There has been a lot of talk lately about botched executions. While some may express little concern for whether or not a murderer suffers, I am concerned about our government bungling these executions because of the toll it can take on my former colleagues in the corrections industry.
The public is growing concerned as states are using untested drugs or relying on unregulated pharmaceutical companies, largely under a shroud of government secrecy. Some states, sadly Nebraska included, are even considering reverting to long-ago abandoned methods such as the firing squad or electric chair. These discussions touch me in a personal way.
I served as a corrections officer in Florida prisons for nearly 20 years before moving to Nebraska. I am proud of the work I did in Florida. It was an honor to wear the uniform among other men and women who committed their lives to keeping our communities safe. For some of my years in Florida, I worked on death row. While I was a corrections officer, the state of Florida executed dozens of people (some using the electric chair). I am not proud of a system that forces individuals to participate — as a requirement of their jobs — in the taking of human life.
People are also reading…
Our state doesn’t need the death penalty. It doesn’t keep our prisons or communities safe. There have been numerous studies looking for a deterrent benefit from the death penalty. It doesn’t exist. In fact, murder rates are higher in states that have the death penalty. Additionally in Nebraska, where the department of corrections is facing daily challenges of over crowding, public outrage over miscalculations of sentences and a notable lack of services to prevent recidivism, the death penalty is an unnecessary drain on resources. Any corrections professional will tell you that the millions of dollars a state may invest in just one capital case would be more useful to them in the form of additional officers or programming than the death penalty could ever be.
Since we don’t need the death penalty, it begs a careful examination of what effects the death penalty has on those involved with the system. For corrections officers, the death penalty can be tremendously damaging.
Corrections officers work closely with inmates day in and day out. We have no choice but to recognize the humanity of the people we are charged with caring for. It’s cruel that we, the very ones who care for them for years, are then asked to participate in the taking of their lives through execution. We, of course, know what evil deeds an individual may have done, but it is still unnatural to be a part of a system that takes the life of someone who is completely incapacitated and no longer poses a threat to anyone. I assure you, this is not what we signed up for, especially in cases where guards were forced to participate in the torturous death of an inmate in these botched cases.
I am not alone in feeling this way. From entry-level corrections officers to wardens and chaplains, all stripes of prison personnel have expressed the difficulty or even trauma of being made to participate in executions. Earlier this year, a warden from Florida who oversaw executions told Esquire magazine how the experience still haunts him — literally. He wakes up in the middle of the night and sees the faces of the men he had to execute.
He and I have both heard the muffled pleas of our colleagues who don’t want anything to do with taking the life of another human being but feel they have no choice. They need their jobs. I understand all too well why so many of my colleagues would call in sick on the day of an execution.
I don’t doubt that the brave corrections officers in Nebraska are proud of the work they do. They should be. We as citizens have an obligation to respect their office and advocate for policies that support them.
I have been traumatized by the death penalty. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.