When my best friend/Friend asked me if I would write something about the death penalty, I wasn’t really sure what I could say about the subject that hasn’t already been said. That the death penalty is not an effective deterrent? That it’s cruel and unusual? That there are innocent men (and some women) on death row?
So, instead, I thought I’d show you what an actual execution warrant looks like. (Obviously, I received a stay of execution.) This is something that very few people "out there" ever get to see. But it’s something that I believe people should see. The death warrant and the accompanying letter seem almost surreal in their cold, detached cordiality. Actually, the entire execution process is that way.
In 1995, as my execution date drew nearer, I was visited at my "phase two" cell by a prison counselor.
He was very polite, even friendly. (I’ve learned that prison officials are most polite when they are about to kill you.) He had come to get my clothing sizes (shirt, pants, shoes) so that they could dress me properly after they executed me. I was told that there would be no charge for these clothes. He also handed me a couple of forms to fill out and sign. These forms would allow my parents to take possession of my body and any personal property I may have after the execution was completed. The counselor told me that I would have to send the forms to my parents for them, too, to fill out, sign, and mail back here to the prison.
I never sent those forms. I couldn’t. No parent should ever see such a form, let alone have to fill one out. My parents have suffered enough during these years that I have spent on death row. They die a little bit each time they visit me here, in this place. I die a little bit each time they leave.
Here, in this place, I exist somewhere between life and death. In this place there is no human touch. (Well, except when you’re roughed up by a guard.) I haven’t felt the touch of another human being for so long now (18 years) that I actually can’t remember what it feels like. I think it would scare me.
But perhaps the worst thing about being on death row for so long is that sometimes it can make a man almost look forward to his own execution, just so that the dying part will finally come to an end. The worst part isn’t the execution—it’s everything that comes before it.
Whatever the question, capital punishment is not the answer.