Monday, August 27, 2012

Wahzinak's First Letter/ Killer Wants to Go to College

In prison, Salvador receives a letter from someone named Wahzinak, about whom I can find nothing specific (the letter says she lives "in the desert," but that could be metaphoric as well as geographic). She says she has "read [Salvador's] prison writings"-- Sal had become literate in prison and received his high-school equivalency, as well as being born-again.

Evidently, Wahzniak is also a person "of color," as she puts it, and she feels empathy for Salvador, saying that such folk "must keep fighting." Lastly, she hopes that "one day, I'll ease your hurt."

A fellow, nameless inmate now fills us in on some of the details of Salvador's progress in prison with the song "Killer Wants to Go to College" (Track 9 on Songs From the Capeman). He tells us that Salvador wants to attend college in "New Paltz," where one of the branches of the State University of New York is located. (He did, in fact, attend, double-majoring in sociology and philosophy.)

The inmate also says that in order to do so, of course, he has to be paroled. And this, he was, after his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by then-NY Governor Nelson Rockefeller in 1962 (the murders themselves were in 1959). But it was a later governor, Hugh Carey, who, in 1977, made Salvador eligible for release; Salvador attended college by day and returned to prison at night. 

The inmate continues that Sal wants "to go on TV." I am not sure this happened, although he was interviewed  at the time of his arrest. This time, the inmate says, the intent would be to promote his "book," evidently his memoir. He did write a book titled The Political Identity of Salvador Agron: Travel Log of Thirty-Four Years, which corroborates he was that age at this point and that he had therefore been in jail some 20 years by then.

"Make my life into a movie," the inmate imagines Sal saying. And yes, the idea of a TV movie was floated;  Salvador arranged for any money he would make to go to the victims' families. (I am not sure that the movie was ever made. In any case, today, there are laws prohibiting convicts from benefiting from their crimes.)

All of this attention has flustered the warden as well. He now chimes in, "This boy used to be on Death Row!" Indeed, when Sal was sentenced, he was only 16 and set the record for the youngest person ever to be sentenced to death in the U.S. No doubt, this was part of the argument for leniency. As was mentioned in "Jesus Es Mi Senor," everyone from then-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to the father of one of the victims had urged leniency before the original sentencing.

The warden worries that Salvador's "violence [will] return." He recalls that, during that earlier interview, Sal told the reporter, "I don't care if I burn; my mother can watch." (Why "burn"? The method of execution was to be the electric chair). 

We can understand one murderer dismissing, jealously, the amazing success of someone like Salvador. But one would hope that a prison warden would be proud that his "correctional facility" actually corrected someone! Perhaps he is of a different mindset, feeling that it is his job to keep the dangerous people caged. It's fine if they want to occupy their endless time with sports or reading or what-have-you, but to actually mature, see the error of their ways, and become "corrected"? 

Maybe... but then to achieve celebrity status?! Just because one is not being punished anymore does not imply that one's should be rewarded! Still, Salvador was a remarkable case-- to go from troubled, illiterate killer to well-adjusted philosophy student is quite an achievement.

"Salvador" might finally be living up to his own name.

Note to Readers: 
I struggled with the idea of actually researching Agron's case. I did not want such information to color or affect my discussion of the songs in the musical. However, this song alluded to a number of facts about Agron and I simply needed to know what they were, as seen above.

Some other information I discovered that was not revealed in the songs thus far:
1) Before his crime, young Sal got along so poorly with his preacher stepfather, he returned to Puerto Rico to live with his father. While he was there, his father's new wife committed suicide, and Sal was the one who found the body. He began acting out, and so was put in a vocational school. Eventually, his father sent him back to New York.

2) There, Sal joined a gang before the Vampires. But it was with the Vampires that he committed his murders. It was a sad case of mistaken identity; he believed his victims were the members of a rival gang they had arranged a "rumble" with.

3) Aside from his life story, Agron also wrote poems in jail, some of which were published by New York newspapers. 

Next Song: Virgil

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