A Story by Laura

I was born in prison, and that’s where I’ll die.  But not before I give birth to my own child.


The State of Texas has given me a Stay of Execution.  In two days, they will induce labor and take my child from me.  In twelve days, at 6:00 pm, they will execute me by lethal injection.  I have less than two weeks to live.


When they executed my mother 40 years ago, they used Old Sparky, the electric chair.  I don’t know much about the woman who gave birth to me, only that she was executed for murder.  I was raised in orphanages and foster homes, and I remember from a young age being taunted with the fact that, “your mama fried!”


My birth certificate lists no father, but I’m guessing she got pregnant the same way I did.  Prison is not an easy place, and you don’t have any choices when your cell door opens in the middle of the night.


When my pregnancy became known, it was me who was vilified and taunted.  When the judge gave me a Stay of Execution, it was also delivered with a scathing speech on my morals, as if I’d gotten pregnant on purpose to delay my execution.


I’ve been on Death Row for eight years and have no desire for more time.  I’ve exhausted my appeals through my court ordered attorney, and I just don’t have the energy or will to fight it any longer.


In Texas, you only get death for aggravated murder, and how ironic is that?  What Orwellian logic dictates that killers must be killed, as proof of the State’s respect for the sanctity of life?  They will murder me in the name of “justice.”


I shot a police officer with his own gun, definitely a death penalty offense in Texas.  I never once denied my guilt, so my trial had no real purpose other than to ensure I received the death penalty.  They brought up every mistake I had made in my life and compounded it, until even I began to wonder if I was a monster.


I got up on that stand in front of all those people and I told my story, and no one believed me.  They called me a vicious liar, who kept on lying even with no evidence, no witnesses, no proof.  They laughed that I couldn’t even come up with one person to speak on my behalf at my sentencing.


They were right, I had no friends, no family, little contact with other people.  My husband, the police officer, didn’t allow it.  I was kept in the house, he took care of most outside needs, there was little reason to leave.


In the beginning, I missed all the signs that are so glaring now in hindsight:  the jealousy I thought was love; the constant need for knowledge of my movements I thought was concern; the exclusion of everyone and everything from my life but him I thought was his brand of romance.


By the time I realized what was happening, almost two years into our marriage, it was much too late.  He quickly let me know that he wasn’t about to let me leave, ever.  It was the first time he hurt me, but certainly not the last.  For the next six years, I lived a nightmare.


He was trained in how to use a gun, how to inflict pain and leave no marks or bruises, how to intimidate and use his body as a weapon.  He had access to phone taps, tracking devices, recording equipment.  He recorded every move I made in the house and once a week, we had a “lesson” and I was punished, for whatever imagined discretion he could find.


If I left the house, my car was tracked, and he and his friends constantly “patrolled” everywhere I went.  Every second of my day was accounted for to my husband, everywhere I went, everything I did.


It became his mantra, repeated most days, how if I ever called the police, they’d believe him, not me.  And if by chance I got someone to believe me and he lost his job and his reputation, that was it, he would kill me.  He knew the court system, district attorneys, judges, all personally.  No one was going to believe me, ever.  He would make sure of that.


In public, he was always so loving and attentive, yet all the while subtly inferring I was a liar and an idiot, and he was a saint for putting up with me.  At home, any deviation from his imposed routine would ignite utter rage and ultimately violence.


At any moment, he could reach out and press his fingers into my neck, or shoulders, or inner arm, or knee, or back upper thigh, any number of pressure points.  I would immediately be in paralyzing pain for easily the next half hour, until he’d spewed all of his poison.  My pain turned him on, so forced sex usually followed.


There were occasional bruises, when he hadn’t grabbed me just right, but those were rare.  He knew what he was doing and he was good at it.  Many areas of my body are still numb from the nerve damage done.


That last fateful day, it was lay down and die or fight back.  I actually got the chance to fight back and I took it.  His fingers were digging into my clavicle.  My rayon blouse had shifted just a bit before he’d gotten a good grip and he was just a little off target.  He was waving his gun in my face, screaming that today was the day I was finally going to make him kill me.


He tried to pull me into the bedroom, but his grip wasn’t good enough to control me.  He put his gun down on the kitchen table, grabbed me by the hair and started dragging me.  As I was pulled past the table, my right hand touched the gun, and then I grabbed on.


I felt the nerve he gripped tear as I twisted around, and handfuls of hair ripped out of my head.  As soon as I knew his body was in front of the gun, I pulled the trigger and didn’t stop until all I heard was a continuous click.


When I saw what I’d done, I ran to the sink and threw up.  Then I called the police.


I’ve learned that the average prison sentence for men who kill their women partners is 2-6 years because it’s usually by beating or strangulation.  Women who kill their male partners are sentenced to an average of 15 years, despite the fact that most women who kill do it in self-defense, because their only choice is using a weapon.  Aggravated charges are always much steeper.


I pled guilty but the judge rejected my attorney’s defense of battered woman’s syndrome.  At trial, every day I was pounded and beaten down with everything that was bad in my life and all the bad choices I made and the bad things I did.  Added to that were the years of lies his friends told on the stand, lies he had perpetrated. 


The worst thing about being told you’re a monster and deserve to die is that you eventually start believing it, especially when being treated like an animal in a cage is now your way of life.


Prison’s true purpose is the control and subjugation of its inmates.  They want us complacent, compliant and cooperative.  Such absolute power over other lives brings out the greed and prejudice in many prison officials.  Racism, bigotry, sadism and various other evils abound here.


