Interview with William Francome, writer of ‘In Prison my Whole Life’

After our screening of  ‘In Prison all my life’, I spoke to film-maker and writer William Francome about what happened to Mumia Abu-Jamal, issues of racial tension in the US and his new project ‘The Penalty’ that will be starting raising money on Kickstarter on 6th November and looks to be released in early 2016.

Taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_Prison_My_Whole_Life#mediaviewer/File:Inprisonmywholelife.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RC: I understand that Mumia’s death sentence was revoked after the film was released, can you bring me up to date on what’s happened?

WF: While we were making the film was being made his death sentence was vacated but he had to stay   on death row because the state pulled an appeal to keep him on death row. After the filming it finally went through the courts and his death sentence was vacated. In America you have two phases of a trial in a death penalty case, you have a  guilt phase and a sentencing phase. He is still considered guilty of the crime but not sentenced to death. So he is still imprisoned for life without the possibility of parole, so he will still stay in prison until he dies of old age and he has no chance of getting out, currently.

RC: You mentioned that he has a limited chance of getting out or a free trial still, why is this?

WF: It is very difficult to appeal court cases in America. I feel myself that there were some serious issues within his case, but the courts have essentially said that they do not feel that is the case. You have to prove that a certain fact would have been strong enough that it would have swayed a jury one way or the another. That’s not the easiest thing to do, it’s often conceptual. In Mumia’s case the judge, in his PCRA (Post Conviction Relief Act) hearing, came out of retirement  specially to hear the case – the same judge that had heard his case in the beginning. Considering one of the main issues of him having a fair trial, was the bias of the judge, it was kind of ridiculous to have the same judge. I know that Mumia was hopeful that he would get a new trial, that’s where we left the film, we thought he might get one and in the end he didn’t. While he is no longer on death row, he still feels like he is serving a death sentence, he still considers it to be a travesty and that he is innocent and that if he had his day in court  he would have been able to get his fair trial that we didn’t think he had and that Amnesty don’t think he had. Whether he shot the policeman or not, I don’t know but what I do know is that he didn’t have a fair trial.

RC: What was the experience of making ‘In Prison All My Life’, was it a big learning curve?

WF: Yes definitely, I was at university when I wrote down the idea for the first time. Originally I had written this idea for a film and no one was interested, my sister was working at ITV and she pitched it there and to some other people and I kind of gave up on the idea. Two years later my girlfriend Katie was like, ‘let’s do this’ and then we decided we were going to do it. We got very lucky, Colin Firth and his wife Lydia got involved, they heard about what we were doing and they wanted to help us do it. It was a fantastic experience, it was very stressful and it was a learning curve but we had some fantastic people on board and some people who were really dedicated to making this film and to letting me have this vision and go on this journey. I was able to go off and meet these people and ask the questions I wanted to ask.

RC: Do you think things have progressed in the US or does it appear to be quite stagnant?

WF: I do definitely think things are changing, I think now we are seeing a level of debate around the death penalty that we have never seen before. Mumia’s case was the loudest and it was the most famous in the late 90s,  in 1998 you had a 80% approval rate of the death penalty in the US but now it’s down to 53/54%. That is a huge swing in twenty years, a significant 30%,  and I think a lot of that is to do with exoneration particularly DNA exoneration. I think that people are understanding, ‘well god if there’s one innocent person than that’s probably one too many and how much is it costing us?’ I think that people have pretty much acknowledged that it costs almost three times as much to have someone on death row and to executed than to leave them in prison for life.  I think that the general public is understanding a lot more, I can definitely tell that there is a shift and once you get to a point when you’re around 50% then it’s time to think that it is a fundamental issue in society  and surely we should look for a unanimous rather than a case of 50% either way.

RC: 53% still seems quite high, why do you think this is?

WF: I think there is all sorts of historical situations and reasons, I also think popular support in the UK is probably not as far off that as you think. I think people in America think that it is appropriate for people who have done horrendous things. I am not going to tell people what they should or should not agree with it. I think people think the death penalty is quite often an abstract thought of ‘someone deserves to die for doing this horrendous thing.’

