Just went and saw a documentary about the death penalty in Texas. I knew it would be full on, and I wasn't sure if I was completely up for it. It was about a Presbyterian minister who became the deathhouse chaplain. He witnessed 96 state murders - more than witnessed, actually, because he spent the entire day with the person who was going to die. I guess he was an active participant, although unique because he was on neither the side of the convict nor the side of the state...walking that fine line in between. I guess he role was to be a ray of God-light within the stark, grotesque, scene of murder.
I think I've repressed a lot of the trauma that went with doing the death penalty work in New Orleans. I think that it all got a bit lost within the excitement of being in a new place, and the feelings of loneliness, incompetence and rejection that I felt while being there. And then, after my 3 months were up, I shot off to Mexico and then returned to do other extremely intense work. But amid all that swirling sediment there was a rock that was the death penalty - something so ugly that I could never bear to look at. It is easy to avoid looking at it - to focus on the legal arguments, to get caught up in other work, to chat to the inmates on the phone or in person but never actually look the awful reality of state murder in its face and allow that feel of violent illness to wash over and do its work. Even as I write to Clifford, these few years on, I never really believe that he's going to die. He'll be ok. The lawyers will do a good job and get him off. Clifford is in his cell for 23 hours a day, but I want to believe that maybe it's not so bad. I guess my coping mechanism is to create a reality that's not nearly as bad as the truth.
Des and I had a good debrief afterwards, and I was thinking about how there's a part of us all that is attracted to the death penalty, and a part of us that is repulsed. The desire for revenge seems core to human nature, and exists buried within even the most articulate anti-death penalty campaigner. At the same time, the prison wardens throw up during executions - even the spirits of those most accustomed to the inhumane treatment of the state are sickened by this socially-acceptable kind of murder. I guess it's the light and dark in all of us.
I have a bit of money right now, and I've been wondering where to put it. I think I might donate some money to Reprieve. I don't think that I'll go back - it's really not what I'm gifted at. But maybe if I can donate some money, it will go a little way to preventing the state from killing someone else.