The Problem With How Courts Decide Whether Someone Can Be Executed

In 2007, the Supreme Court case Panetti v. Quarterman set the standard for when the government can execute someone with severe mental illness. Fifteen years later, the state of Texas is still trying to execute the petitioner in that case, Scott Panetti. This week, a federal judge is hearing testimony over whether Panetti meets the standard the Supreme Court outlined in his case in 2007: Does he have a rational understanding of the link between his crime (the 1992 murder of his in-laws) and the impending punishment?

SSRIs Are a Tool. They’re Also Fueling a Cultural Movement.

Do antidepressants work? It’s a question that comes up in the news cycle from time to time. This summer, we got it two-fold: First, there was Tucker Carlson ranting about how selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors were somehow responsible for the uptick in shootings (they are not). More recently, there was a review study that “debunked” the idea that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance—a fact that has been known for a long time, which did not stop the study authors from taking jabs at SSRIs.

On WhatsApp, You Can’t Escape Work—or Life

It’s 3 p.m. Saturday, and you check your phone to see if your aunt replied to the message you sent asking how to save your dying plant. The little red circle next to the WhatsApp logo is a promising sign: a new message! You open the app to see, at the top of your active chats, your boss’ name and photo next to a truly horrific status: “typing.” The internal conflict begins: Are you expected to answer? Can it wait until Monday?

My Uncle Died the Day He Was Released From Jail. I’m Still Trying to Understand Why.

It took me four months to open the email my mom sent me with my uncle Bryan’s medical history. By the time I read through the 132 pages, divided into three carefully scanned PDF files, he had been dead almost half a year. I wondered why it had taken me so long. There were the usual excuses — I was busy, working, things came up. I had avoided it because I knew it would be hard, emotional. The bigger truth is I wanted Bryan’s story to be straightforward, and I was worried that what I would find in his medical records would not be.

The Secret Sisterhood of Offshore Oil Workers

María de Jesús Ramos Cárdenas didn’t know what she was doing when she arrived at the helicopter pad in Ciudad del Carmen, an island city along Mexico’s gulf coast, in September 1988. She didn’t know much about the offshore oil industry. But she was tired of using her medical degree only haphazardly — giving consults when and where she could, often door-to-door, while also cooking food, sewing clothes, cutting hair, and painting nails in between to pay the bills. Things had been better during the past few months; she was thrilled to have finally gotten a chance to put her degree to use more regularly, working on the island at a hospital run by Pemex, Mexico’s national oil company.

Trump’s Ambassador to Mexico Wants to Be a Star on Mexican Twitter. It’s Complicated.

If you were Donald Trump’s ambassador to Mexico, you might be forgiven for lying low. Instead, in early September 2019, Christopher Landau, the newly appointed U.S. ambassador to Mexico, posed a challenge to Mexican Twitter users. His counterpart in Greece, he wrote, had almost 150,000 followers in a country with a population of 10 million, whereas the @USAmbMex account only had 40,000 followers in a country of 130 million. “This is an outrage! … Mexico has to be #1!” he tweeted in Spanish.

Words When the World Quakes

When you learn a second language, the words you fumble to make your own come to you in two ways. There are the words you find in the pages of a book, the worksheets of a lesson. And then there are the words you learn because the universe teaches them to you--words that can change the shape of your life. The first Spanish word I can remember the universe teaching me is simulacro, drill. It was September 18, 2017, and I was studying in Mexico City. It was day before the anniversary of the 1985 earthquake, a tragedy estimated to have taken the lives of around 10,000 people.

Moving Classes Online Is Hard—Especially in Prisons

The decision to stop sending volunteers to give classes in California prisons was a difficult one for Ernst Fenelon Jr., the senior program coordinator of the Prison Education Project.Fenelon, who was incarcerated in California from 1991 to 2005, understood what stopping classes would mean for the project’s students inside: isolation, uncertainty, and a lack of positive activities to fill their time. Though he was worried about participants’ physical health, Fenelon told me, “I was also concerned for the mental health safety of those incarcerated, in the sense of keeping their hope alive, keeping them connected to positive programming.”

Life Has Moved to Zoom. Can Prison Visitation Do the Same?

On Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern, join Future Tense for There’s No Social Distancing in Prison, a Social Distancing Social with Josie Duffy Rice and Lawrence Bartley. For Robert Pezzeca, who is serving a life sentence in Pennsylvania, the introduction of Zoom as a means of video visitation meant he got to see his 22-year-old daughter for the third time in her life. “I sat there for 45 mins watching my daughter eat dinner, laugh, smile, tell me stories, burp & I loved every second of it. Even when

How Migrant Shelters in Mexico Are Facing COVID-19

Late last month, a group of migrants in an immigration detention center in the Mexican town of Tenosique lit mattresses on fire to protest conditions in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic: overcrowding, the inability to carry out preventive measures like social distancing and sanitation, a lack of medical services and information, and potentially indefinite periods of confinement. One person, a migrant from Guatemala, died as a result of smoke inhalation, and 14 others were injured.

Who Gets to Cross Closing Borders With Ease?