When you actually explain to people,  it costs this much money and this is how many people who have been found to be innocent, and the issues of getting a fair trial in America, (especially if you’re poor or you’re some sort of minority), I think having something like an execution as the ultimate punishment suddenly seems like quite a major thing and I think when people begin to understand that their abstract idea of the death penalty really changes.

RC: Do you think that getting a fair trial in the US is still a big issue?

WF: Yes totally, there are endless people who’ve been innocent ended up on death row and in every case you hear the same thing time and time again: ‘I had a bad attorney’, ‘I didn’t have enough money to put up a good defence’, ‘the cops were racist’, or ‘I falsely admitted after two days of interrogation’. We had are these same problems crop up over and over again. I think what we are seeing with the 1000 people that have been exonerated from the Innocent Project is not just exceptional cases, but that there was a massive problem with injustice. Most people clean out because they’re too terrified whether they’re guilty or innocent, if you’re facing 100 years in prison  but are told that if you plead guilty you’ll get 10 years in prison then even if they’re not guilty you’ll still plead out. There are some serious serious issues with the American justice system. I’m not saying that it’s impossible to get a fair trial but I would not say it is a flawless system by any means.

RC: Do you think there is still a problem with racial prejudice in the US?

WF: Totally, I think there completely is. I think many of people wanted to see the election of Obama as America suddenly becoming this post-racial nation that had dealt with its’ race and history. But at the end of the day black men are still locked up in a way that is unprecedented in anywhere else in the world. We’re in a time where prison is a solution to a lot of society’s issues and people just get banged up to deal with whole sections of society. I think particularly in poor urban nations, policing is a completely different situation. For young black males, their experience of the criminal justice system is totally different to what I would have got as a young white teenager growing up in suburban America. I think those issues are still definitely there, even though we have elected a black president and the odd people who can surpass the issues the wider issue is still there. I think that it is very hard to change those, unless you really invest and change things through education, through policing, through jobs. Unless you tackle those issues you will see the same issues over and over again.

RC: Is lack of representation still a major issue?

WF: I think it’s a lack of equality on multiple levels. If you do not have a certain level of education, and your parents did not have access to a certain level of education so they did not have as good jobs so you then have the problem of poverty. This is very broad brush strokes, but say you have a lower level of health, and a lower life expectancy and you have less opportunities and access to jobs. And say you’re in an area where you have less access to jobs and you’re policed in a certain way because you’re considered to be more dangerous and scary than other parts of society. Whether that is by black or white police officers. I think it a multitude of issues that all get compounded together, the overall effect is still a very unequal society.

RC: Can you tell me a bit about your new film, more death penalty (!) what led you to continue with this topic?

WF: (Laughs) I promise this will be the last death penalty project! Last year, I drove across America with my co-director and a couple of producers  we made ten films on the road. (The project is called ‘One for Ten‘) They’re all online and are free to download. It was a project that we wanted to be open to the public and it to be as interactive as possible. However, after this we still had a few more questions and in this privileged position with these relationships we had made we wanted to do another project answering these questions. In America it seems to be a really important point with the death penalty, we’re approaching the 50% mark, and I think when you approach the 50% mark then we really should be talking about this a bit more deeply. So we wanted to make a film that answered all these questions.

RC: What is different about your new film? 

WF: In this new film The Penalty, we are going to be talking to people about it from all sides, and we’re following three major characters.  This one guy who was on death row and was released after 15 years and who has got his life back on track, a lawyer who is trying to prevent his client from being executed by one of these new drug cocktails, and the third and final story which we are still looking for which is a family who are waiting for the execution of a loved one. We really want to look at it from all sides and look at what the reasons are for having it and what the reasons are for not having it. We don’t want it to be a campaign piece saying this is what you should think, we really want people to ask themselves questions. We think people often think of the death penalty as an abstract term so the worst of the worst people who have done the most horrendous things. I think often that is not the case, and the reality is a lot more complex. We just want to show those people and ask them: ‘what do you think now?’ and is this the sort of society you want to live in.

