Who are you to say for sure?
So when the preacher comes to get me
And they shave off all my hair
Could you take that long walk with me
Knowing hell is waitin’ there
Could you pull that switch yourself sir
With a sure and steady hand
Could you still tell youself
That you’re better than I am
My name is Billy Austin
I’m twenty-nine years old
I was born in Oklahoma
Quarter Cherokee I’m told

 


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