Friday, October 05, 2012

Execution Day Journal (revisited) - Part One for this blog

These are selected excerpts (Find the original in full at Execution Chronicles website)

Outsider on the inside
Reflections on our society by an Israeli born filmmaker

Execution Day – the End
August 27, 2011 By ILAN ZIV

Here is the last piece I promised to write about the Day of Execution...I swore when I marched into the execution room to bear witness to what I saw. I feel it is my responsibility to share my experience with as many people as possible. After all so few people ever watched an execution. Thinking or talking about the Death Penalty and witnessing an execution are two very different things. The devil ,as they say, is in the details. And it is the details of that day that I found so illuminating.

My last update ended with a single telephone call in the administrative building and the look of the guard who informed me “it’s a go”. I followed him to the “cafeteria” where we have been waiting for 3.30 hours. I looked at the wall it was around 8.37pm. All hopes were gone. Mark was going to be executed. The mood in the “cafeteria” changed instantly. Some began to cry, some hugged or held hands. I will never forget the walk from the cafeteria across the street to the prison. We all hugged or held hands… some cried. The walk is a short one as you descend some stairs and go literally across the street to enter the prison. However it is a walk that seemed to last for ever. Adding to the surrealism was the knowledge that for those outside, this walk was the signal that all hope is gone and the execution was going to take place. There were only few television cameras but down the road behind the police line I could hear shouts and shrieking. I felt as I would feel for the rest of the evening that I was participating in some absurd show …some bizarre ritual. My role …our role, was now to enter the “theater” where were the selected spectators. The rest watched us knowing full well the nature of what we were going to watch. We were not alone with our thoughts and feelings. We were being watched. This contradiction between knowing that in few minutes Mark Stroman was going to be killed and the sense of this bizarre theater never left me throughout the process. This ritualized killing was for me one of the most haunting aspects of the execution. It was a testimony to how humanly complex this event is. The State has to dress up the execution with legal and clinical trapping as if by that they hope to add legitimacy to it. We had a role to play in the “show”. We were going to watch the ritual as spectators. Nothing was done in the dark, nothing was “hidden”, as if shining light on the killing would dramatically alters its nature.

The sense of theater only increased as we walked slowly towards the “stage”. We were alone accompanied by few prison functionaries,; the Chaplin and Mark’s spiritual advisor (more about them later.) Only later I realized that among this very small crowd there were two reporters. They had a role to play in the show as well. They were to “report” on Mark’s last words and behavior. One of them the AP guy I have been told had an illustrious career of observing over 200 executions. I have no idea if he received any prize for his “brave journalistic endeavors” but I do remember that Sam, my camera person, and (the) British print reporter (who) interviewed Mark only a week ago, told me about how irate was Mark seeing this guy walking around the visitors hall. Mark refused to talk to him and claimed he mistreated and misrepresented inmates. But now it was not up to Mark anymore. He lost the last privilege of the living: to decide who will be witnessing his own death.

We proceeded through corridors. No one talked . I remember a particular corridor that seemed to be a visitor hall where families meet their loved ones separated by a wire mesh, not the cages with glass partition I got used to in Polunsky.

Another door and other curve and suddenly a blast of hot air. We were outside in an inner courtyard inside prison. We were surrounded by tall buildings and barbered wire fence.

To our left there was a very low building with few doors - as if it was an architectural after thought - an appendix in this “courtyard”. I understood instantly that this must be the Death chamber. It is as if that recognition hit me in my guts. But why? Why at that moment with so much tension building up, I sensed that this was the building was heading to? How come I instantly realized that that the building was the “Death house (a series of cells culminating in the Execution chamber)? It was a mystery for me, that believe it or not, pre-occupied me for at least 24 hours after the execution until it suddenly hit me: The Gas chambers of Mejdanek of course!

Find the original at or GO here or go to Execution Chronicles archives for July/August 2011

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