Last week, I was at a mall Starbucks in Ciudad del Carmen, Campeche, Mexico, the place that’s been my home for the past six and a half months as I’ve worked as an English teaching assistant through the Fulbright Program. I was scrolling through my COVID-19-saturated newsfeeds from a place that still felt very far away from the pandemic. But then I received a memo from the U.S. State Department that changed all that. Due to the global spread of COVID-19, the State Department was “strongly advis[

What Gate Money Can (And Cannot) Buy for People Leaving Prison

As Ignacio Pedroza travelled the more than 350 miles from Pelican Bay State Prison to his home near Oakland, he was paying close attention to the roadside signs—particularly the ones that advertised prices for gas or food. Things were more expensive than they had been when he went to prison 12 years earlier. In his pocket, Pedroza had $200 in a debit card the state of California had given him upon release. He was busy making calculations in his head, trying to figure out what that money was actually good for.

In Sickness, In Health — and In Prison

Niccole Wetherell and Paul Gillpatrick were engaged in 2012. The state of Nebraska has prevented their wedding ever since​. Wetherell is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder, housed in a prison about 50 miles away from her fiance, Gillpatrick, who is serving a 55-to-90-year sentence for second-degree murder. The pair, who met in 1998, have come to accept they cannot marry in person. Instead, they want to wed via video conference, and they want an end to a prison policy that forbids Nebraska inmates from marrying each other except in “special circumstances.” Wetherell and Gillpatrick argue they have a “fundamental right to marry.” In June, U.S. District Judge Robert Rossiter ​affirmed​ that right. The case is now in appeal. But the legal precedent Rossiter cited has a quirky history that involves an infamous co-ed prison, an impromptu wedding, a soon-to-follow divorce and a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

In an Apparent First, Genetic Genealogy Aids a Wrongful Conviction Case

It started as a way to trace family history. It evolved into a tool to help solve decades-old cold cases. Now, for apparently the first time, a genealogy database is expected to lead to charges being dropped against an Idaho man convicted in a decades-old rape and murder case. There is “clear and convincing evidence” that Christopher Tapp, who served 20 years in prison, was wrongfully convicted in the 1996 killing of 18-year-old Angie Dodge, Bonneville County Prosecutor Daniel Clark wrote in a court filing last week.

Opinion | We Have the Resources to Prevent Cervical Cancer. Do We Have the Will?

PANAJACHEL, Guatemala — If someone had come to her community in western Guatemala sooner to offer cervical cancer screening, perhaps Micaela Yac Jeteya, 56, wouldn’t be fighting for her life. Now Yac Jeteya, a mother of six whose youngest son is 16, is suffering from a disease that is both very common and highly preventable. “Almost no one needs to die of cervical cancer,” said Dr. Kirsten Austad, the director of women’s health for the Maya Health Alliance, the organization that tested Yac Jeteya and is now trying to help her navigate treatment options. Yet, in 2018, cervical cancer killed more than 311,000 women — one woman every two minutes. More than 85 percent of those deaths were in low- and middle-income countries. During the same year, the World Health Organization estimates there were 570,000 new cases.

Opinion | Two Women, Divided by Opportunity

EXCHIMAL, Guatemala — When I was 15, I started to learn how to drive a car. When Olga Marina Mendoza Raymundo was 15, she got married. When I was 16, I took the SAT. When she was 16, Olga gave birth to her first child. And 10 months ago, as I was enjoying the beginning of my senior year of college, Olga was mourning the death of her husband. Now as I begin a journalism career, Olga is a 25-year-old widow, a single mother who works full-time farming crops and embroidering clothing, trying to make enough money to feed her three daughters. She wishes she could have made it beyond second grade and thinks an education would have opened up more opportunities for her. But that is a distant fantasy, a useless “what if” that she has little time for.

Opinion | Where a Miracle Substance Called Breast Milk Saves Lives

CHICHALUM, Guatemala — Painted on the side of a health post in this rural town in Guatemala’s western highlands is a simple message: Breast-feeding is a lifelong gift. But around the world, breast milk is a gift that many children are given incorrectly or not given at all — and the results are devastating. Health scholars report that a child dies more than once a minute somewhere in the world for lack of proper breast-feeding. This isn’t the case in the United States, where debates about breast-feeding don’t normally involve child mortality. In rich countries where water is clean, a bottle is not lethal the way it sometimes is in poor countries.

Focus on crime breeds misinformation about Venezuelans in Peru

LIMA, Peru — “Will anything be done against the Venezuelan criminals who enter Peru?” reads the Twitter post. “I have read hundreds of news stories where they are involved in big robberies and MURDERS. Where are the rights of the Peruvian? Will they continue to protect these criminals? WILL YOU DO SOMETHING?” “Venezuelan threatens a delivery man with a knife,” claims a Facebook video, and another on YouTube claims “VENEZUELA EXPORTS CRIMINALS AND SICKNESS.”Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Instagram and even some traditional news sites are crowded with posts like these. They have different messages, styles and intensities but are unified by an underlying assertion: Venezuelan migrants are a threat to Peruvians.

Would-Be Gig Worker With a Criminal Record? Good Luck Figuring Out if You Qualify.

In March, Chris C. was disqualified from driving for Uber. The reason? Two criminal convictions had been found in his most recent background check. The news confused Chris for a few reasons. For one, his convictions were relatively minor, one for a fake ID (officially, criminal possession of a forged instrument) and one for theft. For another, they happened nearly 20 years ago (specifically, in 1999, when he was 19) and had never disqualified him from other jobs.
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