LIVING CLOSE TO CAPITAL PUNISHMENT

LIVING CLOSE TO CAPITAL PUNISHMENT

An Arizona inmate botched execution made world-wide news when it took nearly two hours to end his life from a lethal injection meant to take ten minutes. Obviously citizens have mixed feelings about how prisoners should be put to death or whether or not they should be executed. Before I read the 1950s book “Death LIVING CLOSE TO CAPITAL PUNISHMENT

An Arizona inmate botched execution made world-wide news when it took nearly two hours to end his life from a lethal injection meant to take ten minutes. Obviously citizens have mixed feelings about how prisoners should be put to death or whether or not they should be executed. Before I read the 1950s book “Death Row Chaplain” as a young adult I had no concern or care about how inmates were executed in the state of California. The author, Chaplain Marshall Roberson, witnessed and gave detailed accounts of 7 electric-chair executions in which a number of the prisoners caught on fire and/or frothed at the mouth in the process.

The Chaplain suggested every state citizen should be required to witness first–hand the colossal events. I recalled sitting at a dinner table with a dozen Methodist housemates soon after I read that book when it was reported on a radio that the infamous Caryl Chessman had finally been executed. They all stood up, cheered and applauded. I couldn’t. My response had everything to do with being bombarded by the reality of executions of any kind. Evidently I’ve spent the last 50 years repressing the content of that book until I learned of the Arizona bungled execution a few days ago.

My maternal grandfather was a Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff in the 1940s and 50s. The bald-headed muscular Irish cop had the task of taking prisoners by train to be executed in northern California, and Chessman may have been one of them. He sat one-on-one for hours with the inmates, and for several years on those trips. Whenever he heard someone condemn them he would state angrily “Dammit, don’t degrade them until you have had a chance to know them a bit.”

Not until I experienced a sudden explosive road rage episode did I realize how close I might have come to being incarcerated for life, or maybe escorted by a sheriff to be executed. While driving down a busy street an enraged motorist honked, drove up alongside me, rolled down his window, screamed at me, gave a hand signal that is not to be found in the motor vehicle handbook, swerved in front of my car and braked abruptly to force me to stop. Then he sped off. Evidently I had inadvertently cut him off.
Instinctively I jammed the accelerator pedal to the floor and raced after him. I was semi-conscious of the danger I was putting other motorists and pedestrians in until my anger shifted to rage. Within a minute or so I was within two feet of his bumper, driving at a high rate of speed. There was no thought in those moments of wanting to kill or injure the guy, in fact I was so incensed and irrational during those minutes I had no ultimate plan. I was being fueled by an unrelenting drive that propelled me helplessly and mindlessly forward out of sheer rage.

There was little or no sense of fear or panic in the pursuit until he made a sudden, dangerous maneuver to get away. I came to at that point as he drove out of sight and became aware of my legs shaking, my heart pounding and my palms damp with sweat. I slowed down, pulled over to the curb, and stopped the car. My feelings went from those of utter rage to sheer fear and panic.

Somebody on those streets could have easily been killed or maimed by either of us. Why and how does our mind work in those crazy situations? You may have guessed I would be tempted to bring up the cranial organ that houses our deepest urges. The Insula is comprised of extreme compassion and of life-threatening rage. Both functions are likely crammed into each other within that organ at the top of our cranium. I could have drawn close to that enraged motorist in one of my single encounters and unknowingly slammed him into a tree hours later.
Henri Michaux had to have had such rage in mind when he penned the following. “He who doesn’t know anger doesn’t know anything. He doesn’t know the immediate.”
– Selected Writings, 1952.

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