Bill Long 12/29/04
You, too, can Haiku. It is not rough, nor is it tough. As long as your mind works clearly, the words come swiftly. It may not be that there will be knees on trees or bees on threes, but the words will come. At least that is what I have found. But, then again, someone will probably tell me that I have "misunderstood" Haiku. No doubt. I sometimes believe I have missed so many boats in life that they ought to name a pier for me at every major port of the world. So, with that nodfelt heart to my critics, I turn to Haiku II.
Twenty years, thirty
Who is now surging ahead?
Death awaits them all.
Understanding "Twenty Years"
Though I have a temporal reference in this Haiku, it is not "seasonal." I have done considerable work since 1999 on the Oregon death penalty and this Haiku tries to sum up that work in 17 syllables. Maybe that is why Hass suggested that Haiku is a genre of poetry that is "living at the center of reality," for it tries to capture a huge topic, or an illuminating experience, in brief compass with contrasting or arrestingly different lines.
Here is the reality at whose center I am trying to live in these 17 syllables. Ever since the passage of the Oregon Post-Conviction Relief Act by the 1959 Oregon Legislature, everyone sentenced to death now has a bunch more appeals than he had previous to 1959. Actually, such a person has 10 appeals or hearings or procedures available to him [and I use the male pronoun since Oregon is an equal-opportunity, non-discriminatory state in every way except in the imposition of the death penalty] after receiving the sentence death by a jury in the county in which he committed the aggravated murder.
That is, his conviction and sentence is first automatically appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court. Then, if affirmed, he can appeal directly to the US Supreme Court, a nearly-useless appeal that has the virtue of buying nine months for the defendant. Then he has four bites in his "post conviction" process, three in his federal "habeas corpus" process and one final appeal for clemency to the Governor, even though he can appeal for clemency any time he wants.
For the first 100 years of the death penalty's imposition in Oregon (and Oregon has had the death penalty 120 out of 146 years since Statehood), it took an average of 15-18 months between commission of crime and execution of the defendant. This was because trials lasted much less time, you did not have an automatic appeal to the state supreme court and you had virtually no federal constitutional remedies. Now it takes an average of 20-30 years to put a man to death in Oregon when he has been sentenced to death. This latter figure is not only because the length of the appeals but because it has taken the Oregon Supreme Court about 15 years to learn how to interpret the 1984 death penalty statute. Thus, most of the early death sentences had to be reimposed (or reduced) after a significant decision in 1989.
Putting it all Together
So, this is how it works. Each death penalty defendant will be someplace in the 10-step process after his crime. Some are now in what I call Step 1 and some are in Step 4 and some are elsewhere. They do not move in lock step. Indeed, the person who is furthest along toward death was a co-defendant with another man on death row (they killed two German tourists) but the co-defendant is bogged down several steps earlier in the process--possibly five years behind his buddy in procedural terms. Thus, at any one time the guys are various places along the "chart." Or, to use horse race terminology, they are either lying behind or surging ahead. Now lines one and two of the Haiku should be clear. The imposition of the modern death penalty in Oregon takes 20 or 30 years from the time of the crime. But, the big issue is where is every man in his process. Who, in fact, is surging ahead in this "race" for death?
Now we can understand the last line. They are in this race, surging ahead or holding back. Indeed the "horse" I put my "money" on in 1999 when I was researching A Tortured History (2001) hit the jackpot by bringing up a legal issue of how long his brief could be to the appellate courts on post-conviction appeals. It was a hot issue and took the Supreme Court three years to decide what we might call this "collateral" issue. In the meantime, he was "stuck" on Step 4 and two or three other guys surged ahead of him.
But, to misquote the Apostle Paul badly, "their end is the way of death." Ultimately this horse race is to the lethal injection bed (we dont' say "the chair" anymore). They will get there. Oregon will execute people in the future, probably beginning about 2008 or so. I have concluded, in agreement with Governor Oswald West (1911-1915) that Oregon will need a few executions for the issue to come to their consciousness. Then Oregonians will look around at each other with confused and bewildered stares and say, "You mean we have a death penalty?"
The only hope for "abolition" in Oregon, in my mind, is if the citizenry gets offended that we are executing people. So, maybe my last line is not exactly correct--death (i.e., lethal injection) may not await them all, but it may await many of them. But that issue is still to be decided. I live right now. Hence the Haiku.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long