Regarding the Other Death Penalty

10 Pages Posted: 14 Nov 2023

See all articles by Kempis Songster

Kempis Songster

Amistad Law Project

Terrell Carter

Villanova University

Rachel López

Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law; Princeton University - Program in Law & Public Policy

Date Written: October 16, 2023


This essay responds to Randle DeFalco’s recent book, Invisible Atrocities, which explores the function of the aesthetics of violence in international law. In the book, DeFalco questions international criminal law’s preference for punishing spectacular demonstrations of violence, rather than more banal, bureaucratic actions that cause mass scales of suffering and misery. The book resonated with the co-authors of this essay, because they have seen the same dynamic at work in U.S. criminal law with respect to society’s views on two forms of the death penalty enacted by the carceral state: capital punishment and life without parole.

Indeed, two co-authors of this essay, Kempis Songster and Terrell Carter, who were sentenced to life without parole over three decades ago, intimately understand the invisibility of the harm described by DeFalco and believe that their sentence is more aptly described as death by incarceration. Employing DeFalco’s framework, the essay aims to visibilize the slow, but fatal violence of this sentence.

The essay is part of an emergent genre of participatory law scholarship (or PLS), which is legal scholarship written in collaboration with authors who have no formal training in the law, but rather expertise in law’s injustice through lived experience.

Keywords: Participatory Law Scholarship, Life without Parole, Death by Incarceration, Death Penalty, International Criminal Law

Suggested Citation

Songster, Kempis and Carter, Terrell and López, Rachel, Regarding the Other Death Penalty (October 16, 2023). Columbia Law Review, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Kempis Songster

Amistad Law Project ( email )

United States

Terrell Carter

Villanova University

Villanova, PA 19085
United States

Rachel López (Contact Author)

Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law ( email )

3320 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

Princeton University - Program in Law & Public Policy ( email )

Wallace Hall
Princeton, NJ 08544
United States

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