B2 High-Intermediate 5 Folder Collection
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You wake up with a start.
You were sleeping soundly, but now all you can think about is the work day ahead.
It's not an ordinary work day, you think as you look at yourself in the mirror.
You haven't been sleeping well, and you can see it all over your face.
You're a death row executioner, and your moment has come.
Today you go to the prison and play your role in administering capital punishment.
Today you're going to put a convicted murderer to death.
When you joined the prisons bureau as a corrections officer, this wasn't the first thing on
your mind.
But as you rose in the ranks and were assigned to the maximum-security prisons where they
needed your experience, you often found yourself stationed on death row.
This is where the inmates awaiting execution are kept under the most secure conditions,
only let out for limited exercise time and kept away from the other inmates.
Most inmates stay on death row for years, often decades, as their lawyers appeal through
the courts.
The shortest time on death row in Texas in the modern era is 252 days, but some inmates
have died in prison after being there for over thirty years!
When those appeals run out and the time to an execution ticks down though, the prison
prepares to make sure everything goes off perfectly.
Part of that is picking the executioners.
The executioners are usually chosen from a pool of the correction officers working at
the prison, and they will ask for volunteers.
If there are no volunteers, the prison will typically pick from the staff of officers
and make sure they don't have strong moral objections.
The executioner will work closely with the prison's death team, which is responsible
for preparing the death chamber, making sure the inmate is secure, and taking care of all
the inmate's rights before they face justice.
But it wasn't always this way, you think to yourself.
When you first volunteered to be one of the prison's executioners, you found yourself
looking up the history of the profession.
An executioner used to be a very hands-on profession, dating back to ancient times when
the executioner would deliver death personally and brutally.
In fact, the executioner used to be known as a headsman, for the most common method
of execution - beheading.
Common in medieval times, the executioner was often a big, brawny man capable of swinging
an ax with great force.
The goal was to take the condemned's head off with a single clean stroke - often in
front of hundreds of onlookers.
Most executioners carried out this duty effectively, but there were exceptions like the notorious
John Ketch.
An official executioner in England in 1663, he didn't have the sure swing needed for
the job and often took as many as eight swings to take a person's head off.
This made for a bloody and horrific show, and the people who watched were disgusted.
After the backlash against him, he wrote a letter defending himself and blamed the executed
Lord Russell for his own botched execution.
But after another similar failure, John Ketch was nearly lynched by the public and had to
be ushered away by the guards.
He was so despised for his brutality that his name became synonymous with Satan in English
lore.
But time marched on, and so did the death penalty.
Soon the axe and the basket were replaced by more technical methods of execution, starting
with the gallows and the guillotine.
Hanging and beheading were common methods of execution for hundreds of years, but they
relied on the strength of the axeman or of the tree branch, and by the 19th century they
were replaced by more reliable inventions.
The gallows dropped the condemned through a platform while being hung, and the guillotine
used a sliding blade to take a head clean off the shoulders.
So the task of the execution fell to someone who knew how to operate the machine.
The key to the job stopped being strength and started being technical know-how.
This trend sped up with the introduction of the electric chair in the late 19th century.
Finalized by Edwin Davis in 1890, it was adopted by New York and Davis became the first “State
executioner” of the state.
He was responsible for performing maintenance on the chair and ensuring the proper flow
of electricity went through it.
Davis performed over two hundred and forty executions, making him one of the most prolific
executioners in American history until his retirement in 1914.
He even presided over the execution of Leon Czolgosz, the assassin of President William
McKinley.
With the introduction of lethal injection in the 20th century, the job continued to
become more technical.
What hasn't changed is the need for anonymity in the role of the executioner.
While executioners could be celebrities in the middle ages, it was far more common for
them to avoid the notoriety of their role.
It was common for executioners to wear masks to disguise their identity.
With firing squads, it was often done by having a line of executioners aiming at the condemned,
but all but one of them holding guns loaded with blanks.
That way no one would know who fired the fatal shots - including the executioners themselves.
Some states use a private citizen as a volunteer, like in Florida where they're paid $150
per execution and their identity is kept secret.
But in most states, working as an executioner is a possible job duty for a member of the
corrections staff.
Lethal injection, done by sending a cocktail of drugs into the convict's body, first
to render them unconscious and then to stop their heart, is the most common method used
today.
A team of medical professionals is needed to set up the drug cocktails, but the actual
execution is left in the hands of a corrections officer who turns the key to activate the
flow.
It's common to have two or three on hand, turning keys with only one activating the
drugs.
You've done a lot of research on the history of executioners, but nothing's quite prepared
you for today.
You're snapped out of your thoughts by the sound of your alarm clock going off.
It's time to drive to work and head to the prison - preparation has been going on for
weeks, but the day of the execution is the busiest.
You'll have a full day of work ahead of you working with the prison's death team.
It's odd to be driving to work as the sun sets, but there's a reason for that - you're
beginning the twenty-four hour death watch as all essential staff prepares for the execution
and security goes up to ensure things go off smoothly.
