I’ll never forget the first time I realized that someone in my world of incarceration was being put to death and the way I felt.
By Christopher Monihan
When I was at close security, which is Ohio’s penitentiary level one half stage removed from Maximum, there was a palpable sense of awareness amongst us prisoners whenever there was an execution.
I’ll never forget the first time I realized that someone in my world here was being put to death and the way I felt. It made me feel as if I were suffocating beneath a sheet of plastic. The Hollywood fantasy world of incarceration I grew up believing was shattered into unwanted pieces of truth and reality.
During the early years of my sentence in the 90’s Ohio regularly executed its incarcerated. The electric chair was the means to this end, and frankly it’s a barbaric method of death. The human form is strapped into a wide wooden chair and so much electricity is thrown through the body that one’s eyes burst from the skull.
My state has since adopted an “alternate” means, death by lethal injection. To an uninformed public this seems like a kind way of punishment, if public retribution could ever be kind, but in actuality it is as barbaric as the electric chair.
Prisoners nationwide have suffered egregiously in botched lethal injection attempts. Writhing, gurgling and choking–in some instances, for upward of a half hour–with the end result being moratoriums on lethal injections or a ban on the drugs themselves. None of which are solutions.
Some states now secretly source drugs from foreign nations in order to continue executions. I question the moral compass of a nation willing to go to such lengths to execute its citizens.
Back then executions occurred at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF) or “Lucasville”, as we call it for the prison is located in Lucasville, Ohio. The facility is notorious for a 1993 riot sparked by abuses prisoners suffered at the hands of crooked correctional staff. Publicly speaking, the department of corrections claims to have cleaned up the corruption. Privately speaking…well, I think I’ll leave that skeleton where it lay. I personally know men who survived the 1993 riot and men who’ve pulled time there since the riots.
Back to my early days. The thought that any number of the men around me could have been sentenced to death was sobering. Nearly everyone at my facility was pulling long sentences like my own or had “life” tails. Some of these men will never return to society having been sentenced to life without parole. Literal dead men walking.
I used to ponder the death penalty. Why must we have it? 200 nations in the world have abolished the death penalty because they’ve realized that there is no place in today’s civil, modern world for such barbarity.
Yet, the “freest” nation in the world, a country that’s a beacon for freedom and liberty insists on killing as retribution under the guise of justice.
The United States incarcerates more of its citizens per capita than any other Western nation. By choosing to execute its citizens it keeps itself in company with nations like Sudan, Saudi Arabia, China, North Korea, Kuwait, Russia, Qatar–all countries known for their human rights abuses. Yet we have the audacity to lecture these nations on human rights?
Perhaps my views have been sharpened because I know men who could have been sentenced to death, but by some grace of God hadn’t? Maybe it’s because I know men who were once on death row whose sentences have been commuted to life without the possibility of parole? I don’t know. But what I do know is that you don’t know the death penalty until you’ve looked it in the eyes through these men and seen how it hollows out the soul.
This post is the first in a running series on the death penalty. Please like and share it widely. The death penalty is a dialogue long overdue.
Lettersfromchristopher.com is an advocacy effort to draw attention to incarceration in the United States.