People’s thoughts and opinions are influenced by a number of environmental factors. It took me nearly eight years to develop my opinion on the use of capital punishment in the justice system. I was exposed to many influences during that time, each shaping the course of my thought in a different way. My current position can trace its roots to a combination of my upbringing, my education process, and the influence of my peer group. These components have mixed to make my anti-death penalty stance seem rational to me.
My upbringing had a significant effect on my anti-death penalty stance because it allowed for the development of my curiosity of social structures. When I was growing up, I would listen to books on tape with my family. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor exposed me to racism for the first time. I was baffled by the existence of racism and I could not understand why it was still present. I became aware of corruption I became aware that decisions were left to people who already had prejudices and they were capable of making horrible unjust decisions based solely on skin color. This changed the path of my developing opinions about the world around me. I began to become curious about why people acted the way they did and I would often spend hours a day dreaming the matter. I had many conversations with my parents about racism and their willingness to listen to my questions fueled my curiosity. If my parents had not exposed me to controversial topics like racism, it would have taken me much longer to consider why people think the way they do. This questioning attitude developing inside of me along with my knowledge of corruption changed the way I thought about the world and therefore eventually influenced my opinion on the death penalty. I came to realize that many decisions were made not in fact but largely in opinion. My upbringing clearly had a significant effect on the development of my opinion on the death penalty.
My education process also played a significant roll in the development of my opinions. With my developing awareness of the world, I entered fifth grade. My teacher asked me to consider that if I had hypothetically grown up in New Mexico as opposed to Minnesota how I would differ as a person. It was at that point that I realized how much the area I was living in had influenced me. I realized that our social environment plays a large role in our developing opinions and altitudes. This seed had been planted in my brain 7 years before I was sure that the death penalty was an unacceptable punishment. I was beginning to understand that the decisions people made on their way to becoming criminals had been a result of their upbringing. I began reading books that built on this idea. Works by S.E Hinton and Walter Dean Myers widened my lens and allowed me to consider that criminals do not start out as bad people; they are usually not given the guidance to prevent criminal action. The realization that the environment largely determines who succeeds and fails, occupied my mind during the years that followed. I began to understand how criminals developed and I continued to read more books on the subject. My schooling also taught me social justice teachings. These teachings taught me how to articulate the idea of the dignity of all human beings. All of these influences that I was exposed to through my education process dramatically shaped my decision.
My peer group had significant effect on the development of my opinion. As I moved into high school I began to listen to more and more debates between very conservative people and more moderate people. One debate that really significantly altered my opinion on the death penalty occurred in the stands of an away high school football game my sophomore year of high school. In the blustering October cold, I listened to debates over the war in Iraq, welfare, and then the prison system. I’ll never forget hearing, “I think we should execute all the people who are serving life terms in prison because those murderers, rapists, and thieves are a disgrace to America.” This statement was so extreme that it really made me think about where I stood on the issue. While I knew I did not agree, I had no facts to back my position The morning after I researched the issue. I read several web pages on execution styles, statistics, and people who were wrongfully executed. Then I looked into the cost, I read that it was sending someone to death row after appeals and court processes was three times more expensive than a forty-year prison sentence. It was at that point that I decided which side I was leaning towards but I still did not feel complete confidence in my position. My peers caused me to further consider other points of view. I came to the conclusion that execution is not a rational punishment for murder because a peer sparked the internal debate. My peer group clearly had a strong influence on the development of my opinion about the death penalty.
The course of one’s thoughts and opinions is usually altered by factors outside of oneself. As I matured my upbringing, my education process, and my peers influenced my opinion.