Condemned: Letters from Death Row
Condemned: Letters from Death Row
"Each of us is far better than the worst deed we ever committed."
Condemned: Letters from Death Row by "Ray" and Seán Ó Riain is a collection of letters between a former Cork teacher and a death row inmate that develops into a unique friendship- one that is in itself a subtle, rallying cry against an American system that still honours the 3,000 year old adage "an eye for eye", serving as a reminder that, as Gandhi observed, "An eye for an eye makes everyone blind".
Ray has been convicted of killing a man, a crime he committed as a young man and that he admits and regrets. For his crime, Ray's sentence is death but what he seeks is not a pardon, or pity, or freedom. Simply, he hopes that his sentence will be commuted to life imprisonment without parole. For most of us to hope for a future so bleak seems unimaginable, but for Ray this is the focus of his appeals- a chance to live.
Seán Ó Riain has been writing to Ray for several years and, while Seán's careful letters are included, it is Ray's heartfelt depiction of death row life that form the heart and soul of the book. Ray's letters are powerful in their understated descriptions of his difficult life circumstances- from juvenile offender with addict parents and dependent siblings to his current situation. The denied dreams, the unfulfilled desires, the loneliness, and the fear are all brought to devastating reality in his simple words.
The men's letters are framed by commentaries, facts, and case-studies from the American death penalty system, clarifying the process of state sanctioned revenge in 36 of the US states: a process directly in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A process currently viewed by 88% of American Criminologists and by most American police chiefs as the least effective deterrent to violent crime- one that costs $114 million more annually than life imprisonment in one state alone.
Since the year 2000, almost 700 people have been executed in the 36 states that still enforce the death penalty in the US. In Condemned, after several years of writing to Ray, Ó Riain makes us question the prevalence of the death sentence in the American legal system and asks- should any state punish the death of a citizen with more death?
Praise for Condemned
"Condemned makes its arguments in a quiet and understated manner...but the arguments made are irrefutable..." —Kate Jackson, Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas
"Brings into focus the controversies of death row whilst also making you question your personal views...an extraordinary perspective on an unusual situation." —Sarah Hackett, Irish Post
"The waiting, the fear, the psychological effect on mental health. It's all here. Read it and it will take your mind off everyday trifles" —Sunday Tribune
"It's most moving...wonderful sociology." —Michael Buroway, Professor of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley
About the Author
Seán Ó Riain is originally from Cork. He is a former teacher who has written numerous articles both in Irish and English, including the 'Beocheist' column in the Irish Times. He has also written three other books: Seal Le Simon which is based on his experiences in the Simon Community, extracts from which were included in the Leaving Certificate Irish syllabus. He also wrote the controversial title Solidarity with the Travellers, which received wide-spread media coverage on its release in 2000 and ó Bhreith go Bainis, a story in Irish about the lives and loves of young Travellers.