There are ten of us women here on Gatesville’s Mountain View Unit, Death Row.  We spend almost 24 hours a day in our individual 10’x6’ cells containing only a 6’ metal bunk and a metal toilet/sink combo.  They feed us through a slot in the solid metal door.


No one but guards have touched me in eight years, but I’ve never been so touched in my life.  Every time I leave my cell, I am strip searched and put into a waist chain, handcuffs and ankle cuffs.


The vast majority of the population inmates that walk around freely and are trusted on a daily basis are way more unpredictable and dangerous than any of us on Death Row.  I can’t remember one incident of violence by one of the women here in the eight years I’ve been here.  The violence done here is strictly by the guards.


Often, they strip search us several times a day, even if we haven’t left our cells.  They shake down our cells for contraband regularly and without care, mishandling and even destroying our few possessions.  If we make one false move or protest, they pepper spray us and then leave us in our closed cells writhing on the floor with burning eyes and throat, not able to breathe properly, sometimes for up to an hour.


We’re legally allowed one hour of recreation time five days a week, but we rarely get an hour, and even rarer is it five days in any one week.  The recreation area is about three times the size of our cell and is bare, just concrete and metal, merely a larger cell.


We get one 10-minute shower every other day, in the communal shower that is always caked with mildew and mold and smells strongly of urine.  There is no privacy, with leering guards your constant companions.


The guards dish out their own brand of misery in numerous ways: tampering with food, twisting handcuffs, slamming against the wall, shortening shower and rec time, any number of sadistic tricks.


There are actually a few decent guards who treat us like people instead of animals, but they also turn a blind eye to the other atrocities going on around here, so really they’re no better.


Eight years in this tiny confined cubicle, with its inherent sensory deprivation.  Sleep deprivation from the constant noise of the slamming of gates and doors, the voices and screams and cries, the flashlight beams in your face every hour for count.


At the guards’ whim, it seems, we’ll be on lockdown for days at a time, with no hot food, no showers, no clean clothes, no medical care, no recreation, no visitation for those who have it.  At times, they’ve turned off the ventilation for days at a time, and with no circulation in a metal room, it’s like you’re being baked in an oven during the long, hot, humid Texas summers.


General population inmates have a set amount of time, and they count that time over and over again in their heads.  They know they’re going home one day, there’s an end to their confinement.  In so-many-days-and-a-wake-up, they’ll be on their way home.


Death Row time is done mostly in your head, years and years of highs and lows as you go through the long drawn out legal process of appeals and pleas and the appeals to the appeals.  The days and weeks and months when you cling to actual hope, when you think someone might actually listen to you, believe you.


But no one is ever going to believe me, he made sure of that.  Even in death, he was able to make sure I was executed, my own private Witch Trial.


I’ll never step foot in the free world again.  I’ll never again feel the rain, or smell fresh cut grass, or play with a puppy, or hear a child giggle.  The only choice left to me now is my last meal, and even that has limits.


The door to the Death Room is always kept open, we see it every time we leave our cells.  In the eight years I’ve been here, only Frances has been executed, in 2005.  That whole week was exceptionally hard on all of us here on the Row.  We all tasted our own mortality that day, almost a dress rehearsal for our own future walks.


I’ve had years to think about nothing but how I will die.  I know how it’s done, the procedure, the murder.  The phone will ring a little after 5:00 pm, the call from the Governor’s office approving the execution.


I’ll be led to the Death Room and be placed on the gurney.  Five officers will buckle me down securely, five straps across my body, one on each wrist, one across each thigh.


They will start an IV of saline solution in my arm if they can find a vein, in my neck if they can’t.  A microphone will be positioned over my head to capture my final words.   


Once I’m secured and hooked up, the curtain to the witness room will open.  I’ll be allowed to make my last statement, then the drug room will be signaled to begin.


My IV will open and the drugs will flow in sequence.  First Thiopental Sodium, a fast acting anesthetic that causes unconsciousness.  Then Pancuronium Bromide, a powerful paralytic.  And finally Potassium Chloride to stop the heart.


Interestingly enough, Pancuronium Bromide has been outlawed in Texas as a euthanasia remedy for animals, even reptiles, but it’ll do just fine to kill our people.


The same thoughts cycle in my head, day after day.  Will I feel anything?  What if the first drug doesn’t work and I’m still awake?  Will I feel my body being paralyzed?  Will I experience the terror of suffocation as my diaphragm and lungs collapse?  Will I feel my heart stop beating?  Will I feel my veins explode and burn?  Will I scream eternally with no one to hear me or help me?


I wonder if my mother had the same fears, that the electric chair would malfunction and cause prolonged pain and suffering, burnt flesh, flames bursting from her head, her internal organs cooked, a charred and smoldered body she could still feel?


On my death certificate, it will say, “Court Ordered Lethal Injection, Homicide.”  Legal murder, some frontier “eye for an eye” justice that only seems to apply to murder.  Why aren’t we cutting off the penises of rapists and pedophiles, cutting off the hands of thieves, giving drug dealers overdoses of their own drugs, letting the people who were scammed and swindled provide justice to the scammers and swindlers?


Throughout history, man has crucified, stoned, tortured, beheaded, burned, hung, shot, electrocuted, gassed, and drugged.  All government sanctioned murder, all for “justice.”


Where is my justice?

© 2010 Laura

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Added on April 13, 2010
Last Updated on April 15, 2010
Tags: fiction



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