What was the worst crime that someone was executed for while you were working there?
While we weren’t given any information on the inmates, sometimes certain inmates would stick out in my mind that I’d go home and find the information. The worst I found was one guy that killed a child, skinning it while it was still alive. I tried not talking to him anymore.
Have you seen the actual execution chamber and the cell they stay in the day prior to the execution? If so, could you describe some of the details as to what they looked liked, including how the witness viewing area is set up? Also, how does the process of their last few minutes alive work exactly? Does the actual execution take long?
The inmate is walked in the back door of the building. He is lead through a small office, which is set up like a medical bay. At the end of the office is the holding cell where he will spend his last hours. The execution squad, doctors, chaplain, and warden will all be in the medical office, there in front of the inmate. He is not left alone for a minute. From the medical office leads into the execution chamber. That’s where the bed is. In front of the bed is a large window, think like a stage. Behind the bed is a one way mirror. In this room is where the doctor delivers the cocktail. In the room in front of the bed is three-four rows of chairs for the witnesses. They are closed off from the execution room. There is a curtain drawn over the window while the inmate is being set up in the bed. He is given a sedative if he wants one, then they open the curtains. At this point he is strapped down and only the chaplain is in the room with him. He is offered his last words, which are played through a speaker to the viewing room. After the words the chaplain leave. The injection is delivered. He falls asleep before the lethal dose is given. Afterwards, the doctor and warden walk in. The doctor checks his vitals. Once determined dead, the warden announces the time to the viewers. The certain is closed. The body is removed by the execution squad correctional officers. He is handcuffed, as per state policy, as he is still “an inmate”. He is placed in a body bag and sent off to the GBI crime lab. An autopsy is done to make sure the doe is what killed him. The handcuffs are removed, and the body is released to the family. If no family, he is buried on state prison grounds.
Do you also have to escort the inmate in his last moments? Prepare him for his sentence? How do the inmates act on such occassions? Are they allowed to talk to you and what do they talk about?
Executions are handled by a special unit of officers called the execution squad. They are with the inmates in the last 12 hours of their life. No other correctional officer gets to interact with the inmate.
What I was part of was “death watch” which is the night prior to their execution. He didn’t talk much and kept to himself most of the night. They are allowed unlimited phone so he talked to his family for most of the time we were there.
Would you expand on what the “death watches” were?
They are placed in a cell alone located in the medical ward. Here they are watched by two guards at all times. They are allowed tv, unlimited phone, radio, cigarettes, and some food usually restricted. It’s basically a way to segregate them before being put to death.
Unlimited phone? Did any one of them try to contact their victim’s families?
If they had, the phone would have been taken away. They didn’t want that to happen. Each call was screened before being sent out.
Do they have TV while on death row or for some of them if the the first time they have seen TV in years?
Yes, color TV. The death row inmates are treated the best. Newest stuff, best TVs, radios, cells to themselves. So they are comfortable. Think that’s what keeps them sane.
What kind of TV? Could they request specific shows, or did they just get whatever was showing?
Basic cable. They were able to request shows. I remember they always watched wrestling on Monday night. And COPS, for some reason they loved watching that show. Never understood that.
How does one get to be part of the execution squad?
Know the right people. Back then, being young and stupid, I wanted to be a part of it. Now I’m thankful I never was. I’m sure that would have fucked with my psyche more than anything else.
Do any of them try to fight their way out of it, or are they just content with it?
We did have an attempted escape. They tried to tunnel out the back where the pipes and stuff run. They made it to the final exterior door before they were caught.
Death row inmates though were usually the best behaved inmates in the prison. They were the most secured too though so it’s not likely they would have been able to attempt anything should they have tried.
Have you ever had a death row inmate commit suicide before his execution date?
The way execution is handled is that the governor signs the execution warrant. It is given to the warden. The warden decides when the execution will take place (usually days later). The death row inmate is immediately placed under “death watch” prior to his execution. Here they are by themselves and watched by two guards at all times. The day of the execution they are placed in a cell beside the execution chamber where they are watched by four “execution squad” members at all times. Basically, they aren’t given a chance to kill themselves. At that moment, the state is determined to be the one to handle his death.
