Thursday, June 14, 2007

a waiting game

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Today at work, life is a waiting game. Every time the phone rings there is hope that some kind of news will stop tonight's execution. We try to read cases, but most of us are surfing the capital defense web sites, looking to see if any of the executions scheduled this week have been stayed. Yesterday the Virginia governor stayed an execution, saying it is only fair for all appeals to be exhausted if you are going to take someone's life. We will be waiting all day to hear if the Supreme Court grants cert or a stay on Michael's case. The press is already calling every hour or so.

Everyone has mostly gotten kind used to the idea that this is really going to happen. It isn't really mournful or anything. Just the sound of the windy rumble of the air conditioner on the wall, and the high whining ring of the office phone every now and then, and murmured voices in the next room. And counting down the hours till lunch.

While we wait I am reading about a woman on death row in the south accused of hiring someone to kill her husband. There is no proof she did so and her son confessed to the murder. The man who was killed beat them both for years and everyone knew about it. There are holes in the walls all over the house from the son punching them in frustration.

He did not get the death penalty but the mother did. She was in the hospital at the time her husband was killed. She had been eating rat poison for years. The judge took ten minutes to sentence her.

One of the guys who has been working on Michael's case for years is going down to witness his execution tonight. The person being executed only gets to have two witnesses. It seems like the kind of thing people should get to see, but almost nobody ever gets to see an execution.

One of the thiings I always liked to talk about when I'd teach Foucault's Discipline and Punish is his discussion of the delicate balance between the display of state power and the flashpoint of the crowd, and how dangerous public executions can be as sites of resistance. I used to talk about the French revolution and how the people eventually became moved and sickened by the spectacle of so much death. I can't help thinking that a few public executions, or simulcast events, would probably be all we'd need to get rid of the death penalty once and for all.

Lots of people are going to be outside at the prison tonight. Anti-death penalty groups will be there, and lots of police and their families are also going to show up. They say the police are going to be holding blue glow sticks to symbolize the thin blue line between order and anarchy that the police supposedly represent. I haven't heard much about protests on the other side.

South Dakota has just "upgraded" its lethal injection protocol so it can start to execute people. Illinois has maintained a moratorium on executions ever since Governor Ryan suspended the death penalty iin 2003 for being too riddled with error to be considered justice.

If there is an execution tonight we get the day off tomorrow. I am thinking about sitting on the beach for a while. I'll feel the sun on my face, and gaze out at the cool water, and listen to the shrieks of children and birds.

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