Folsom's 93

The Lives and Crimes of Folsom Prison's Executed Men


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You’ve Just Been Exonerated . . . Now What Are You Going To Do?

Two men leave a prison. One’s been released on parole, the other was exonerated. One has a $100 debit card, a job lined up, and a room at a halfway house. The other man has empty pockets, is unemployed, and hopefully some friends or family to give him a place to sleep.

As you might have guessed, the parolee has the money, the job, and the place to sleep. I suppose for the man exonerated, his freedom and a cleared record is all he can ask for, but what if that’s all he has? I came across this article regarding compensating those exonerated. Unless it was proven that misconduct occurred during trial, the accused cannot sue or receive damages from their wrongful incarceration—at least not in twenty-three states. The article focused on Robert Dewey, released from a Grand Junction, Colo., prison after serving 17 years for murder. “All I got was an apology.” Dewey has little family to rely on and is struggling to survive on food stamps. What’s more, he cannot work due to a back injury he sustained in prison. He also couldn’t receive job training in prison because of his life-without-parole sentence.

“I couldn’t take computer classes or anything else to better myself. Life without parole meant my ‘out date’ was 1,000 years in the future. They weren’t going to teach me skills I could use on the outside.”

–Robert Dewey

The Innocence Project, other advocacy groups, and prosecutors across the country, are pushing for compensation laws, as well as funds for job-training, counseling, affordable housing, and health services. For more on Robert Dewey and the other 292 exonerated individuals, visit The Innocence Project.


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The Death Row Chef

Continuing with last meals, I wanted to share a link that my friend Pamela Skjolsvik, a.k.a. The Death Writer, sent me. Check it out HERE. Brian Price is a former Texas inmate who learned to cook during his incarceration. He earned the job of providing the last meal for the condemned inmates of Texas. Last year, Texas discontinued this practice for the nearly executed. Price offered to continue the meals at his own expense. The state declined.

Price’s story will be featured on “Death Row: The Final 24 Hours” airing Monday, April 30, at 10 p.m. ET on the Discovery Channel.


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If you see me walking . . .

So this reminds me of the Aretha Franklin song, Walk On By. Absolutely no reference whatsoever, but it brings me to this: How the hell does an inmate walk away from Folsom prison? I’d love to ask Marco A. Cabrera who did just that on Sunday, April 15. Fortunately, police nabbed him less than 24 hours later, but are you kidding me? How does one escape from the city of Gray Granite?

In 1903, 13 prisoners escaped, using the Warden and other guards as human shields. At the time, the prison wasn’t surrounded by walls. So that, I understand. But so far, police haven’t figured out exactly how Cabrera “walked away” from the medium security prison, but they found him hiding in the bed of a truck Monday evening. The poor guy had “injuries from blackberry bushes.” Gosh, that sure makes up for his “assault with a firearm and injury to spouse” conviction. A true gent, this one.

Really though, how does one escape from Folsom prison? At least we know this: 98.7% of escapees since 1977 have been caught. How does that make you feel?


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The California Ballot to Watch

In 1913, Jake Oppenheimer, Folsom’s 28th execution, called capital punishment “a relic of the barbaric age,” acknowledging, “I will not be the last to go before this practice is abolished, but  I will be a martyr to the cause.” Abolishing the death penalty has been urged from various groups since the early 1900s.

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In 1925, California Senator, Roy Fellom,  introduced a bill to legislation to abolish capital punishment saying,  “Let’s hope that this horrible spectacle of three men being executed in cold blood by the state of California will be the last of its kind and that the state will never again be subjected to witnessing anything so barbaric.”  He had hoped to save the lives of #49, John Geregac and his accomplices by the passing of the bill, which of course, did not.

John “Smokey” Geregac

Many of Folsom’s 93 expressed their belief that their execution would be California’s last. #55, Ray Arnold said, “If they want to kill me, all right. I am ready to die. I would die gladly if I thought my death would aid in putting an end to capital punishment.”

Ray Arnold

Little did these men know that close to a hundred years later, the debate would be at a fever pitch—and that their own state would be the epicenter of it all. Executions in California have been halted since 2006 when a federal judge declared there to be flaws in the execution process. Come November, California voters will decide whether or not to eliminate the death penalty. According to a September 2011 poll, 48% Californians favor life imprisonment over execution. Right now, it doesn’t appear it’ll be a landslide either way.

According to Death Penalty Information Center there are currently 717 condemned prisoners in California. Across the country, 3, 251 folks are on death row. This op-ed piece, points out that abolishing the death penalty would save the state of California $100 million over three years, putting more police on the streets. It would also fund community programs, educate the  prison population, and force those serving life without parole to work and pay restitution to the victims’ families.

It will certainly be the ballot to watch considering California has the highest number of death row inmates, Texas taking the #2 spot with 321. Where does your state rank?


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Prison Guards and Self Defense by Jason Brick

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Correctional Officers at Folsom prison do not carry guns while on duty. They abandoned this practice around 1915, after #30, Frank Creeks killed a guard and made off with two gatling guns the guard had been bringing inside the prison. 
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#30, Frank Creeks
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When I met with Folsom correctional officers earlier this year, I learned that guards do carry pepper spray and a whistle. Other than that, they have only their wits and quick thinking to rely on. Today, I wanted to bring you another guest post from Jason Brick regarding prison guard self-defense. Take it away, Jason . . .

