Thursday, February 01, 2007
Friday Cemetery Blogging
I was on death row last week.
One of the guys in my class works at the Walls Unit in Huntsville, which is where Texas kills people. There was supposed to be an execution that day, but a stay was granted and the warden had some free time. So, our classmate arranged a tour for us.
I don't know what I think about the death penalty. I am a fence straddler on the issue. Both sides have some valid arguments. And I am completely baffled by the opposition to DNA testing that might exonerate an inmate.
Texas prisons are immaculately clean. You could eat off of most surfaces. They still smell like feet warehouses, but they are clean. But the death chamber and its accompanying cells put the rest of the place to shame. It was laboratory clean.
The warden led us into a short hallway housing the four cells and a shower where the prisoner spends their last day and eats their last meal. On the wall opposite the cells was a table covered in a pristine white cloth. Spanish and English Bibles and other religious books were carefully spaced along its surface. At the far end of the table was also a guest register. There was no information in the book, just signatures of the Warden, the Lieutenants, the chaplain - evidently anyone who came onto the cellblock when a prisoner was present. A silent stream of witnesses to the presence of an unnamed guest.
The death chamber itself was much smaller than I thought. There was room only for the gurney and for us to stand shoulder to shoulder along the walls. The warden dropped his crusty, good ol' boy demeanor while we were there. He explained the very clinical process while my hand was on the dead man's pillow.
Everyone filed out very quietly.
The experience hasn't helped me come to any conclusions or have any great epiphany. But unlike other prison spaces, it was quiet and solemn. And respectful.
I'm still thinking.