• Reagan Lee Ray

My Friend Will, and The Lethal Injection

CAUTION : Sensitive subject matter

My upcoming book features scenes of execution, and it got me to thinking about my own feelings on the subject. I wanted to share them with you here.

This post is in no way designed to upset, argue with, demean, or otherwise alienate my readers. I have always enjoyed a healthy and mature debate on lots of subjects, and I would welcome that here, too. All I am doing is sharing something that's important to me, because I think it's good to be able to do that, and I want this blog to give an insight into who I am as a person as well as who I am as an author. For those of you who welcome a different perspective, I hope you find something of value in this post. For those of you who share my views, perhaps you will be interested in some of the links and resources I'll add at the end.

Please know that I respect your views, whether they be different or the same, and I hope you respect mine, too. Thank you for reading with an open mind and heart.

"It's like we've been buried. Forgotten."

This was written to me by one of the death row pen-pals I've had over the last 3 years, and it really made me think about the nature of capital punishment, and what it actually stands for. I already knew that the idea of "an eye for an eye" didn't sit comfortably with me, which is why I had these pen-pals in the first place.

I was once told that I was only against the death penalty because I am not religious.

Maybe that's true, or maybe I would still feel the same way. I'm not entirely convinced that every religious person would be automatically in favour of the death penalty. Sister Helen Prejean and Pope Francis, for example, have both been vocal in their opposition of it.

I'm also conscious of the fact I am lucky enough to have never been a victim of serious crime. I can't say that my feelings wouldn't change if I had been. All I can share here are my thoughts as they stand today.

The more I researched, the more I was confronted with the massive inequality and unfairness of the death penalty, and it reinforced my feelings. And what about the innocent people who are wrongfully put to death? It does happen, and maybe more often than you would think. Imagine being that person, strapped to a gurney about to die. . . for nothing. It's simply too final a punishment. You can't take it back.

Studies have proved that the death penalty does not work as a deterrent to potential offenders. Everyone from Amnesty International to individual states in America have looked into this and all come to the same conclusion. A lot of criminals who would be considered "bad" enough to warrant such a sentence stated that they simply didn't care. Some even welcomed the prospect of death. So right away, one of the main arguments for the death penalty is lost.

"Nations that abol­ish the death penal­ty then tend to see their mur­der rates decline, accord­ing to a December 2018 report by the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center"
"Executing someone is like throwing a pebble into a lake."

Yes, you get rid of the pebble, but there are countless ripples to contend with. Do the parents and other family of the person put to death also deserve to lose their loved one? What crime did they commit to have someone they care for taken away from them? Do 2 sets of victims cancel each other out, make it like so nothing ever happened? I don't believe they do.

As of January 1, 2020, there were 2,620 death row inmates in the United States. That means another 2,620 families waiting to lose their loved one. Can you imagine how it must feel to be the mother, or father, or sibling of a condemned man? I say man, because over 97% of death row inmates are male. 42% of them are white. 41% of them are African-American. But when you consider that the total population of white in America is 61%, and African-American is 13%, you can see how biased the system can be. If you're poor, or black, or both, you stand a much higher chance of being sentenced to death.


All my research into the subject left me with one conclusion-

We don't execute for justice. We execute for revenge.

And that doesn't sit well with me at all. Neither does the hypocrisy of "killing is wrong, so we will kill you to prove that." Surely forgiveness should be more important than revenge?

Even the length of time death row prisoners await execution is barbaric. A wait of 20 years is pretty common. It can take so long that about a quarter of them die of natural causes before they can be executed.

During that time, they can expect to be held in almost 24hr solitary confinement, in a room which is probably smaller than your bathroom. My current pen-pal, Will, has no window. This a photo of a typical cell there. Nice, huh?

Can you imagine living here for 20 years, before heading down the hall for a lethal injection? There's a whole load of information online, if you're interested, about the current cocktail of drugs used in these executions, and how they might not actually be as effective and painless as we like to think. There's also a lot of accounts about the day to day life of a death row inmate. I don't want to list statistic after statistic here, I don't feel that would do anyone any good, but I will leave links to various sources in case you wish to read further into the subject.

My friend Will lives in a cell just like this one, in that exact unit. He writes to me almost every day, usually sending me bright coloured cards wishing me a happy day. He is always upbeat and positive, despite his situation (which is arguably an unfair one, but I won't go into that here), and he has genuinely made a positive impact in my life. I would consider him a friend. I know a lot of people would probably be horrified at that, and I can appreciate why. But for me, opening my heart and mind to Will, and others like him, has helped me to become a more tolerant and caring person. And that's a good thing as far as I can see.

Just one more thing. . .

Have you heard of George Stinney?

He was 14 when he was executed by electric chair in 1944, after being convicted of the murder of two young girls. The jury took just 10 minutes to decide his fate, and the court refused to hear his appeal.

He was so small that he had to use a Bible as a booster seat in the electric chair. The mask was too big for him, and slipped down during his execution, revealing tears streaming down his face.

Between the time of Stinney's arrest and his execution, Stinney's parents were allowed to see him only once. Under the threat of lynching, they were not allowed to see him any other time, and were not present for his death.

His conviction was overturned in 2014, 70 years after he was executed.


Thank you for reading this with an open mind. a non-profit organisation giving a voice to death row inmates find a prisoner to write to long-time campaigner against the death penalty.

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