[Further updates will be made with the rest of the interview! Another three/four questions to follow.]

Rob Hallam

Newsletter 2014-09-14: Freshers’ Week, First Meeting and Beyond!

We’re back! September has arrived and the new term is nearly upon us. This is a busy time for everyone and a really important time for us with new members and a whole bunch of events to kick off the new academic year.

Freshers’ Week

15-21 September 2014

Freshers’ week is one of the most important parts of the year for us- chances are high if you’re reading this that you’ve at least wandered by our stall during Freshers Week one September! If you’ve an hour to spare (or more), please come along– it’s a great way to meet the new faces who’ll be coming along this year and would really help us out. Get in touch with us either via email, Facebook or Twitter; or if you prefer you can fill in the Doodle: http://doodle.com/65zgchrx98mvgwun#table. Let us know, we’ll really appreciate it. If you don’t, well:

Stern Bird is judging you

But if you are able to lend a hand, then:

Happy Bird sez well done you

Avian persuasions aside1, if you can come along that would be great and we’d love to see you there.

The Freshers’ Fair Stall

16-17 September, 10-4, Randolph Hall

We have booked a stall which will be in Randolph Hall on Tuesday 16th and Wednesday 17th September from 10 AM to 4PM. Wearing our best smiles we’ll be chatting to Freshers about what we do, our meetings and events, and generally looking like the society that everybody wants to join.

Collaboration with STAR & CB – ‘Journey to Safety’

Wednesday 17th September, 3-6 PM, Body Orr Building Room 213

One of the other things we’ll be helping with is a very exciting workshop on the asylum seeker process organised by STAR over the course of a few hours on Wednesday afternoon 3-6 in the Boyd Orr Building (room 213). It’s a really good way to get a quick feel for the process; it’s be done in previous years and extremely well-received. STAR Glasgow and Crossing Borders will be taking people through the stages.

If you’d like to come along and take part I’m certain you’d find it a useful and positive experience. Or if you’d like to help out we could use folks to take people from one station to another (no prep work needed- script you can read from provided!) that would be really helpful. Let us know as mentioned above.

Activist Mixer/Social

Sunday 21st September, Curler’s Rest, 5 PM onwards

Thanks again to Kit of STAR, there is an activist mixer on Sunday 21st September in Curler’s Rest on Byres Road (by the subway). Invitations have gone out to a number of activist groups on campus, so there will be a mix of different groups doing good work. It’s a great opportunity to find out about what other societies are doing, and to network; we as a group tend to work with a number of familiar faces so it’s useful to meet these good folks. Come along for a bit if you’re passing and say hi.

(Provisional) Activism Talk

Thursday 18th September, Afternoon

Although this is provisional, we are hoping to do a talk on activism on the afternoon of 18th of September. We’re discussing with the SRC what we can do, it would be good to see some familiar faces in the crowd if it does go ahead. Keep an eye on the website, Facebook or Twitter for updates on time and venue.

First Meeting of 2014-15!

Tuesday 23rd September, 5PM, QMU

Fun! Excitement! Presentations!

We’ll be kicking off the academic year with our first meeting on Tuesday 23rd September in the QMU at 5PM. We’ll be giving an overview of what we do for new members, introducing the committee and giving information about upcoming campaigns, events- which includes the election of two ordinary board members. This is a committee position which gives even greater opportunity to be involved in the planning and direction of GU Amnesty.

First Social of 2014-15

Tuesday 23rd September, 7PM onwards, The Old Schoolhouse, Woodlands Avenue

Following on from our first meeting we will be having our first social. This will be held at The Old Schoolhouse in Woodlands Road after the first meeting (roughly 7PM). If you don’t know where it is, don’t worry, it’s close by and we’ll walk you there. It’s a really good way to get to know folks – invariably the members of GU Amnesty are great folk to hang out with as well as outstanding campaigners!

Other Upcoming Events and Info

We already have a number of exciting things planned for Freshers’ Week and our first campaign, but there are plenty of other things going on which you might be interested in.

