Behind Bars

Suicide and Homicide on Death Row

By Kevin Cooper

The policies concerning suicide and executions/homicides here within the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) are, to say the least, strange.

For example, whenever a death row inmate commits suicide, this prison places the entire death row section on lockdown. They do this so that they can check on the mental and emotional well-being of the entire death row population. They send their prison psychiatrist to each and every cage to check on each and every inmate by asking questions such as “Are you alright? You aren’t thinking of killing yourself, are you?”

These, and other types of questions, when answered by inmates, give this prison staff what they believe are signs of “behavioral disorders” such as suicide, or suicidal thoughts. (Even though the 19 inmates on death row who have committed suicide did so without telling anyone, even the prison psychiatrist, about their thoughts or plans.)

Whenever this state executes a death row inmate within this prison, the day before, and the day of the state execution, the whole prison is placed on lockdown. The day after the execution the lockdown is lifted, and at no time—the day before, the day of, or the day after—does the prison send its psychiatrist around to any death row inmate to see if they are alright!

Why is this?

Could it be that by a prisoner committing suicide the state feels cheated out of their execution? Could it be that they feel in order for a death row inmate to kill him or herself instead of waiting for this state to murder them, that something must be wrong with that inmate?

After all, how could a human being with a sound mind want to commit suicide while living in such a place as San Quentin Prison under living conditions that are animalistic, and no matter how old you are, or how old you live to be, you are treated like a child for the most part? Always being told what to do, always being watched, and searched, and so forth and so on. Yes, one would ask: Why would anyone with a sound mind want to relieve themselves of this fate?

Here in the 21st century, there is something wrong with a person on death row who commits suicide, but nothing wrong with the system that at the least forces them to do so and at the most, executes them! At least that’s how the people who control this system think and feel. No wonder many believe that this system is unnatural and inhumane and downright out of touch with reality!

—February 1, 2012

Kevin Cooper is a death row prisoner at San Quentin State Prison in California. J. Patrick O’Connor, the author of The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal, has just written a new book about Kevin Cooper’s case, Scapegoat: The Chino Hills Murders and the Framing of Kevin Cooper. Scapegoat is a detailed and fascinating account of all the ways an innocent Black man was framed by police, prosecutors, and courts for a brutal crime he didn’t commit.

Write to:
Kevin Cooper C-65304
San Quentin, CA 94974