Course: HNRS 302: Extreme Punishments: Life, Death, & Solitary Confinement
Written: January 29, 2014
Published: February 13, 2017
© All Rights Reserved
Written during Destiny's junior year of college, Destiny poignantly provides commentary and reflection on readings for the week for a University Honors course titled "Extreme Punishments." Each reading required the illumination of the following 4 structure components: takeway(s), a free-write, a quotation(s) of interest, and a question(s).
I. Slamming the Door: Poems "Defense Attorney" and "The Prosecutor" along with Murder on a Sunday Morning (Movie)
- Everyone loses when someone is murdered. There are no winners with violence
- U.S. Justice System has a history record of unjust treatment
- Economics, poverty, race, and labels are integral determinants of a defendant's prison sentence
- In the case of race and poverty, it's easy for prosecutors to win the case (relation to Murder on a Sunday Morning)
- In the presence of race and poverty, defense attorneys are often ill-prepared and unengaged
- "Moral Hazard” occurs in our legal system. This can relate to prosecutors, public defenders, and/or correctional officers being unjust typically because they don't face consequences for unjust actions
Poem 1: The Prosecutor (pg. 49)
The title of the poem "The Prosecutor" connects to the poem's context. The context of the poem describes the perceptions of a prosecutor and the negative implications the defendant faces. The mood of the poem is somber, yet reflective. The perception of the prosecutor is that he is superior or threatening. The author could have intended for this perception to be from the defendant, the defendant's family, or defense attorney.
The stanzas provide metaphorical references that describe the prosecutor's physical features (stanza 1). Personification is used (stanza 1 and 2). For example, the first stanza compares Tigris and Euphrates rivers to the prosecutor's intersecting eyebrows. Tigris and Euphrates also act as geographical and biblical references to Genesis 2:14 (see KJV or NIV).
The poem also implies that the defense attorney/public defender is timid or up against the odds with the words, "scritch scritch go the bony feet of the defense attorneys as they run for cover"(stanza 3).
"Johnny Early" refers to the defendant who is now sentenced as a prisoner. The sword acts as the prison sentence or “death sentence." On the surface, it seems that the defendant died. In actuality, the sword through his neck is a metaphor for either mandatory sentencing or the "death sentence" of prison. The visual imagery frames the reader's interpretation because the author describes the defendant's head falling after his head is cut (stanza 4).
The last two stanzas shift in audience. The poem seems to shift to the perspective of the victim's family who refer to the prosecutor as "O Beloved Unequivocator" (stanza 6). The victim's family weep because justice has been served, in their eyes. The author implies that the prosecutor is deemed as a savior, especially with the common biblical phrase "O Beloved." This phrase is often used throughout the bible to refer to someone being revered (Songs of Solomon and I John).
Poem 2: Defense Attorney (pg. 51)
The title of the poem "Defense Attorney" connects to the poem's context. The premise of the poem tells the story of a humble defendant at trial, relying on his defense attorney. The time period mainly covers the time during trial and while the crime occurred.
The poem relies on personification to make comparisons. The use of similes are also present (stanza 1). In the poem's opening, the phrase "you lean into him, like a kind mother," suggest that the defendant is humble and trusting towards the defense attorney (stanza 1). The author makes reference to an animalistic ideology when describing the defendant's hands as "his animal hands quiet in the metal cuffs" (stanza 1).
The middle and closing of the poem implies that the defendant is already guilty since he is in handcuffs (stanza 1), rather than innocent before proven guilty (stanza 5). In this way, the author used vivid description of the defendant's charges (stanza 3-5). Perhaps the poet refers to mundane matters of the defense attorney when she references the date the crime took place (stanza 3).
The reader can assume that the inmate is being charged with the murder of a woman (stanza 5). In closing, the poem strongly suggest that the defendant committed a horrendous crime. It confirms his guilt.
Poems and Movie Comparison
Similarity: In similarity, both poems contain short stanzas. Their titles' connect to the poems' contexts. Personification is used to compare human-like characteristics to nonhuman objects. So, the use of personification acts as common threads between both poems. Both poems and movie provide a lens into the U.S. legal system.
Differences: The context of the poems contrast since one is about the prosecutor and the other about the defense attorney. "The Prosecutor" sheds light on the perception of the prosecutor from the defense attorney's point of view. While, "Defense Attorney" highlights the perception of the defense attorney from the defendant's point of view. Both poems suggest the defendant is guilty. In contrast, Brenton Butler was acquitted of all charges after a lengthy, public trial. This is rare for the average African-American male.
- Why did the defense attorneys choose to devote their time to Brenton Butler’s case out of all their other cases?