Author Tags: Law, Literary Criticism
P.J. Murphy taught for nine years in the Simon Fraser University Prison Education Programme prior to co-editing Sentences and Paroles: A Prison Reader (New Star, 1998) with Jennifer Murphy, who was completing a Social Work degree at the University College of the Cariboo.
Subsequently Murphy has taught at Thompson Rivers University's English department. He is also the author of books on Samuel Beckett and co-editor of Life-25 with Lloyd Johnsen.
P.J. Murphy's Beckett's Dedalus: Dialogical Engagements with Joyce in Beckett's Fiction (UTP 2008 ) re-examines the nature and extent of James Joyce's influence throughout Beckett's major fiction. Murphy contends that Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) was consistently affected by the protagonist of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen Dedalus--and the great writers in a "complex life-giving and art-building dialogue." $65 978-0-8020-9796-5
[BCBW 2008] "Law" "Literary Criticism"
Interviews With Prisoners Serving Life Sentences (New Star $18)
When Bruce was 25 years old he went into the woods armed with a sawed off shotgun. His uncle had the misfortune of walking through the woods near the family cottage that day. When Bruce jumped out of the bushes waving a gun, his uncle asked what he was doing.
“I just want to get myself put away for a long time,” Bruce replied.
They talked for a half hour and then Bruce shot his uncle in the chest, upper back and the back of the head. Bruce was sentenced to life 25: twenty five years for first degree murder, which he is currently serving at Matsqui Prison.
'Bruce' is one of the fifteen men who tell their stories in Life 25: Interviews With Prisoners Serving Life Sentences (New Star $18) by P.J. Murphy & Loyd Johnsen, former editors of the Prison Journal.
Kurt, another lifer, was a compulsive shoplifter during his early teens. At 25, he is two years into serving a life sentence for strangling a woman to death in a bar.
He fondly recalls being sent to the House of Concord, a resort style institution run by the Salvation Army in Jervis Inlet. “I didn't want to leave there [House of Concord],” recalls Kurt. “When the time came, I was crying; that was my home.
“It's the best time I've ever had in my life. I met so many people from all over. Movie stars used to go there in the Thirties. Nothing can ever, I don't think...top that, unless I was released one day.”
Bruce and Kurt, like many of the others profiled in Life 25, were shuffled between family members and foster parents. Abuse and neglect were common. Few finished high school. Without any real life skills, they drifted from one minimum wage job to another, often resorting to crime.
“Few of these men had much of a life of their own before they ended up doing life 25,” says Murphy, who along with Johnsen, felt compelled to compile Life 25.
“Their voices were not going to be heard anywhere else,” says Murphy, who spent five years as the coordinator of the SFU prison education program at Matsqui and Kent, before the program was cancelled in 1993 due to funding cutbacks.
Following the abolition of capital punishment in 1976, life imprisonment (25 years) became the punishment for those convicted of first degree murder. Under Section 745 of the Criminal Code, after 15 years in prison an application can be made for an earlier parole hearing.
“When the first candidates came up for judicial review in the late 80s, all of the media comments seemed to be re trials; rhetoric about them cheating the system, being time bombs, etcetera,” says Murphy, an associate professor of English at the University College of the Cariboo. “There was little insight or depth to the reporting on what the individual situations were.”
The furore in April over notorious serial killer Clifford Olson's application for parole gives the impression that all those serving life sentences have committed equally heinous crimes and are eligible for an early parole hearing. Murphy says that is simply not the case.
“The number of life 25ers who are granted a hearing is incredibly small,” says Murphy.
“Many of them came from disadvantaged backgrounds, broken homes, with little education and no life skills.” He believes that “with decent lawyers many of these guys would have been convicted of second degree instead of first degree murder. The distinction between first and second degree murder needs to be looked at. We haven't had a proper debate about what these sentences mean.”