Why I’m Voting Yes on California State Proposition 34

“Repeals death penalty as maximum punishment for persons found guilty of murder and replaces it with life imprisonment without possibility of parole. Applies retroactively to persons already sentenced to death. Requires persons found guilty of murder to work while in prison, with their wages to be applied to any victim restitution fines or orders against them. Creates $100 million fund to be distributed to law enforcement agencies to help solve more homicide and rape cases.”

I have long been an opponent of the death penalty. I grew up in Michigan, where we did not have capital punishment, so when, in college, I began volunteering in various prisons co-facilitating improvisational theater workshops, I met men who, in other states, may have been on death row. To a person, everyone I met struck me as being interesting, creative, smart, even kind and compassionate. Yes, they had all done terrible things in their lives; they’d hurt people, but age, education, and time to reflect had all given them a much bigger sense of the world. Some of the men I met mentored younger prisoners; they did HIV/AIDS counseling, worked in the libraries, wrote, had found God, and more and wanted to make a positive difference in the world. Many had families, children or wives they loved. In short, all these men were complex human beings, and it struck me how absolutely wrong it is to, as a state, to commit murder through capital punishment.

The death penalty doesn’t work: It doesn’t reduce rates of violent crime, but what’s more, it sanctions murder, sending hypocritical mixed messages about the value of life. It disproportionately targets poor people of color, and it costs a lot of money. It doesn’t bring back lost loved ones; it only adds to the grief by taking away someone else’s son or daughter, sister or brother, father or mother. The United States is one of the only developed countries to follow this brutal and barbaric practice, and it’s time that California, a leader in the nation in so many ways, does away with the backward practice of executing people.