I Went to Death Row but Didn’t Even Get A Lousy T-Shirt

Why? No gift shop!

In order for CityBeat to obtain an interview with Death Row inmate James Mills, we had to make a special request to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections. After being asked the focus of the story, a reply came two days later: the interview was granted but only questions about the prisoner’s life and his case would be permitted — no questions about Death Row, the death penalty or his incarceration experience.

A few days later Jeff Gamso, the legal director for the ACLU of Ohio, informed CityBeat that the staff of the Ohio State Penitentiary is “still new” to housing Death Row inmates and is in the process of figuring out how to handle the rules and procedures. He said the restrictions on the interview were unconstitutional.

Gamso sent an e-mail to Assistant Warden Keith Fletcher. When Fletcher didn’t respond, Gamso went to the warden. What followed was a call to CityBeat from an irate Andrea Dean, who described herself as Fletcher’s boss. Her ire was the result of what she described as a threatening e-mail from Gamso challenging the restrictions on the interview.

Dean suggested that there had been a miscommunication and coordinated a three-way call with Fletcher, during which she explained the only question restrictions were on questions about prison policies and procedures, such as when guards change shifts.

On the day of the interview, Fletcher said CityBeat was receiving more leeway than other reporters, who were usually restricted to questions about an inmate’s case. As it turned out, the only thing Mills wouldn’t discuss was his case. But he was free to explain what his life is like as a prisoner on Death Row in Youngstown, Ohio.

— Margo Pierce

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