Execution Day in Huntsville, Texas
So I’ve been putting off writing this one because this day is hard to summarise and I was also quite keen to put it behind me.
But I think it makes sense to write about it. You can always not read this if you prefer the lighter stuff! I’m not gunna get into opinions about the subject, or my opinion, but just unpack what happened… And maybe talk about how it felt…
Perhaps the strangest thing about this whole scenario is that the town remained unaffected by the whole thing. We asked a shop keeper what she thought about it and she didn’t realise there was one on, and said most people wouldn’t know. The prison is in the centre of town, you can’t avoid it – it’s not hidden or anything.
The guy being executed was called Juan Garcia. He was only 18 when he robbed a man and shot him dead. He came away with $8. He’s been on death row for the last 15years. He has 3 children.
We were sort of building up to the whole thing knowing it was going to be confronting. So we spent some time in a cool store! They played fleetwood mac (seems to be a theme!) and had some funky retro antique stuff.
Then we walked to the corner where we were allowed to stand with the abolitionists.
They were made up of a handful of ‘regulars’ who come out for most executions and some family members of the inmate. That was the bit I wasn’t prepared for. I didn’t imagine I’d be stood with the 3 children of the guy being executed. They all had signs with his picture on and held them up as cars passed.
We saw the press setting up whilst we were ‘chatted to’ by a regular named Warren. We were distracted at times by chunks of food in his beard. And a little put off by his opinions on the Royal Family and how apparently that’s a major issue. ‘Who cares!!!’ I kept thinking. And ‘shhhhh’.
As Warren harped on about the papers saying that William and Kate need a sex therapist, we saw the witnesses cross the road (as they do every time) and make their way into the building towards the death chamber. The victim’s family were already in their room and these witnesses we saw were the inmate’s family and press.
Then what followed was pretty surreal. It was a little bit like time stood still and whatever else was going on around just didn’t matter. One of those moments where you’re just really present and connected to what’s happening. It was incredibly sad. A lady called Pat (an abolitionist who speaks on a prison radio show and regularly attends executions) had been with Juan’s family for the last couple of weeks and had seen Juan that morning. She gathered us around and rang a bell for each year that Juan had been on death row (15). We stood in silence (Warren had finally stopped).
She then read a poem that another inmate had written which was about moving on and saying goodbye. As she read this choked with emotion, all we could hear was Juan’s children sobbing. When she finished we stood in silence and knew that at this moment the injection was being given. I stared at the ground and heard one of the daughters crying ‘I’ve lost my Dad, I’ve just lost my Dad’.
After a while Pat passed out balloons that said ‘I love you Daddy’ to each of the 3 kids (they were teenagers). They then let them go and cried. The witnesses came out of the building and we knew by now that he would have been pronounced dead.
It was incredibly sad to stand and tangibly see and hear the impact that the death penalty has on the people involved. For me it brought a whole new dimension of empathy to the thing and made me sad that humans choose to treat each other this way.
I think I’ll leave it there. Afterwards I had a swim. Steph and I debriefed and swapped thoughts on the whole thing we decided to ban it from the rest of our evening, it was just too heavy.