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The Anguish of the Condemned

It's ten-thirty at night. You are lying in bed with the lamp on. You should go to sleep because tomorrow morning you have to get up early, eat your scrambled eggs and microwaved sausage and drive your late-model car to work. Tomorrow afternoon you are to go golfing with some friends then have a snack in the clubhouse.

It's ten-thirty at night. You should go to sleep, but first you want to finish one more chapter in the novel you are reading. In an hour and a half you'll be asleep, dreaming of far-away mountain meadows and beautiful women you've never met.

It's ten-thirty at night. Twenty miles away there is someone who is not sleeping. In an hour and a half he will be wheeled into a small room on a gurney. Needles will be placed in his arm, drugs will be introduced into his system, his heart will stop and he will be dead. He's acutely aware that in ninety minutes his life will be over and there's nothing he can do about it.

It's ten-thirty at night. People who know he is going to die are aware of the anguish he must be feeling. They huddle across the road from the prison, light candles, cry, and wonder at the system that can induce such mental anguish in a human being. A young girl offers up a silent prayer for the fellow human being she doesn't know--the fellow human being who will be put to death while you are asleep.

Let's see what else is happening at ten-thirty.

A young husband has come home drunk. He has beaten and raped his wife and is now passed out on the couch. The terrified mother cradles her baby and cries.
A woman has just found out that her husband is having an affair with her best friend. She has driven her car to the most remote place she knows and screams and cries at the top of her lungs until she is hoarse.
A journalist sits in a concrete cell in a middle-eastern country. Three of his ribs are broken and he breathes through pulped lips, his nose having been broken so badly that no air passes through the clotted blood. The floor of the cell is covered by a moving velvet carpet of flies on human waste. He doesn't know how long it might be before someone comes in and beats him again.
A mother holds the dead body of a child killed in a car accident.
A teenage boy just discovered his girlfriend uses drugs and has AIDs.
An old man lies semi-conscious in a sweat-soaked bed, waiting to die. His son looks on.
A convenience store clerk looks down the barrel of a sawed off shotgun. Her friend is dead on the floor.
A father is called by the police. His son has just killed a nineteen-year-old convenience store clerk.

While you are asleep, twenty-five Americans will die in automobile accidents, fifteen will be murdered and three will lose their lives in fires.

Where are the candles, the silent midnight vigils, the prayers?

The anguish of the condemned criminal is an unfortunate artifact of the system--unfortunate and unavoidable. Many pains are borne by many hearts all over the world; candles are only lit when the anguish is borne by someone who has won notoriety through his nefarious deeds. The anguish of the condemned cannot pay for the crime; justice can only truly be served where full restitution can be made. The execution of justice is not primary reason he is to die.

Humans are, like their animal cousins, driven by perceived action/reaction scenarios. If they perceive that their actions will inevitably bring unwanted results they may pursue their happiness in a manner which causes less anguish to the other people who co-exist with them in society. In this way the death penalty is meant to be a deterrent to violent crime. There are those who would argue that there is no evidence that this is true.

The tissues of a healthy society cannot live with the cancers of crime thriving. Some members of society have demonstrated that they pose a threat to its survival. If the threat of dying cannot guarantee that a person will not commit heinous crimes, his death will ensure that he not commit another.

The anguish of the condemned is not a payment for his transgressions against society but merely a by-product of the system's struggle to endure. If the civilization is to remain healthy, the side effects of its surgery are, regrettably, unavoidable.

Frank Leany

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