GHRN Events and Bulletin Information

If you haven’t heard of it, you should check out the Glasgow Human Rights Network.

The Glasgow Human Rights Network aims to bring together researchers, practitioners,
members of civil society organisations and policymakers who address human rights issues.

Their events can be very informative for those looking to go a bit deeper into human rights issues, especially those that see themselves either working, pursuing further education or researching in the field.

The latest bulletin had too many events to list here, but if you are interested you can find details on how to subscribe to their website, linked above. If there’s any difficulties finding the details, please get in touch with us and we’ll help you out.

I Am Troy Davis Community Book Club

21st September-10th October 2014

On September 21, 2011, the State of Georgia put Troy Davis to death despite a compelling case of innocence. To mark the 3-year anniversary of this travest9thy of justice, and to deepen and widen the discourse about the human impact of the death penalty and criminal justice system, we invite you to participate in a worldwide Community Book Club between September 21 and October 10, World Day Against the Death Penalty. Through hundreds of intimate gatherings across the country and the world, Troy’s story will reach and impact thousands of new people.

The case of Troy Davis is one we’ve campaigned on in the past, and it continues to be a focal point in the case for the abolition of the death penalty. If you’re interested, please take the time to have a look at I Am Tro Davis and the Community Bookclub. The death penalty is a campaign we will return to in October. If you’re interested in more information or the book please contact our campaigns manager Alex or the good folks at I Am Troy Davis above.

Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival

1-19 October 2014

There’s a film being screened on 9th October, the UK premiere of Beneath the Blindfold telling the stories of four torture survivors. As a heads-up, we have a death penalty-related event putatively pencilled in for the same day, but details will follow and it may be of interest.

Get in Touch

There’s lots on in the coming week or two, and even more beyond but this newsletter has to end somewhere! There will be more coming next week, and every week after that. Well done for making it to the end this time. Your picture rewards are the two birds included above.

If you have any questions, suggestions or feedback you can always get in touch either via the website or on Facebook or Twitter.


  1. Photos taken in my back garden this week. 
Ruth

Tuesday 3rd December: Women’s Rights Film Screening, Carol Singing and Human Rights Day Social

Good Tidings GU Amnesty,

December is upon us and we are nearing the end of term and, dare I say it, the beginning of exams. So our next meeting will be our last for this year, but we also have our end of term social, and fundraiser– read on for all the details.

Last week we expressed our outrage at Coca-Cola’s failure to acknowledge human rights abuses in Russia: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.631682286875487.1073741835.458988730811511&type=1

We then took part in the Reclaim the Night March as part of the 16 days of action to end violence against women: http://www.guamnesty.org.uk/2013/11/photos-from-reclaim-the-night-march-2013/

Next meeting: Film screening in St. Andrew’s Building, Room 213 5pm

We are back in the St. Andrew’s Building (Woodlands) for our final meeting and round-up of our campaigns of the semester. We have chosen a film which is related to our women’s rights theme for November, and this will look at ‘gendercide’. This term has come about following the recognition of the fact that many newborn girls are killed simply because they are girls. The film looks at this across different countries speaking to families who have both killed their own daughters and had their daughters killed.

For more information on the content of the film, please email us at mail@guamnesty.org.uk but here’s the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISme5-9orR0

Map for St. Andrew’s Building: http://www.gla.ac.uk/media/media_26876_en.pdf

December’s Fundraiser: Carol Singing!

Our Fundraising Officer, Maisie, was collecting the contact details for anyone wanting to join the carol singing group for our final fundraiser of  the year. We have done this in previous years and it has been a huge success and great fun! We sang outside Hillhead subway for just over an hour and managed to raise quite a bit of money before heading for a well-earned hot chocolate, so I think this would be the plan for this year.

If you weren’t at the meeting on Tuesday and want to get involved, here’s the event page. The general feeling was to do it before the 10th December but I don’t think the date is absolutely fixed so we can finalise this on Tuesday.

