If You Like Capital Punishment: Would You Volonteer as Executioner?

This is a clip from Werner Herzog’s film Into the Abyss; I just watched about half of it on public TV. In it Texas state executioner Fred Allen talks of his professional experience. He did some 120 plus executions before executing a woman, Karla Faye Tucker. Then it all sunk in, the horror of what he’d been doing. Maybe something to think about for those who approve of capital punishment. Just reading about it in the news or even attending the execution may not affect you very much, at least not that you are aware of. But there was clearly something eating Allen little by little until he couldn’t take it any longer.

I think this happens to all of us when we give in to hate. We lose our humanity, our dignity, and sense of purpose. You may not notice it but it all adds up so that one day you end up a hateful cynic with no capacity for love. Someone who needs hate to fill the void inside of them.

What impresses me the most about Allen is that – despite what he had done – he could still hear that voice in his head that said, “this isn’t you”. He fell down to the bottom of the abyss, so to speak, but could still turn himself around. Perhaps because he was so close to it. I think we can learn something from Allen: if you even suspect that you couldn’t execute a woman, then you probably shouldn’t execute a man either. And if you wouldn’t execute a man then you probably shouldn’t let someone else do it on your behalf.

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4 Responses to If You Like Capital Punishment: Would You Volonteer as Executioner?

  1. Hail says:

    if you even suspect that you couldn’t execute a woman, then you probably shouldn’t execute a man either. And if you wouldn’t execute a man then you probably shouldn’t let someone else do it on your behalf.

    This makes sense, but I think the typical man -would- willingly execute a criminal who had killed one of the man’s loved ones.

    There have been a few stories like this that I vaguely recall hearing about: Angry Father Kills Child Molester. The killer (father of the molested child) got off without prison time, in Louisiana, despite clearly and obviously killing the molester (it was all caught on video tape).

  2. Staffan says:

    Yes, we had some case like that here too, a young woman being molested or raped and some of her male relatives killed him. In a way I can sympathize with that but I don’t think there is that much support for that sort of vigilant justice. That’s where we were before the rule of law.

    But my point is that Allen was ok with it 120 times or so and then he collapsed. It seems likely that something detrimental was eating away at him for a long time. And probably other executioners too since most people won’t admit that they’ve been doing something horrible for a career, not even to themselves. So it seems reasonable to assume that standing on the sidelines and cheering on could be self-destructive as well.

    Come to think of it, if there is no harm in it, why not let your wife or girlfriend do it? Or if you have children let them have a bit of fun with the bad guy? I doubt many men with be ok with that. My guess is that they want to protect their loved ones from being hurt the way Allen was.

    That said, I’m not soft on crime. I think anyone who murders someone should do at least 5 years and much more if there are no mitigating circumstances. Those guys are very often psychopaths who will get out with some sob story and then kill again.

  3. Singing Executioner says:

    I know I’m late to the post, but yes, I would volunteer.

    And before every execution, I would review all the documentation about how that murderer committed every one of the brutal crimes they committed that landed them on death row, complete with viewing pictures of their victim’s bodies.

    Also, before every execution, I would review the statistics on recidivism. Noting also that “people don’t change” as you’ve posted about on this blog.

    I bet I’d easily top several hundred done before it got old. Because I’d know I was doing a favor to the human race by being an executioner.

    • Staffan says:

      Aren’t you engaging in a bit of a fantasy though? Reviewing all the documentation? The justice system has already done that part, and on numerous occasions it has sentenced the wrong guy. That’s the reality of the situation. You’d have to end their lives without knowing if they did it or not.

      And keep in mind that Fred Allen was ok with it for quite some time before he suddenly had his breakdown. How can you tell you’re not the same?

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