In the chapter on Joseph O'Dell, Prejean describes the excuses judges, religious leaders, lawyers, jail workers, and regular citizens have used to justify killing individuals as punishment for their "supposed" crimes. Below is a small excerpt from this chapter.
"It is usually only in hindsight that societies recognize that they have engaged in torture. Until then, torture is normal and justified and even sanctioned by religious beliefs. I remember reading about a member of the military in Algeria whose task it had been to extract information from the "enemies of the government" and then to "dispose" of them. He told how he would gag and tie these persons hand and foot and fly them over the sea in a helicopter, split open their abdomens with a mechete, and push them into the sea. It's what "everybody was doing," he said, and at the end of the day he'd go home to his family and not think any more about it. In the furture, when we look back on this practice of the death penalty , won't the "strap down" teams and death row guards and wardens have their own stories to tell about how they participated in the torturous death os fellow human beings?
They are already telling the stories." (Page 109-Hard Cover Edition)
This passage made me immediately think of how humans, like any other animal, can be conditioned to perform acts that are reprehensible. The excuse, the phrase that we often use to separate our spirit, our heart, our conscience from those acts, is that it is our job. In other words, we have been conditioned to execute a task, and conditioned not to feel responsible for the consequences of that act.
Now, we are conditioned from birth to do millions of things with both good and bad results. It is specifically those things that cause harm to others, that I am directing my points to. Whether it is domestic violence, the emotional or physical abuse, manipulation, and control of another human being; child abuse; bullying; or the way we learn to place value on peoples lives (some being of less value than others based off of race, sex, religion, culture, personal history, criminal activity, drug use, weight, attractiveness, intelligence, physical ability). In sum, thoughout history humans have been conditioned to carry out violence against one another to maintain the power of a ruler, a country, a race, a religion, a sex, a government, a policy, or an individual. The death penalty, along with slavery, occupation, imperialism, war, terrorism, or violence between individuals, within homes, on school grounds---all can be lead to the need of one person/group to maintain power over another. Our way of "disposing" criminals (innocent or not) will neither stop criminal activity, bring back the dead, appease God, or help society.
We are conditioned by the media, by our teachers, by our parents, by our friends-and by our government every single day. It is our responsiblity to be aware of how and why we are being conditioned, and to what end?
Please take the time to read Sister Helen Prejean's books, they are filled with invaluable information.