He used to carry out the death penalty. This is why he totally changed his mind.

Semon Frank Thompson filled a syringe with water, knowing — if this weren't just a job training — he'd be moments away from killing someone.

"I can remember this feeling," he explains of his time working in an Oregon prison. "Like, this just doesn’t make sense.”

At the time, Thompson believed in the death penalty. As a young black man growing up in the segregated South, he remembered the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till, a black teenager who was murdered at the hands of white supremacists for daring to flirt with a white woman.


Thompson, like many in his community, wanted justice for Till's killers. And capital punishment seemed like the only way to achieve it.

A photo of Emmett Till on the plaque that marks his grave in Illinois. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Years later — as the superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary, filling up that syringe during a training session on lethal injection — Thompson found himself in charge of death.

Administering death sentences was part of his job description.

As superintendent, Thompson was trained to carry out capital punishment at the facility. In his time there, he only carried out two death sentences, but it was enough to change his mind about the procedure forever.

For Thompson, abolishing the death penalty isn't just the moral thing to do — it will prevent further injustice from unfolding.

Most people on death row have done horrific things and committed unspeakable crimes. But to Thompson, who now travels across the country speaking out against the death penalty from his unique perspective, capital punishment fails to make our communities any safer. And evidence backs him up.

Research has yet to find any substantial data suggesting the death penalty deters crime, a 2014 report from The Washington Post noted. In fact, violent crime has generally fallen since 1990, even as more states have implemented bans and placed moratoriums on the death penalty.

On the other hand, the death penalty has certainly taken innocent lives. In the U.S., more than 150 people have been exonerated while on death row since 1976. In that time, a staggering 1,400 people have been executed. It makes you wonder: How many people of those 1,400 were innocent?

“There’s a surreal feeling about sitting down and looking at a human being and talking to them about what I plan to do to them," he said. "I realized that I — at my very, very core — felt that the death penalty was wrong.”

Watch Thompson's story about how his time working at the Oregon State Penitentiary inspired him to devote his life to saving others':

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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