This whole interview is very interesting. Just turn up the volume. A favorite part for me is when Professor Mike Radelet, who is mentioned prominently in the blog post below, goes to Uncle Watty's old family home (49:38 mark) and reminisces a bit. Mike and Uncle Watty go way back.
For a little warm-up activity before watching the interview, see what you already know about Watt Espy, using the posted questions. For the three highlighted ones, my intention, before the start of the New Year, is to come back and expound on these, sharing some personal insight I got from Uncle Watty during our numerous visits and phone conversations. Our relationship "took off" in the mid-90s when I arrived back in Headland and worked at the bank. I was very curious about his life and work, but I also was drawn to his knowledge of our family's history, of which he was the source, period.
- Why did he not complete his university studies?
- What moved him from simply being a 'crime buff' to researching records?
- What kind of funding did he have in those early years?
- What led the ALCU's Henry Schwarzchild to contact him, and what influence did he ultimately have on Watt's career?
- At the University of Alabama, what disagreement led to Watt returning to Headland, and where did he then set up his death penalty project?
- What horrific event in Watt's family peaked his curiosity as a child?
- What became his main source for gathering death penalty information?
- What was his view of the death penalty before starting his research?
- How did Mike Radelet and Watt Espy cross paths?
- What does Mike recall about visiting Watt in Headland?
- What type items did Watt collect that also were of real interest to the notorious serial killer, Ted Bundy?
- What vice did Watt have that afflicted him virtually all his adult life, and what helped him overcome it?
Just as there was a confluence of negative events, factors and circumstances that led to his addiction, there was an equal number of forces that eventually helped him overcome it. The one he would talk about the most was AA. Uncle Watty found an accepting home and place at AA, and his intensive involvement in it turned his life around. He attended meetings all the time. I know that his sister Marilyn - and siblings Mark and Mila - went to AA meetings when Watty spoke or received some recognition for reaching a big milestone in his recovery. I went to one or two myself, just to be there for him. And I do remember him speaking.
Where I come from, people seek all kinds of escapes from reality. Overdosing on drinking, sports, religion and eating are common forms. And although some vices are more socially acceptable due to the pervasiveness of them among the masses, I don't rank one of these any worse or better than the others. They are all escapes. What I respect is when someone, like Uncle Watty, recognizes the addiction, explores the reasons it exists, and then finds healthier ways of embracing life as it is.
- What were his political leanings?
- How does he describe his views on race during the 1960s?
Uncle Watty, like us all, was a product of his environment. As an amateur historian and a lover of history, I personally realize that most of the beliefs and ideas we claim as truths or hold dear are primarily things we've been taught. It's just the way it is. Some of it's good, and needs to be retained. Some of it's bad, and needs to be discarded. Understanding how to make the distinction is the most challenging part.
- What role did faith play in his life and in his views on the death penalty?
In the interviews and articles Uncle Watty talks a bit about how his Christian faith helped shape his opposition to the death penalty. Ironically, devout Christians in his community - and the South as a whole - overwhelmingly support the death penalty. This difference is one of the reasons people, including family members, didn't really embrace or quite understand Uncle Watty's work. Now, on the flip-side, Uncle Watty remarked to me several times, "I can't understand how my abolitionist friends are not pro-life when it comes to abortion."
- What did honor Watt receive in Seattle, WA, and how did he feel about getting it?
- What was his compensation for this interview?
- What does he think of the future of the death penalty?