Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Death Penalty

I don't cry easily, but this documentary had me sobbing. It is about a Texas prison chaplain who was in charge of sitting with and counselling death row inmates in their last hours, once they were brought to the death house. He was with close to 100 Texas death row inmates as they drew their last breath. Now, in his retirement, he works with the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. He talks about one young man who was most likely innocent, but yet was put to death.

Prison officials in Texas are adamant that death comes quickly and is painless, but this chaplain, who has been present at a lot these executions, says that is ultimately not true all of the time. In the case of one particular man, Carlos De Luna, the chaplain says it took 11 minutes for the death to occur. In addition to the fact that it took 11 minutes instead of the standard 11 seconds, leaving this probably innocent man in limbo, the drugs that were used to execute him are drugs that have been discontinued in animal euthanasia because it was determined that the death process from the drug is too painful to be humane treatment of the animal.

I sincerely do not understand how we can call ourselves a civilized society while still allowing this atrocity, capital punishment, to happen. Where is the outrage? The argument that the death penalty is a deterrent for crime is categorically not true based on statistics that prove that in 1982, when the State of Texas executed it's first inmate since 1964, there were about 60 prisoners on death row, there are now well over 400. This is despite the fact that men (and women) have been killed right and left in the last 28 years. It also doesn't provide the closure that the victims' families crave. It does nothing except kill another person. In the end there are simply two dead people, the victim and the perpetrator (hopefully the right one), and no healing for the victim's family. No retaliatory killing will ever bring a loved one back from the dead.

Try as I might, I cannot make sense of the systematic murder of human beings. Not while there is one chance in a million of ever executing the wrong person. What if that one person in a million was someone that you loved? What agony would it be to live every day knowing that your brother, son, husband, etc. had been killed for no reason? How is that any different than a cold blooded gangland execution? Senseless murder is senseless murder no matter how you frame it up.

Let's also not forget about the men and women who are paid to carry out these executions. I cannot even imagine what it does to their psyche when they are paid, year after year to strap a person down to a table and not simply watch them die, but also to administer the drugs or flip the switch that ends their life. Yes, these prison employees have a choice about whether or not they want to work in the prison system in a death penalty state, but I am certain that nothing can prepare a person for that kind of job duty. It has to haunt them. How could it not?

I know there will always be those who feel the death penalty is justifiable. I won't argue with them because chances are I won't change their mind, but in the same way, no one will every convince me that the death penalty is humane or that a murder for a murder can be condoned in enlightened society. It just seems pointless, cruel and unusual punishment.