Why is security so tight in the twenty-four hours before an execution?
Prisons are worried about potential disruptions, from protests outside the prison by anti-death
penalty advocates, conflicts between the family of the condemned and the those who have chosen
to witness the execution, or even attempts to break out an inmate.
For the execution of the notorious hitman “Mad Dog” Monroe, who is meeting with
the executioner today, you know the prison won't be taking any chances.
You'll start around nine PM, twenty-four hours before the execution is scheduled, and
work closely with the death team and a specialized security team making sure the chamber is secure.
But the preparations have been going on for far longer than a day.
For the last fifteen days, ever since “Mad Dog” Monroe was brought to the facility
holding the death chamber, you and your team have been testing the equipment and making
sure it runs properly.
A botched execution is not only a massive waste of equipment and preparation, but can
often result in serious medical complications for the condemned and lead to lawsuits and
professional consequences for the team responsible.
You've been in the death chamber so often, examining and testing the equipment for the
lethal injection that it feels like second nature.
But you know this time will be very different.
You've had time to get to know the rest of the team, with the security often being
known as the “Tie-down Team”.
These correction officers have one of the most important jobs of the night - they're
responsible for escorting the inmate and securing them to the gurney.
While some inmates have accepted their fate and are resigned, even remorseful, others
are likely to resist and may have to be physically restrained to secure the execution.
From the looks you've gotten at “Mad Dog” Monroe during your time working on death row,
you know you're not betting on him going quietly.
While you meet with the warden, discuss any special concerns for the day, and do another
run-through of the death chamber, you think about what the condemned is doing that day.
The final day for the inmate scheduled for execution is as structured as the day for
the team handling it.
It differs by state, but almost all states give the condemned a few special privileges
after they've been moved to the cell for those awaiting execution.
This includes meeting with a member of the clergy from their faith, choosing family members
they want to have at their execution, preparing their last words, and choosing their last
meal.
The last meal can be almost anything available, and requests have varied wildly.
Some inmates have requested things as simple as a fruit salad or a single olive with the
pit in it - requested by an inmate who said he hoped a tree would grow from his body.
But most request a big, greasy meal of all their favorites.
Fried chicken is a common choice, as is steak, lobster, ribs, and desserts like apple pie
or ice cream.
Forty-nine of fifty states offer inmates their choice of a last meal.
Texas stopped the tradition after one inmate, Lawrence Russell Brewer, requested a massive
meal consisting of two chicken-fried steaks, a pound of barbecue, a fully loaded pizza,
and a pint of ice cream, among many other things.
When it was brought to him, he declined to eat any of it.
The public was outraged at the waste of food, and the state prison bureau decided to do
away with the tradition.
Condemned inmates in Texas prisons now only get a standard prison meal on their last day.
The execution is slated for nine PM.
The death team comes to pick up “Mad Dog” Monroe about an hour before.
You're part of the team, but he won't know which of his security team is going to
be his executioner.
From the look in his eyes, you can tell there isn't going to be any remorse or resignation
there, but he doesn't put up a fight.
He stares you down as he's put securely in handcuffs and leg irons, and marched down
the long hall to the death chamber.
The team secures him to the gurney, and he's strapped down using a complex system of tight
straps that keep him from moving.
As the lethal injection drugs have to be injected into central veins, it's critical that he
not be able to move even an inch while the on-site medical team administering the syringes
are working.
But they won't be the ones administering the drugs - you will.
While other members of the death team stay in the room, you're taken behind a panel
where you're hidden from view.
It's common for executioners to watch from behind a two-way mirror, where they can see
the execution room but they can't be seen.
The more things change, the more they stay the same - this is a higher-tech version of
the masked executioner.
You look down at the console in front of you, with everything you need to inject the drugs
in the correct order.
Being an executioner became much more complicated with the use of lethal injection - when the
electric chair was the most common method of execution, it was as simple as flipping
a switch to start the flow of electricity.
You watch as the medical team secures the needles and checks the connection.
The guests are seated, including any family members of the condemned and any people related
to his victims who have asked to attend.
“Mad Dog” Monroe is asked if he has any last words, and he speaks for a minute but
you barely hear it.
Your mind is focused on the task ahead.
You receive the signal from the prison warden, who is presiding over the execution, and your
hand moves towards the buttons on the console.
With practiced ease, you press them in the correct order, and the drugs flow into the
tubes in the order to put the condemned under, and then to silently end his life.
The process takes several minutes, and then the medical professional on site checks the
vitals of the condemned.
He nods.
The execution has gone off perfectly, and you played your part as the anonymous executioner.
It's over.
Now check out “Teenage Death Row Inmate Who Survived His Own Execution” for more
on one of the most spectacular failed executions in American history, or check out this video
instead.
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What Is It Like To Be A Death Row Executioner

5 Folder Collection
Summer published on July 31, 2020
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