Imagine living, eating, sleeping, relieving oneself, daydreaming, weeping, but mostly waiting, in the room the size of your bathroom. Now imagine doing all those things, but mostly waiting, for the rest of your life. Imagine waiting, waiting, waiting to die.
I don’t have to imagine. I live in one of those rooms, like about 3000 other men and women in 38 states across the United States. It’s called Death Row. I call it hell. Welcome to hell. Each of the states which have Death Rows have a different system for their execution cases, varying from the relatively open to the severely restrictive.
Some states, like California and Texas, allow their execution cases work, education, and/or religious service opportunities for out of cell time up to eight hours a day. Pennsylvania locks its execution cases down 23 hours a day, 5 days a week, 24 hours the other 2 days.
At the risk of quitting Mephistopheles, I repeat, “Welcome to hell,” a hell erected and maintained by human governments and blessed by black robe judges. A hell which allows you to see your loved ones but not to touch them. A hell situated in America’s boondocks hundreds of miles away from most families. A white, rural hell where most of the cage captives are black and urban.
It is the American way of death. Contrary to what one might suppose, this hell is the easiest one to enter in a generally hellish criminal justice system. Why? Because unlike any other case, Those deemed potential capital cases are severely restricted during the jury selection phase, as any juror who admits opposition to the death penalty is immediately and automatically removed, leaving only those who are fervent death penalty supporters in the pool of eligible jurors.
When it is argued that to exclude those who oppose death and to include only those who supported death was fundamentally unfair as the latter were more conviction-prone, the United States Supreme Court in a case titled Lockhart v. McCree said such a claim was of no constitutional significance. Once upon a time, politicians promised jobs and benefits to constituents like a chicken in every pot to get elected.