"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Friday, January 29, 2016

Death row executioners discuss life on the other side of the needle

Screenshot from "Monster's Ball" by Marc Forster (2001)
Screenshot from "Monster's Ball" by Marc Forster (2001)
IN Missouri, one of a handful of US states where the death penalty still applies, executioners are handed an envelope filled with hundred-dollar bills.

On the envelopes are instructions not to open until services have been completed. The envelopes vary in weight, depending on the nature of the assignment.

The nurse, for example, gets less than the anaesthesiologist. The anaesthesiologist gets less than the drug supplier.

Until this week, that information was kept a closely-guarded secret. It was revealed when Buzzfeed audited payments and cash withdrawals from Missouri Director of Adult Institutions David Dormire.

They found almost $US300,000 had been paid in cash to a small group of individuals since November 2013. Those individuals were responsible for ending the lives of America’s condemned.

It’s easy to understand why the money is paid in cash. It’s part of a culture of secrecy that helps maintain the executioners’ anonymity, but not every executioner wants to remain anonymous.

Over the years, those brave enough to pull back the curtain have spoken about a job that few people want and even fewer escape without some form of trauma. This is the other side of the story on death row.

‘DADDY HAS TO WORK LATE TONIGHT’

It’s not your normal 9-5 job. In fact, nothing about it is normal.

Kenneth Dean, 52, described in 2000 his role on the “tie-down team” in the busiest death row chamber in Texas. He said his colleagues described him as a “teddy bear” and he had been a part of more than 130 executions.

Dean told The New York Times he survived in the job by embracing the routine. That routine meant including his family — Dean had a daughter, 7, and a son, 13, at the time — in the process.

“I told (my kids) ‘Daddy has to work late tonight, he has an execution’,” he said. His daughter followed up by asking him to explain what he did in detail.

“It’s hard explaining to a seven-year-old,’’ he said. “She asked me, ‘Why do you do it?’ I told her, ‘Sweetie, it’s part of my job’.”

Jerry Givens executed 62 inmates in Virginia between 1982-1999. Sometimes he used lethal injection. At other times he carried out the executions by electrocution.

In an interview with The Guardian in 2013, Givens described his role in detail. He explained how long he waited in the room as 3000 volts rushed through a prisoner’s body and what happened on the day of an execution.

“We would test the equipment frequently, whether we had an execution or not. But on the day of an execution or during that week, we would have all sorts of training. We train for the worst. We train for the man to put up resistance. Most would not, but sometimes it would get rough.

“Most of the time, during the actual execution, I’m back behind the partition, behind a curtain with my equipment. I’m alone as the executioner, but we had a crew that would go and escort the inmate and place him on the gurney or in the chair and strap him down and a doctor who would confirm the heart had stopped after.”

He said he preferred electrocution because it’s simpler and “more humane”.

“That’s more like cutting your lights off and on. It’s a button you push once and then the machine runs by itself. It relieves you from being attached to it in some ways. You can’t see the current go through the body. But with chemicals, it takes a while because you’re dealing with three separate chemicals.

“You are on the other end with a needle in your hand. You can see the reaction of the body. You can see it going down the clear tube. So you can actually see the chemical going down the line and into the arm and see the effects of it. You are more attached to it. I know because I have done it. Death by electrocution in some ways seems more humane.”

Givens said the role affected him in ways he didn’t foresee. He “never enjoyed it” but after 25 years he said he wished he never started.

Executioner Fred Allen said he “snapped” several years after leaving his role in a Texas prison. In 2000, he told documentary makers his role on the tie-down team came back to haunt him.

“I was just working in the shop and all of a sudden something just triggered in me and I started shaking … And tears, uncontrollable tears, were coming out of my eyes. And what it was, was something triggered within and it just — everybody — all of these executions all of a sudden all sprung forward.”

His boss, prison warden Jim Willett, said no person can never prepare themselves for their first execution.




Source: news.com.au, Rohan Smith, January 29, 2016

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