When an inmate is given their injection, what people are watching? Just the guards? Are the inmate’s family allowed to watch?
Inmate’s family (usually doesn’t show), the victim’s family, one local media from the county the crime happened in(must be in attendance to witness and confirm), and the local sheriff of the county the crime happened in is invited.
Does the victim’s family usually show from your experience?
Yes, there is usually at least one victim family there. Guess they see it as some type of closure.
Did most of them turn to religion towards the end?
Yes, nearly every one of them in there held on to religion. I think it was a great coping mechanism for them. It gave them a chance at peace for what they had done I guess.
What about people who were not religious to begin with? Did a lot of people seem to “find Jesus” right near the end?
Absolutely. As I mentioned earlier I think it was a coping mechanism. Made everything just a little better. They believed that they were forgiven and would get a chance in heaven. Gave them something to look forward to since they knew death was approaching.
Saddest thing you’ve ever witnessed?
I heard a rape I couldn’t do anything about. This was when I was working in the larger cell house with around 260 inamates. I heard the screaming coming from one of the cells but couldn’t find it in time. When I finally did I knew something had happened but the inmate wouldn’t talk.
Were you armed? And were others with you?
We were not given anything at all to protect ourselves. Still today they don’t have any weapons, not even OC spray. The idea of that is that the inmates could (and very easily because of being outnumbered) get it and use it as an offense.
Did you guys have much hand to hand combat training?
Very little. COs are very under trained, under staffed, and no weapons. I still have great respect for correctional officers.
What were some of the more unique or interesting last meal requests that you know about?
The prison actually had a set cost. I believe it was $60. Speaking to veteran guards there the request was usually fast food followed by ice cream. They say you don’t realize how much you miss ice cream until you absolutely can’t get it anymore.
Was there ever anyone who was allergic to peanuts or shellfish and ordered it for their last meal to try and commit suicide from it
The doctors are well aware of their allergens and had to approve their last meal before it was delivered. They gotta be smarter than that.
Anything paranormal happen during your time?
Absolutely. I’ve seen “inmates” outside of their cell. Heard officer keys at night when there was no one but me. Had a friend working a tower that saw the old school inmates with the black and white stripped uniforms and old school prison guard as they were cleaning up the side of the road next to the tower. Didn’t believe in paranormal stuff prior to working there, but afterwards I’m convinced there is something there.
Elaborate on your experiences seeing “inmates” outside of their cell?
Saw figures standing at the end of ranges and when I got to where they were there would be nothing there. It was impossible for an actual inmate to get out, and if he was out and standing there, it would have been impossible to get back in. Sometimes other inmates would call me down because they had someone standing in front of their cell. Once one asked me why I came back to his cell after a short period. I hadn’t been there in over an hour. He says an officer was just standing in front of his cell 5 minutes prior.
What are your opinions of the death penalty?
I have mixed emotions about it. Part of me supports it, as those that are on death row deserve their punishment. The other part has that worry that they have the chance of being innocent. Ultimately, I’d rather every man be allowed to live then one innocent man being put to death.
Was there anyone on death row that you thought was truly innocent?
We aren’t given any information on the inmates we are watching. We have to do our own investigating through media to figure out what they are in there for. With minimum contact with the inmates and no other information to go off of, you don’t really think about it. They didn’t talk about the reason they were there.
Don’t think about them, or try not to think about them?
I just treated everyone the same. Made it easier to deal with people if I didn’t know what they were in there for.
Have you ever really wanted to know what someone was in for?
It didn’t happen much, but there were just some inmates that were super creepy and I was just curious of what they did. Those are usually the only ones I looked up myself.
Have you ever gotten to know any of the inmates before they were put to death? And did you feel bad for any of them?
