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In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

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To cope with his dread, John Kitzhaber opened his leather-bound journal and began to write.
It was a little past 9 on the morning of Nov. 22, 2011. Gary Haugen had dropped his appeals. A Marion County judge had signed the murderer's death warrant, leaving Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, to decide Haugen's fate. The 49-year-old would soon die by lethal injection if the governor didn't intervene.
Kitzhaber was exhausted, having been unable to sleep the night before, but he needed to call the families of Haugen's victims.
"I know my decision will delay the closure they need and deserve," he wrote.
The son of University of Oregon English professors, Kitzhaber began writing each day in his journal in the early 1970s. The practice helped him organize his thoughts and, on that particular morning, gather his courage.
Kitzhaber first dialed the widow of David Polin, an inmate Haugen beat and stabbed to death in 2003 while already serving a life sentence fo…

On Death Row, Creating Art from Pain

Moyo’s art hanging on the walls at “Buddhas On Death Row.”
Moyo’s art hanging on the walls at “Buddhas On Death Row.”
Despite the 5,000 miles between them, death row inmate “Moyo” and pen pal Maria Jain have come together to showcase his series of Buddha portraits in the exhibition “Buddhas on Death Row.”

American Buddhist artist, Moyo, studies the image of the Buddha using a multitude of mediums.

Purposeful strokes of prison-issued watercolor paint, jewel-toned ink, colored pencil, and crayon all come together to manifest his unique vision of the Buddha — almost always depicted with a delicate smile. He does this from his cell in solitary confinement, smaller than the average parking space, where he has sat on death row for the last sixteen years.

At the age of 18, Moyo was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. He has, he says, devoted the unknown amount of time left in his life to using his existence in “worthy ways” — creating artwork from pain, working to make a positive “ripple” in the world. This mission has manifested itself in an art exhibition, “Buddhas On Death Row,” passionately co-created and organized by his pen pal, and dear friend, Maria Jain.

“Buddhas On Death Row” is “a series of Buddha portraits with accompanying reflections on suffering and happiness, conflict and peace, impermanence and eternity, ignorance and awareness.” The exhibition opened in August 2016 in Helsinki, Finland, over 5,000 miles away from Moyo’s cell in the U.S.

On a quest for self-discovery in prison, Moyo began reading books on African American history, art, psychology, and spirituality. He first came across meditation in the prison recreation yard when a friend, who has since been executed, taught him basic breath awareness and yoga asanas. In the following years, Moyo continued to learn about Buddhism, and meditation, and committed himself to a regular practice.

Moyo wrote to Jain about it: “Funny how the thing set to kill you is the thing you use to heal you. In this cell, I have learned the art of patience, the art of silence, and its fruits so sweet. I have learned the art of introspection and what it can do to improve one’s sense of self. I have learned to wait this cell out with the patience it has enforced on me.”

After a year of planning, done through many letters back and forth between Jain and Moyo, the exhibition opened to a crowd so large, that it was impossible to fit everyone in the space. Jain initially questioned how Moyo’s would be received, wondering, “How will an offering like this be received by people from someone who has committed such grave acts?” But, she says, “People really came with open hearts. There were many emotions, as they engaged with Moyo’s works.”

Visitors to “Buddhas On Death Row” left messages to Moyo in a guestbook, which Jain later would later send to Moyo.

➤ Click here to read the full article (+ photos)

Source: Lion's Roar, Lilly Greenblatt, May 16, 2017

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