10th December – Human Rights Day and End of Term Social!

Join the event if you are coming/thinking of coming so that we can get an idea of numbers. We are looking to have it in a pub but as always there will be no emphasis on drinking or staying out late. If you are more interested in human rights and less interested in socialising, there will be still be an action to do. Amnesty usually have a Christmas card appeal where we send Christmas cards to people who are in prison, to the families of those who have ‘gone missing’, to people who are awaiting investigations into human rights abuses that have taken place but fail to be acknowledged and others too, so this is something we feel is important to do.

So please come along, even if you are only free for an hour or so and then I can also wish you a Happy Christmas in person 😀

Other Events

2nd December – 6th December: Medics Against Violence Campaign Week – Ask Listen &Respect Me

Event page for the campaign week with relevant news articles and reposts being posted each day.

Event page for the film screening and discussion (Wednesday 4th December, 7pm, room tbc).

‘Medics against Violence are working alongside Police Scotland, and the Violence Reduction Unit and are campaigning to raise awareness of sexual violence. Sexual violence is a major problem with huge numbers of incidents involving both male and female victims each year.’

‘We will also be holding a film & discussion night, led by Graham Goulden, Chief Inspector and National Anti-Violence Campaign Coordinator at the Violence Reduction Unit, Glasgow.
It will be at 7.00pm, Boyd Orr Building (Room TBC) – Wednesday 4th December.’

9th December: MEDSIN Campaign Poster Design Evening 7pm

MEDSIN are holding this event as a follow-up to the talk they had on human trafficking. As this is our chosen campaign for next semester, this may be of interest to many of you and we will be working with both MEDSIN and STOP THE TRAFFIK Glasgow next semester for our campaign. This session will focus on a poster campaign – here’s the event page for more information.

Happy 1st December and let the countdown begin!

Ruth

Ruth

This Year’s Events, Tibet Meeting and a Reminder About the Elections!

Hi everyone,

I hope you all survived the first week!

I am thrilled that so many people have joined Amnesty this year and it was great to meet most of you at our social on Tuesday. For those of you who didn’t make it, don’t worry, there will be another one soon enough.

Next meeting: Tuesday 1st October 5pm QMU

This Tuesday we will be voting for our campaigns and fundraisers for the year. Some of you made some really good suggestions, so we will be discussing all the ideas in more detail at the meeting. Whichever campaign and fundraising event we decide to do first, we will start planning and organising.

See photos of past events on our Facebook page and find more information on our website.

I know there are people who cannot make our meetings at 5pm but there will still be plenty to get involved with outside our usual slot. Psychology students – see note at the end*.

A Sacrifice Poster
Tibet meeting: Wednesday 2nd October

A Sacrifice

Don’t forget we have our joint event with STAR next Wednesday, 6-8pm.

https://www.facebook.com/events/597440403650551/

Theo Hessing is coming to Glasgow to promote his documentary ‘A Sacrifice’, which will be shown in Boyd Orr 412 (Lecture Theatre B). The Students for a Free Tibet society will introduce the meeting and then we will show Theo’s film. The documentary lasts 30 minutes and will be followed by a Q&A and discussion with Theo.

“A Sacrifice” follows the journey of Lhamo Kyab, a Tibetan nomad living in India, as he secretly returns to Tibet to highlight suffering of the Tibetan people. Meanwhile, 100 Tibetans set themselves on fire. “A Sacrifice” considers the implications of the sacrifices being committed by Tibetans in the name of freedom.

More information can be found on the film’s website: http://asacrificefilm.com/

ELECTIONS: Tuesday 8th October

As we mentioned at our first meeting, there will be elections in two week’s time for 2 x Ordinary Board members.

These elections are open to all members of the society, whether you have just joined or not. If you are interested in standing for the position of Ordinary Board member, please come and chat to me or anyone else on the committee on Tuesday and we’ll tell you why you should J.

