The barbaric practice of legal execution has become so common -
Execution by any means is a torture of the psyche. It is not something I would wish anyone to experience. But for those of you that would like an idea of the terror that someone experiences during those final moments before an execution, then continue reading.
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is José. I have been on death row for a little over two decades and have luckily survived 4 execution dates, including one this year that came within 3 hours of a successful lethal injection. I am not the first person to come so close and escape execution. Many more have come even closer. I personally know several lucky survivors. What we all share from this ordeal is a traumatic life-
For the majority of my life I have been a blissful agnostic -
On the days leading up to my execution date, it is one celebration after another. My friends on deathwatch are preparing special meals, my family and friends on the outside are travelling great distances to come visit me, and the prison officials and administration are actually displaying a decency that I have never seen before. Sympathy for the condemned is soothing to a degree, but then comes the moment when all of that is forgotten. It's time to go die.
That exact moment begins when Assistant Warden Billy Hirsch comes to notify me personally, that my visit is over at exactly noon on what is to be the day of my execution, May 10, 2007. My family knows the moment is coming and so, we sit in silence. No one says a word, hoping that time would slow down or stop all together. My father's head is hung down, he looks dejected, utterly.
At that point I realize that I have failed to be a son that a father can be proud of. Hopelessness and helplessness start to seep into me.
I watch as my family is led out in tears. (Afterwards I discover that not only are my family escorted out of the prison, but several prison vehicles follow my family on their way to the Walls Unit, where my execution is to take place.) When I am escorted out of the visiting room, I see a dozen or so civilian-
From visitation I am escorted back to 12 building, where death-
After I am loaded into a small, cramped compartment in the back of the van, it slowly starts making its way out of the unit. When I get to the end of 12 building, I'm looking in the windows for my friends and I see a brightly colored piece of paper waving back and forth to get my attention. The van is carrying me and five prison officers, who are given AR-
When we finally arrive at the Walls Unit, the transport vehicles are admitted through the first of many gates. To get from the back gate to where the execution chamber is, the transport vehicles must maneuver through a maze of narrow passageways between huge buildings.
I feel like I am being swallowed by a gigantic beast.
When the engines on the vehicles are finally turned off, we are parked right outside the death chamber. From there I hobble the few feet it takes to get to the holding area next to the execution chamber. The prison employees along the way all stop what they're doing to gawk at the condemned on his way to death. Once in the holding area, the only door in or out is locked behind me. Immediately I begin to get claustrophobic because the ceiling in this holding area is too low for its long length and to make it worse there are no windows. It feels like I am in an underground dungeon. The air has an eerie antiseptic-
The holding area comprises a row of cells. The walkway in front of the cells has several tables of varying sizes and a few chairs. In the room with me are about a dozen hand-
Once I've re-
It takes about 10 minutes for him to arrive. All the while there is an officer sitting right in front of the cell watching everything I do. The rest of the officers are off to each side or walking around. The other tables in the room are for refreshments and snacks. Three huge containers of hot coffee, tea, and juice. Milk is chilling in a container of ice. The one item that stands out most is a big silver platter with all sorts of sweets on it: Cookies, buns, rolls, pastries, etc. This silver platter must go back a long way. It probably served hundreds of condemned prisoners. It certainly doesn't belong in a prison. Even if I wasn't terrified and was capable of eating, I probably wouldn't have wanted to touch any of the sweets on it. Not that I am offered anything; the party doesn't start until after the warden has had a chance to talk to you.
When the Walls Unit warden shows up, he starts off by explaining to me what all is going to happen: At three o'clock they will allow me to walk into the next cell where I will be behind a screen. Then my spiritual advisor will be admitted and I can visit up to an hour. At 4 p.m. they will bring the last meal. He has a copy of my last meal request in his hands. First he comments that I have a lot of food listed (pork chop, fajitas, spicy fried chicken, beef enchiladas, re-
I answer him that I am still undecided. I certainly didn't have a last statement prepared and all the jokes I contemplated saying (To hell with all of you if you all can't take a joke; I'm here to be Vincent Gutierrez's stunt double, hope I'm not too late; I hope everyone can forgive me for what I did to that midget and pony) were the last thing on my mind. So the warden continues, "I will give you about two minutes to make your last statement but I'm flexible depending on what you are saying. I have two rules: One, no profanity or cursing, and two, it must be in English because I don't understand Spanish."
Then he tells me that if I get a stay of execution the chaplain will come inform me of it. Finally he asks me if I have any questions and it is at this time that I am supposed to ask for any special requests, like the telephone. The warden tells me that I can call as many people as I want but the person must live in the continental US and all phone calls will stop at 5 p.m.
When the warden leaves, that's the cue for the party to start. The chaplain pours me a tea and offers me the infamous silver platter. I ask for milk instead. Then I get right on the phone. The first person I talk to is my friend of 27 years.
But I'm not doing much talking because I'm trying to choke down the sobs. Right then I am more scared than I've ever been in my whole life.
I talk on the phone for about half-
Dying is like walking through a one-
When we die, the bonds in our relationships with others are severed. You can't even count on having someone waiting for you on the other side. For an agnostic there is little to look forward to. Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hinduists, all have something to expect. I, on the other hand, had nothing.
Everything I had done to make my final days pleasant -
Since returning to death row at the Polunsky Unit, my hands stopped shaking after two days and my sleep returned to normal after three days. The experience of visiting the death chamber as a potential participant instead of a tourist has changed my life completely. The person that went to the Walls Unit is not the same person that came back. It is my hope and prayers that I never again find myself in that evil place. But the possibility exists, as my appeals have not succeeded; I have only won a temporary reprieve. However, if I must return to face the ultimate punishment, next time I will be in the grace of God.
September 22, 2007
José A. Moreno, #859
3872 F.M. 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351