|Death Row, Texas|
For most of us, even the terminally ill, it is inconceivable that we would know the exact date and time of our death. Mortality is something none of us really consider until someone close to us dies. Imagine if you will, that you know not only the date and time of your death, but you have a ritual of procedures that last as long as 90 days before you die. If it is your second or third brush with death, it can start as little as 30 days before you die.
You could be looking out your window, chatting with a friend, reading a book or listening to your radio when you hear your "slot" open. The Corrections Officer says "Offender prepare to cuff up". You have to strip down, all the way to your birthday suit. You have to hand your clothes out to be inspected for contraband, then you are watched as you redress. You turn around and kneel to expose your hands behind your back to "cuff up". The Officers open the door and tell you the Warden is going to see you. You already know this is not because he wants your Christmas "wish list". You are escorted to the Warden.
When you get to the Warden, he reads your death warrant now signed by a Judge and tells you what day you will die. You will get a form called "Notification of Execution Date", it will have a list of information you will need to provide to the Death Row Supervisor at least 2 weeks before your date with death. You will be escorted back to your cell and instructed to pack your property. From there you are moved to the "death cells". This is a cell block that houses only those who have dates with death. Sometimes there are two or three others down there. Sometimes you are all alone. Either way this begins the journey you will make alone.
Any KOP or keep on person medications will be taken from you.
Close to the 14 days before you die, Ray Hill may pop over to do a media interview. He records these interviews and plays them on the night you are to die during his popular show "Execution Watch". These will be the final words the general public has the opportunity to hear, as Ray Hill will only play your interview if you die.
14 days before you die, you are presented with your Execution Summary, and your religious orientation statement. You will speak with the Death Row Supervisor. You will discuss things such as whether or not your family will claim your body, or will you be buried in Joe Byrd Cemetery (a rather peaceful place I have had the occasion to visit myself.) While you are doing this, others will be gathering information such as your visitation list, and commissary history. You will answer questions such as who gets your "book" money, and you will fill out a trust fund withdrawal slip in the exact amount of the money on your books. You will tell them what you want to happen to your property, the things you have acquired during your stay. Who gets your books, your hot pot, your radio. You will name those you wish to come watch you die.
You don't get to pick a final meal. Texas wants you to eat the same thing everyone else does.
8 days before you die, you will be moved again. This time to a cell that has a camera watching you 24 hours a day, all 8 days left. Everything you do, will be recorded, every 15 minutes. They are watching for you to resolve to die without their assistance, and they won't have that. The goal is to keep you alive, until you die.
The day you die in Texas starts at 6 am sharp. You are to pack your property. You will give it to the Officers so they can inventory it. This is the last time you will see a cell like this one. You are going to visitation. You will say your goodbye's to loved ones and family. You will see your attorneys and they too will say goodbye. You will get snacks and drinks, and the time will fly. At noon your visitors will have to leave. You will be moved to a cage and stripped. You will be given clean clothes and some slippers.
You are about to leave to die.
You will be taken to a van in shackles and chains. You will be advised that if for any reason the transport van is stopped you will be shot. The van has no windows on the side, but if you strain you can view the rear or front windows for your ride to death. If you are lucky and they transport you over Lake Livingston, you will hear the "thump, thump, thump" of the bridge connectors. You might catch a faint whiff of the water. It will be the shortest ride of your life.
You arrive in Huntsville but can only see big brick walls covered with razor wire and guard towers. When you get inside, to the last cell you will ever be in, you can look to your right and see the end of the gurney where you will die in a few short hours. You can shower. You can make a few phone calls. You will eat dinner and be led to your death bed.
You are removed from the cell to walk to the gurney. You are surrounded by 8 Officers. You have fifteen minutes to live. You may look longingly at the phone by the gurney hoping it will ring. You know the chances of that aren't very good, but you will look anyways. You will also look at the clock. For some reason the second hand seems to move so much faster than you remember ever before now. Tick, Tock.....
When you look to your left you see people behind a glass. Some welcome familiar faces that no doubt stir up emotion. Some with familiar faces that without a doubt bring you some memories. Those are the faces from your trial. The victims family members. They may bring you back to a not so pleasant time. Some are there to watch you die to report it to the public, create a record of the event. You are moments from death and allowed to make a final statement that only the witnesses will hear. The public will read it, but this is the last exercise of your voice.
This is the day you die in Texas.
Thank you for reading. I hope I have at least stirred up a thought that perhaps killing people is what the "bad guys" do, and we are the "good guys". I hope the thought of killing someone repulses you even when the state does so on your behalf. This is a person whose death certificate will be very similar to his victims. Both will list the manner of death as "homicide". More importantly both create more victims. I don't want to coddle the man on the gurney, I just want to recognize that killing the man on the gurney no matter how humane, is still taking a human life and the only thing that separates us from them is how they killed.
Below is the BBC Documentary filmed for the Life and Death Row series - this episode is titled 'Execution' and follows two prisoners in the final weeks before their execution dates.