Last Saturday The New York Times published a strange little article that was simply excerpts from the last words of a number of Death Row inmates. They were presented without context, explanation, or attribution, and from this presentation emerged a strange kind of poignancy. Some are oddly poetic (“Death row is full of isolated hearts and suppressed minds.”). Some are cliche (“I want to tell my mom that I love her.”). Still others are like short stories in and of themselves, pithy but mysterious in their vagueness (“Where’s Mr. Marino’s mother? Did you get my letter?”). And the first one on the list just kills me – “Go ahead?” – it’s something about that question mark.
The death penalty is one of those topics that I struggle with, to a far greater extent than most other contentious issues (abortion, gun control, torture) that crop up in politics. I think that the fact that we have accidentally killed innocent people is argument enough against it, and more broadly I don’t think that the state should ever kill its constituents. But I know that there are crimes so heinous that, if they were committed against someone I love, I would want to kill those responsible. In the end I usually think it’s better to keep people in that kind of state – with that kind of raw emotion – away from the law, and not sanctify the things that they do; I don’t think the state should kill people based on the whim of one who’s grieving. That’s what I think – most of the time.
This is a tough question, and I’m not dealing up any answers here. I was just surprised to be forced to confront them by this strange little article, bereft of context, and I thought that aspect of it, at least, was valuable.