Wednesday, November 08, 2006
The Offender Declined To Make A Final Comment
When I was in the fifth grade, we had to memorize the states by what, if any, form their death penalty took. Many of the states had switched to lethal injection (in our twisted little minds, the least interesting way to go), but there were still some that held onto the barbaric ways of the past -- hanging, the electric chair, the rare gas chamber. The only one I remember with any clarity is Utah -- they use a firing squad because of Mormon's belief that blood must be shed onto the ground during the process. (The last of these executions was Gary Gilmore, subject of my favorite Norman Mailer book, Executioner's Song and a brilliant memoir, A Shot in the Heart, by his brother, Rolling Stone journalist Mikal Gilmore.) Of course, I lived in Texas, which killed lots of people, more than any other state, and our social studies teacher reminded us of that fact -- A lot of states say they have a death penalty, but we really do, he said, not with an inconsiderable bit of pride. A veritable bastion of political correctness, he often told us he wanted to be buried underneath the stars and bars, a Southern term for the Confederate flag. For state's rights, he said, but even then I wasn't believing it.
I don't know enough to have a strong opinion about the death penalty, but I admit to a morbid fascination with people's last words and meals. (In my defense, I'm in good company -- Richard Brautigan has a whole story about finding the meal plans for death row inmates.) Given this, it was only a matter of time that I stumbled onto the Texas Correctional Facility Website, the portion that gives the names, offenses, and last words. Like the prisoner's last meal, they are allowed to plan and say whatever they would like before that final entry into the next world. A few prisoners decline to say anything, but most of them invoke Jesus, forgiveness, some are still pleading innocence, some give a final shout-out to those they love. I didn't mean to kill all those people, some say, but things happen. You don't have any idea what my life was like. Of course, that's true for every single one of us. After reading a few, the words bleed together, like one big tapestry of regret and sorrow. The one that I remember, though, was the essence of brevity and clarity. Indeed, I couldn't have done better myself if I was writing the story. Goodbye, the prisoner said, guilty of what I cannot recall, I deserve this.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"This is not a happy story. I warn you." Richard Ford, Rock Springs
Drinking music suggestion: Willie Nelson, Live at Billy Bob's
Benedictions and Maledictions
Thanks to all readers and commenters! And a special hello and thanks to Jill, my friend Shawn's beautiful and brilliant niece!