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

Cocktail Hour

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!

10 comments:

Bird on a Wire said...

Wow, your fifth grade teacher was kind of morbid.

Special said...

The death row story I remember is of the retarded guy named Willie(do they still kill them?)who wouldn't finish his last meal. "Why not finish it?" the warden asked Willie. "Savin' some for later," said Willie.

Laura said...

Interesting post. I wonder if more states were like Texas, had the dealth penalty and used it, would there be less heinous crimes committed?

Anonymous said...

You can definitely find some weird, yet interesting, information on the internet!

Anonymous said...

All I can remember about my fifth grade teacher was that she would take a ruler and smack our fingers if we got an answer wrong. I am so glad she was not into the death penalty.

Sheila said...

Morbid much?!? geez. My fifth grade teacher had us play this game called Map Down, where two people would go up to the board and she would either name states or countries or something like that and the first person to find it go a piece of candy. I miss her. haha

paul said...

Foxy Lady Cajun Queen, O Mighty Isis holdingskullman
Shazammm
so many Different ways to die
shot to heart
its all over 4
unknown soldier
its all over
R2 C2!

Crankster said...

That's wild. The idea that he knew he was responsible...damn.

And I gotta say, your teacher found an amazing way to make American Geography interesting. If only you had him for world geography...

JR's Thumbprints said...

The death penalty will not deter crime, but it sure might make my job easier. Incidentally, it cost more to fry someone than to lock him up for life due to the appeals process.

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