March 3, 2020
It’s my last night on this earth and I can’t sleep. I’m not sure I’m really expected to, but now I’m concerned about stepping into the chamber and then the great unknown with exhaustion weighing me down. Along with all this other weight I carry with me. I carry the weight of two small burned bodies, one on each shoulder. I carry the weight of a screaming mother on my back, trying to claw at my face. I carry the weight of a devastated father, sitting on my head, reaching down to strangle me. I deserve all of this and I have no doubt this weight might stay with me through to the next place, wherever that may be.
For most of my time on death row, people got to choose their last meals before they were executed. I used to fantasize about what I might select when my day came; my mouth salivating with every option I could come up with. Of course, the most exciting part of the deal was that I would have a choice. For the first time since I had been on death row, and really for the first time since I came out screaming from the safety of my mother’s body. I would have options. But that was taken from us nine years ago. A state senator decided that we weren’t worthy of that privilege after someone ordered a banquet and then left it untouched. Protests or statements of any kind in here are met with swift responses that punish us all. I’ve stopped dreaming about what my last meal would be, so tonight I try to focus on other things.
Flipping through the pages of this journal that I’ve kept over the years I wonder what will happen to it. Is this an official record? More evidence against me? Not that any more was ever needed. I didn’t care what my lawyer suggested. I couldn’t lie. I did it and I didn’t want anyone else to be blamed for my greatest mistake. I set that fire, and while I didn’t know there were children in the house, I am to blame. I thought it was empty, but I was wrong. So terribly wrong. I’m wondering what will happen to these pages. The only family I had when I got here thirty years ago is long gone. Is there anyone who would have an interest in the remaining evidence of my existence?
I can’t sleep tonight because I know what to expect tomorrow. I’ve been through dozens of executions over the years. The day will be a harsh mix of contrasts. The air will be eerily still and quiet for most of the day. Everyone will be afraid to move or say the wrong thing. The guards will treat me better than I’ve ever been treated in my life. Right before they drag me off and pump a silent and shattering violence into my veins. As I’m led to the chamber the other men will scream out my name and bang their cups on the bars. It will be an orchestra of miserable monsters singing me a lullaby as I go down for my final sleep.
I don’t expect forgiveness. Not from the parents, not from the world, and not from whoever will read this. I don’t know who you are, but I hope you will consider forgiving me anyway. Not for my sake, but for yours. I know the pain of living with anger, and of hating the person I became and the things I did. I deserve to be despised and you have every right to celebrate the end of me. But if there’s anything I can offer, it’s that I wish you peace. I wish for the family to find some comfort in their hearts, I wish for the world to let go of the pain I caused in it, and especially you, my reader. I don’t know you, but I want these things for you.
I can’t sleep tonight because I’m thinking about what will happen to everyone else here after I’m gone. I know the men around me through their voices. We share a pod of 14 individual concrete cages. We don’t get to see each other or shake hands. Our eyes have never met, so I have learned to connect to their souls through their voices. These voices soothed me when I got the news of my mother’s passing. They challenged me when I announced that I deserved the degrading abuse of the guards in here. These voices listened to my pain and the stories of my life, and I listened to theirs. I know the gripping agony of hearing a man on the other side of the wall descending into a tortured delirium, begging for death. I have also heard the guttural pleading of a man being dragged off to the chamber who desperately wanted to live. He still had a family that loved him, and we all knew he was innocent. Innocent from birth as we all are, but also of the unspeakable act they accused him of. I have stayed up other nights thinking about the various forms of innocence around me. Was there one turning point for us where we crossed the line to become someone deserving of this dark hell? Or was it a series of life events chipping away at our strength and understanding of right and wrong? Were any of us born to become the terrible men that we are now, or could any of us have been saved?
My vision is blurring as I consider these men I’m leaving behind. I can’t think about them anymore. I know I’ll hear them a few minutes before lights out, screaming my name in support. They can’t touch me but they will let me know I am not alone as I’m being strapped onto that gurney. They made it so that the loneliest place on earth was somewhat bearable for these past thirty years.
It’s time to focus on what I’m leaving behind that I won’t miss. This place is an echo chamber of misery. The sound of someone arriving for the first time makes my stomach turn. I can smell the fear in their sweat as their shallow breathing skims the edge of a sob. The metal clang of the steel door locking them in is the most terrifying final mark of a dead man walking. I remember when it happened to me and I shudder each time that bang shuts the world out for someone new. I won’t miss the terrible food and the constant disruptions of shift changes throughout the day and night. I won’t miss breakfast starting at 3 a.m. and I won’t miss guards tossing my cell to find contraband that is never there. I won’t miss the darkness and the suffocating embrace of loneliness that only death row can provide.
I can’t sleep tonight because there is a ticking clock in my mind counting down my remaining minutes. I already know what my final words will be. “I’m sorry. I hope you can forgive me.”