October 31, 2006

"Countdown To An Execution"

There is something uniquely surreal about sitting in a death row cell watching your television as virtually every local station out of Jacksonville and Gainesville all cover the “Countdown To An Execution” live from outside the prison.

It’s a circus of its own peculiar morbid design but fortunately seldom seen. The parade of pretty people in front of their camera’s telling the story of the soon to be killed killer doesn’t come in droves except when someone of special status is to be executed.

Today it is the infamous Danny Rolling, a pathetic man in his own right who had pled guilty to five murders in the Gainesville area a dozen years ago. That entitled him to being labeled a “serial killer” and those killing not only defined his life but also will now define his meticulously and deliberately inflicted death.

What does that say about us? Have we really come that far from the days when we gathered outside local county courthouses to watch a public hanging in the town square? Or even a midnight lynching at an old oak tree?

Thanks top the media the ritual of execution is now carried to out living rooms. The bleached blonde reporters will walk you through it, all competing with each other to provide a graphic description of the moments leading up to that execution and as the clock ticks down they will hold your attention by telling you to watch the backdoor of the wing housing the death chamber as once the execution has been carried a prison employee will appear at that door and wave a towel, a white towel, signifying that the execution has now been carried out. For long moments the viewer will watch in silent anticipation, waiting for that sign yet another person has been put to death.

Although disgusted by the pathetic circus, I watch too. I had a personal connection as I knew Danny Rolling – I lived in close proximity to him for many years. Perhaps I knew him netter than any of them now congregated at the prison to watch him die. I never knew him as a killer – I knew him as a fellow inmate. I didn’t judge him by acts of momentary violence against innocent victims, but by years of interaction, seeing him as a person with obvious mental issues and personality flaws. In my world we all have issues –I’ve been on death row now for so long that my issues have developed issues of their own.

Did I mention that I’m disgusted by the spectacle the media is making of this? How can we not be disgusted by the organized and intentional celebration of the death of another human being? What does it say about us as a society when we gather around to watch another man being deliberately put to death?

After the circus is over will any of his victims be brought back to life? What exactly is accomplished by putting the man to death? Certainly by now we know that these so called serial killers feed off public attention, so doesn’t all this attention only inspire other pathetic losers to gain their own fame by killing even more? Is it just a coincidence that the increase in the number of “serial killers” corresponds directly with the increase of the public attention we provide them? Take away their spotlight and what motivation will be left? By making a media circus of Danny Rolling’s execution today. How many more innocent people will die at the hands of other serial killers out to gain their fame?

Here’s another thought… when was the last time you saw these swarms of media trucks gather outside a prison to cover the release of an innocent man? Since we cranked up the killing machine in recent years there’s been over 130 men and women exonerated and released from death row after being wrongfully convicted and condemned to death. When was the last time you saw the media gather at the gates of a prison to cover the release of an innocent man? In 23 years I’ve never seen it – not even once.

We accept serial killers are “sick,” but are we not as equally sick by wanting to watch them be methodically put to death? As we celebrate their death aren’t we doing the same thing we’ve condemned them to death for? How many of us have ever shown the same level of interest in advocating the release of an innocent man as we do in advocating the death of a presumably guilty man?

Today “We the people” put Danny Rolling to death and many celebrated by participating in the media circus that covered every detail. But where will these people be tomorrow when yet another innocent man walks out of prison alone and already forgotten? What does that say about us? Every circus has its clowns – today “We the people” became the clowns.

Did you hear of how he actually sang a Christian gospel song as his final statement? It's hard to deal with the freaking circus they make of it -- it's all so one sided as the media competes to come up with the best sound bite to graphically portray the death of a "monster." Even if we were to assume that he was a monster, maybe we should ask what it was or who created that monster? And what is the difference between him stalking his victims and those who make careers out stalking the death of condemned men and women? Are not both ultimately defined by the end result -- they brought about, by deliberate design and intent, the death of another human being.

When "we, the people" killed Danny Rolling it only made monsters out of all of us as we ultimately did the very same things we condemned him to death for. Only we made our victim suffer under the threat of inevitable death for years and being in solitary confinement awaiting the uncertainty of your fate really is a lot like having a gun held to your head.

Just so you don't get too comfortable with that, with each new appeal you build up the hope of a reprieve as if the gun might just be lifted, but instead the courts deny you -- as if they're recocking the gun and pulling the trigger like a game of Russian roulette. When they pull the trigger at the end of that next appeal, will that be the round that kills you? Or will it be the next one?

It's really the prolonged uncertainty that describes why capital punishment is "cruel and unusual" as if that Constitutional concept even has any meaning in our contemporary society.