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.