Self-defense for prison guards centers around setting things up so the guards rarely need to use self-defense.

In the beginning of modern law enforcement, this meant finding large, intimidating, violent guards and making sure they were the only people carrying weapons. That deterrence — combined with what amounted to carte blanche in using the weapons — kept guards reasonably safe by making sure people rarely started a physical confrontation.

As our society became more modern and aware of prisoners’ humanity, training changed its focus — but continued to focus on preventing altercations. Corrections officers received training in joint locks, defensive tactics and weapons common on the tiers — such as batons. In addition, they learned team tactics intended to stop a potential problem before it began. This ranged from how to avoid getting in one another’s way, up to spacing and psychological considerations to keep a prisoner off balance and intimidated.

Modern training incorporates concepts from military combatives, boxing, wrestling, judo and jui jitsu. It’s similar to what you might get in an applied self-defense course, with two major differences.

Focus on prevention — the bulk of corrections combatives focuses on setting up a scenario so you never have to become violent. This can include your positioning, the positioning of other officers, verbal redirection and the construction of a facility to give all advantages to the officers. Every once in a while a prisoner will decide to fight anyway, but this keeps most people in line.

Submission over destruction — aiming to get prisoners to settle down, rather than cause injury. The best example of this is the baton training. If you took a stick or baton class for self-defense, you’d learn to target the elbows, wrist, knees and head — areas that are easy to destroy that can take somebody out. In corrections training, officers learn to hit the upper arms, thighs and the broad planes of the back. These areas hurt, but don’t injure. Submission holds and joint locks take the same focus.

One final note is that the techniques officers learned are for the day-to-day control of prisoners. If a prisoner actively attacks a corrections officer, all bets are off. That officer is — generally — allowed to use whatever techniques he needs to get to safety. Retaliation is never tolerated, but if a prisoner gets injured while trying to injure a guard, that’s not considered the guard’s fault.


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Folsom Inmates Making Good

When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers relocated thirty-six Gold Rush-era graves in 1954 to make way for the Folsom Dam, they added a racial slur to the headstones. Because the graves originally resided at an area a few miles from the Dam known as Negro Hill, the N-word was chiseled on the headstones.

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At the cost of $18,000, the new grave markers will read: “Unknown. Moved from Negro Hill Cemetery by U.S. Government, 1954.” California prison inmates, participating in a work program, are helping to make right the wrong. California Prison Industry Authority spokesman, Eric Reslock said, “We are providing inmate labor and construction materials to rectify these historically inaccurate and offensive headstones.”

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Two of the headstones were sent to the California State Archives in Sacramento, and the other 34 are being held by officials of El Dorado County.


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Is an Innocent Man Going to Die Tomorrow?

You may have been following the story of Troy Davis, or at least the story that has developed over his pending execution. Davis was refused clemency this morning and is schedule to die of lethal injection tomorrow in Georgia. He is accused of shooting off-duty police officer, Mark MacPhail in 1989. His defense has strongly maintained that this is a case of mistaken identity and seven of the nine witnesses from the 1991 trial have recanted their statements and one man, who did not testify, claims another man admitted to the shooting. In fact, no physical evidence linked Davis to the crime. The case is based on hearsay and circumstantial evidence. Davis has the support of high-profile figures such as former President Jimmy Carter, ex-FBI Director William Sessions, and former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr. Even three jurors from his trial are now in support of clemency.

In 2010, Davis was given a hearing to convince the U.S. Supreme Court of his innocence—an opportunity that the high court has not dealt out to any condemned prisoner in 50 years. He was unable to sway the justices who found, “minimal doubt on his conviction.” The judge, however, admitted that the state’s case was not ironclad.

There is doubt. His defense team said:

“The death penalty should not be exercised where doubt exists about the guilt of the accused. The Board did not follow that standard here. The state’s case against Mr. Davis, based largely on discredited eyewitness testimony and an inaccurate ballistics report, cannot resolve the significant, lingering doubts that exist here.”

Larry Cox of Amnesty International called the pardon board’s denial “unconscionable,” and said, “Should Troy Davis be executed, Georgia may well have executed an innocent man and in so doing discredited the justice system.”

So what do you think? Is the death penalty serving the purpose it was intended to? What happens where a case is shrouded in doubt? The death penalty has ridded the world of some pretty heinous individuals, but it’s impossible to deny that it has also taken innocent people from the world, too.

From Troy Davis, via Amnesty International:

“The struggle for justice doesn’t end with me. This struggle is for all the Troy Davises who came before me and all the ones who will come after me. I’m in good spirits and I’m prayerful and at peace. But I will not stop fighting until I’ve taken my last breath. Georgia is prepared to snuff out the life of an innocent man.”

You can read more about Davis’ case HERE. Be sure to click on “Watch Videos” under “Ger Involved” and learn about Davis’ case and why there is too much doubt. It will leave you completely baffled as to why the parole board has denied him clemency.