Chair of the Board of Death Penalty Focus, Mike Farrell is also spokesperson for Concern America, an international refugee aid and development organization, Co-Chair Emeritus of the California Committee of Human Rights Watch and, occasionally, a Good Will Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Known to millions as “B.J. Hunnicutt” of television’s historic “M*A*S*H” and from NBC-TV’s “Providence,” he is also the producer of Universal Pictures’ hit “Patch Adams,”
A refugee aid and human rights activist for 30 years, Farrell first traveled to the Thai/Cambodian border in 1980. In the following decade he took part in aid missions and human rights delegations to El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras; after one such trip he represented the delegation in testimony before the U.S. Congress. In the same period, delegations took him to the then U.S.S.R., Paraguay and Chile.
In 1988 he traveled to Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Israel, exploring opportunities for peace in the Middle East. Returning to the Middle East in 1990, he followed that visit with a stop in Prague as part of a team of election observers for the first free post-Cold War elections in Czechoslovakia. A third trip to the Middle East in ‘92 focused on medical programs for children. Later that year, on behalf of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, he went to Somalia and Bosnia. In 1995, again with the UNHCR, he returned to Africa, this time to Rwanda, Zaire and Tanzania.
In the late ‘90s, with Human Rights Watch, he took part in a mission to the U.S./Mexico border areas investigating claims of abuse against the undocumented by U.S. Border Patrol agents. In 1999, again with an HRW investigator, he toured and interviewed prisoners at McAlester State Prison in Oklahoma, with special attention to its segregation and death row facility, the infamous H-Unit.
At the invitation of the Government of Mexico, in April of 2000 he testified as a representative of Death Penalty Focus before the Inter-American Court on Human Rights in a case dealing with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and its application to non-citizens on death row in the United States.
In 2002 and again in 2004 he was part of delegations from the Center for International Policy – of which he is a board member – supporting efforts to combat illegal logging in Central America, with a focus on Honduras and Nicaragua.
A life-long opponent of the death penalty and an advocate of prison reform, Farrell has visited prisons and been involved in death cases across the U.S. for over a quarter of a century.
He is the author of two books: “Just Call Me Mike; a Journey to Actor and Activist;” and “Of Mule and Man.”
Elizabeth Sholes is Director of Public Policy for California Council of Churches and California Council of Churches IMPACT. She has been with the Council and IMPACT since early 2002 working to educate members on major issues and advocating for them in the state legislature and in the nation’s capital. Her work challenging the religious right came in large measure due to its overwhelming influence over state and national public policy that too often undermined equality for those in need, human rights, and freedom of thought, faith, and speech. Witnessing the power of ultra-conservative religious views to undermine justice, she encouraged her IMPACT board to support the work of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and to provide a Christian voice in alliance with their goals.
An All American Swimmer in high school, he received a swimming scholarship to attend the University of Alabama. After graduation in 1974, he entered Naval Aviation flight training and flew the F-4 Phantom and A-4 Skyhawk aircraft for the Marines. Upon release from active duty, he entered the airline industry and flew 25 years for an international airline, obtaining the rank of Captain. He has flown over 23,000 accident free hours and transported over one million people safely to their destinations.
In 1990, he was recalled to active duty in the Air National Guard where he flew the F-16 Falcon. He flew 52 missions with Operation Desert Storm and was awarded with the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism in combat. He retired from the Guard after 20 years, obtaining the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Today, Whiteside is one of only a few military aviators to possess both Senior Command Air Force wings and aircraft carrier qualified Naval Aviator wings. He retired from the airline industry in 2003.