Never got to know any of them personally. We were allowed minimum contact with death row inmates. During the hourly checks we were separated from them by another cage whereas we walked down a sectioned off alleyway looking into the cells. I do remember one guy who had been on death row for 24 years. I was 18 at the time. It was fascinating talking to someone who had been in that cellblock longer than I’ve been alive.
So why are some inmates held for so long on death row, while some so little time? Is it priority?
By their own appeals process. Lawyers find new evidence, request a new trial. That alone can take 2-3 years. The appeals process slows it down even more after the trial. One thing about the death penalty, they give the person plenty of chances to prove their innocence, especially now. Back in the day it probably wasn’t so good. Some slow it down, other accept their fate and don’t fight it.
Were any of them proud to be on death row? Or did they all seem apologetic for the crimes that got them in there?
Neither, they just seemed content. They didn’t talk about why they were there. Nearly all of them were heavy in to religion though and focused mostly on talking about that. It was a surreal feeling.
Inmate who has had the biggest impact on your life to this day? Whether or not it was a small or large change
The inmate I watched the night before he was put to death. Before leaving my shift of death watch we had to wake him up at 6am. When he awoke, as I was leaving, he told us to “have a good day”. This, even though he was going to die that night. Was a powerful thing.
..how do you respond to something like that, “you too”?
Honestly, I almost did. Was able to catch myself. Said “thanks”.
Have you ever had any crazy requests from any of the inmates?
The thing requested the most was for me to contact their family for them. It was really depressing.
What was it like going to work everyday?
It was very interesting. Dealing with people in that type of setting is an experience I’ll never forget. We were also outnumbered 300 to 1 so that lack of complete control was offsetting at times.
What was your favorite/least favorite part about your job?
I like talking to people. Talking to prisoners and learning about their life was fascinating to me. Most of them just wanted someone to talk to listen to them anyway. Least favorite was being stuck back there with them. When those gates closed behind you it was a horrible feeling because you knew if shit went down, you wasn’t getting out.
Are you the subject of a lot of hate from the inmates because you are seen as who is sentencing them because you are authority? And were you ever attacked by an inmate?
The only hate we got from inmates were those trying to establish a reputation. None of them held us personally accountable for the reason they were there. They knew we weren’t cops and we had nothing to do with their sentence. The only time we were tried up was as an attempt to gain some type of fear or control over the cellblock. That never worked though.
I was almost shanked (stabbed) by a former cop in protective custody. I let my guard down because he was a former cop, thinking he wouldn’t try to hurt me. He almost stabbed me through the meal slot. I was able to catch his arm and ended up breaking his elbow. Learned a lesson that day.
Why did he try to stab you?
He was just having a bad day. I don’t know what made him want to do it. He was in there for child molestation, guess he thought things couldn’t get any worse.
I can’t be the only one who pictures the green mile when we talk about this. Are there many similarities (realising that the old one WAS set back quite a few years) Also, were there any cruel guards?
There were guards that wanted to be cruel, but when you’re outnumbered 300 to 1, you don’t disrespect the power of the inmates. You’re in their house, they are just allowing you to survive there.
There are a few similarities, the major one being the walk to the execution chamber (the green mile). That’s still being done today here.
What was the gang culture like in there?
Everyone in there had the “gang mentality”. Respect in the prison is regarded to what we do as trust on the street. If I’m doing a business deal with you, I need you to trust that I’m good on what I say I will do for you. Respect is the same thing. If you don’t gain any respect you’re regarded as a coward, prey. It really is a dog eat dog world in a prison. You’re either a leader or you’re preyed upon.
When you watch movies about or set in prisons/death row, what parts make you complain out loud about inacuracies?
The freedom the character has. Prisons are incredibly controlling, unless you’re in a minimum security prison. The stuff I see them get away with in shows makes me laugh.
Do you feel desensitized to other real life situations as a result of working in death row or have any different outlooks on life from it?
The prison system didn’t desensitize me. If anything, it made me enjoy my freedom more. After doing that, there’s no way I’d intentionally do anything to end up in that situation.