An inmate’s fight for constitutional rights

Fred CruzIn 1960, at age 21, Fred Cruz was arrested for robbery, convicted and sentenced to 50 years on a Texas prison farm. The San Antonio native denied committing the crimes but couldn’t afford a lawyer to appeal his case. With only an 8th grade education, Cruz read every law book he could find and filed his own appeal.

Fred Cruz’s story is now an independent film by producer/director Susanne Mason and will debut at SMU at 6 p.m. April 15, 2009 in McCord Auditorium, Dallas Hall. “Writ Writer: One Man’s Journey for Justice” tells the story of Cruz’s evolution into a jailhouse lawyer, the legal battle he waged against physical and racial violence, and how he used writs of habeas corpus to secure the constitutional rights of Texas prisoners.

Told by wardens, convicts and former prisoners who knew Cruz, “Writ Writer” uses contemporary and archival film footage to show the transformation of a prisoner and a prison system still haunted by their pasts. The film was honored as an official selection of the 2008 South By Southwest Film Festival. The SMU screening is sponsored by the University’s Clements Center for Southwest Studies in Dedman College.

The screening will be followed by a panel discussion on prisons, rights, race and violence featuring the following participants:

  • Rick Halperin, moderator, director of SMU’s Human Rights Education Program
  • Susanne Mason, director and producer of “Writ Writer”
  • Robert Chase, Clements Center Fellow and author of the upcoming book, Civil Rights on the Cell Block: Race, Reform and Punishment in Texas Prisons and the Nation, 1945-1990
  • Ernest McMillan, civil rights veteran and community activist
  • Reginald Gordon, community activist

The program is free and open to the public; advance registration is required. Register online at the Clements Center website or contact Ruth Ann Elmore at 214-768-3684.

Examining the intersections of crime, media and race

race-to-execution-dvd.jpgAs part of SMU’s ongoing celebration of Black History Month, the Division of Cinema-Television in Meadows School of the Arts and the Human Rights Education Program will present two documentary films by new CTV chair and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Rachel Lyon.

Race to Execution,” which aired on PBS’ “Independent Lens” (2007) and (2008), examines the ways in which race bias affects the United States’ capital punishment system and the factors that influence decisions on who lives and who dies at the hands of the state. The film traces the fates of two death-row inmates through their personal stories and testimony from defense attorneys, prosecutors, criminal justice scholars and experts in law and the media.

Juror Number Six” is a short Internet film focusing on how the media affects public perceptions of race, crime and punishment. The film highlights the role that TV news, shows like “CSI” and “Cops,” the Internet and other new media can have in the racialized crime-media business.

Following the showings will be a panel discussion with Lyon; Rick Halperin, director of the Human Rights Education Program; Dick Hawkins, associate professor of sociology in Dedman College; and Victoria Palacios, associate professor in Dedman School of Law. Refreshments will be served.

The screenings begin at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 26 in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center Forum, with the panel discussion scheduled to begin at 8:45 p.m. A reception will kick off the events at 7 p.m. The program is free and open to the public. For more information, call 214-768-1158 or 214-493-8848.