I should also mention that we will be forming a Secret Policeman’s Ball sub-committee. The Secret Policeman’s Ball is our huge annual comedy fundraiser and will be held in February next year. As it’s such a big event to organise, we have decided to form a sub-committee consisting of both current committee and non-committee members. So, this is something else to bear in mind. Again, come and chat to us if you are interested and want to know more about getting involved with that.

I can’t wait to get cracking with our events! This year is going to be awesome, I can tell.

See you Tuesday,

Ruth

[*Note for 1st year Psychology students:  I had an informal chat with Jason Bohan, who is in charge of Level 1, about those of you who can’t make our meetings on Tuesdays. He said that in the coming weeks, attendance will naturally drop and if you are free at 9am, then you should be fine to attend this lecture instead. Keep me posted though and let me know if any problems arise. I know some of you have other classes at this time, in which case, I hope you can still come to our events outwith our Tuesday meetings.]

 

 

*ROOM CHANGE* – Wednesday 17 November: Organ Harvesting in China

Hi everyone,

There’s been a double booking and so we’ve been reallocated for Wednesday night’s film screening:

Wednesday 17th November, 6pm, Room 435, cap 16, The St Andrew’s Building: Organ Harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners in China.

http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=168044299883419

Falun Gong Logo

Aung San Released! And This Weeks Happenings

Hello everyone,

I hope you are all well on this pivotal day! Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s opposition leader and our longest-serving prisoner of conscience, has finally been released after spending 15 of the last 21 years under house arrest! Everyone who has ever taken part in any of the Burma campaign…you made a difference and here is the evidence! However, although it’s fantastic news and certainly provides hope there are still 2,200 political prisoners behind bars in Burma and the fight doesn’t end here.

This week in GU Amnesty:

Monday 15th November: 5pm, Jim’s bar, QMU, Amnesty funternational preparation meeting. (more details below)

Tuesday’s meeting: A call for celebration, let’s take some recognition for Suu Kyi’s release! We shall also be looking at some of Amnesty’s latest campaigns, violence against women, Scottish gypsy travellers and the ongoing Burmese battle. Come along on Tuesday for some debate, activism and a wee celebrate!

Wednesday 17th November: Film screening following last weeks talk on Falun Gong practitioners. The film shall concentrate on the horrific Organ harvesting that takes place and will finish with some ending comments from Yu Yu Williamson. 6pm, Boyd Orr, lecture theatre B, level 4.

Sunday 21st November: Amnesty Funternational, 8pm, £3, Jims bar, QMU. http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=505925847#!/event.php?eid=176376639043011

Coming up: GU amnesty love Christmas and what a chance to utilise for fundraising initiatives. Details shall be given out on Tuesday but over the coming weeks we’re looking to put together a carol singing group, get crafty making some christmassy decorations/cards and organise a winter folk night!

More Info:

Aung San Suu Kyi:

The message here is not to be fooled. There is still a huge way to go in Burma. However, we can be pleased that a step in the right direction has been taken and so although we’re going to celebrate let’s not forget those who are still behind bars, http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=19085&utm_source=aiuk&utm_medium=website&utm_campaign=homepage&utm_content=assk_released_main.

Amnesty Funternational Prep:
Sunday see’s our latest fundraising effort and we’re asking for any help people can give. If you’d like to be involved come along to the planning meeting tomorrow at 5pm in Jims bar. We shall be discussing raffle prizes, games, quizzes, music, cakes and anything that people would like to see at the event. Bring out your inner child!

Thanks very much and thank you for all your continued dedication.

Rob Hallam

Film Screening: Persepolis

There will be a screening of the film Persepolis on Thursday 15 October on level 6 of the Boyd Orr, lecture theatre E. The screening should start at around 7 PM, but we have the room from 6:30 so feel free to come along for a chat beforehand.

Persepolis poster
The story follows a young girl as she comes of age against the backdrop of the Iranian Revolution. The story ends with Marjane as a 22-year-old expatriate. The film won the Jury Prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.
(Thanks to Wikipedia for description and poster)

This film came third in the Amnesty UK media team’s Top 10 Human Rights Films Poll (request on twitter), so it is certainly worth coming along to watch.