Texas Uses a Steinbeck Character to Measure Justice - Jo-Ann Carson

Texas Uses a Steinbeck Character to Measure Justice

A bizarre tale of life intersecting with fiction:

“Lennie Small is an iconic literary character — a well-intentioned, mentally disabled giant of a man.
He and his long-suffering friend George Milton are the two central characters in John Steinbeck’s 1937 heartbreaking novella, “Of Mice and Men” — in which the combination of Lennie’s strength and mental disabilities get him into serious trouble.
Now, in Texas, Lennie Small — Steinbeck’s fictional character — is being used as a measure of a person’s mental fitness to face the death penalty.
Yesterday, Marvin Wilson — whose IQ was measured at sixty-one — was denied a stay of execution. A decision based, in part, on how Mr. Wilson’s intellect compared to Lennie’s. Only hours later, Mr. Wilson was executed.
John Steinbeck’s son, Thomas, is speaking out. He’s an author and journalist himself — and he’s outraged at the state of Texas, and its misappropriation of his father’s writing.
We reached Thomas Steinbeck at his writing studio in Santa Barbara, California…” CBC RadioAs it Happens,podcast

Can we get any crazier? I’m not making this up. Do people not realize there the distinction between fictional characters and real people? It’s worrisome.
In the interview Thomas Steinbeck said he is, “…desperately angry,” over what has happened. That it’s an,”…insult to John Steinbeck,” and an “…insult to his writing.” A “…bizarre idea of justice.”
What did the man in Texas do?
Erik Oster wrote in “The Faster Times”:

“Wilson, who was convicted of killing a police informant two decades ago, was declared mentally retarded by a court-appointed neuropsychologist but found to be accountable for his actions (and declared not mentally retarded) by the court. While the Supreme Court banned the execution of mentally retarded criminals in the 2002 ruling of Atkins v. Virginia, they committed the oversight of allowing states to define for themselves what constitutes mental retardation. Whereas most states would recognize Wilson’s IQ of 61 as evidence enough that he is unfit for execution, … – the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has invented a non-clinical, non-scientific set of factors to measure mental retardation called the “Briseño factors.”
The “Briseño factors,” writes Salon, “were inspired by Lennie Small, the fictional migrant farm worker from the famous novel Of Mice and Men…”
…Wilson’s attorney told Salon that “not a single clinician or scientific body uses or even recognizes the ‘Briseño factors’ as valid.” Yet, it seems a good enough loophole for Texas to work around the Supreme Court’s ruling against the execution of mentally retarded prisoners.”

Wilson is, ” the the 245th inmate executed under Gov. Rick Perry.” (Salon).

0 Replies to “Texas Uses a Steinbeck Character to Measure Justice”

  1. Unfortunately, there is a segment of society that does believe what they read in fictional stories. You can find examples also in movies and TV. Even reality TV is another form of fiction. Hard for people, when bombarded with constant media in whatever format, to distinguish what is real and what is fantasy.

    1. Pat
      I agree and it worries me.
      I hate the thought that civilization can be eroded by people’s lack of understanding about what is real and what is fiction. Don’t get me wrong. I do believe the power of a good story can change people, but to use a character to justify the death penalty sends shivers up my spine. It feels so wrong.
      Thanks for stopping by and adding to the conversation.

  2. Surprised you caught this story, Jo-Ann, way up there. Nothing much surprises me here in what in times past has been an illustrious state. Telling fact from fiction isn’t seen as a strength here.

  3. Sure hope your right, JO-Ann. I spent way to long on the earlier response, most of which I cut. Nothing like a little self-editing. But it made me feel good to write it.:) Always appreciate hearing from you.
    107 today, but we’ve had a small break with thunderstorms. It’s kind of a mixed blessing–the rain is great for putting out some fires west of here, but the lightening could possibly kick off more. Praying not. Take care.

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