Thursday, December 15, 2005

Killing is our business . . . and business is good.

If there’s any doubt Graham Thompson is one of the best political writers in Alberta, just head over to his blog on the Edmonton Journal’s site. In one of his recent entries, Thompson muses about how Stanley Tookie Williams’ execution in California this week reminded him of a story he wrote after witnessing the death sentence carried out in Texas several years ago.

Thompson says of the death row inmate’s last minutes:

Callins licks his lips and says in a faltering voice amplified by the microphone: "I just want to let all of my people know and everybody who is here and supported me that I love them and wish them all the best."

The warden nods at the one-way mirror. After a few moments Callins struggles to raise his head off the gurney as if he's trying to get up. He coughs. He's straining against the straps. One last gasp. He slumps back down.

His eyes are closed. He looks like he's asleep. A little muscle in his neck twitches for a few seconds and then stops. Executioners have delivered the lethal dose of sodium thiopental. Bruce Callins is dead.

Thompson was struck by the cold efficiency of the Texas chamber – known as Ellis Unit 1. Walking away from it, he was amazed by his lack of any emotion. Apparently, meting out the death sentence is a matter of rote in the States.

You’ve got to think, though, that it takes its toll on the guards. In his song named after the Texas execution chamber, Steve Earle imagines himself as a guard working on Ellis Unit 1:

Last night I dreamed that I woke up with straps across my chest
And something cold and black pullin' through my lungs
‘N even Jesus couldn't save me though I know he did his best
But he don't live on Ellis Unit One

The lyrics still bring tears to my eyes.


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