“I executed 62 people. I’m sorry”: An executioner turned death-penalty opponent tells all

They say you can’t put a price on life, but what about death? Earlier this year I spoke to Jerry Givens, a former state executioner turned death penalty abolitionist. He told me that for people who carry out the death penalty, the real, enduring cost is emotional.

“If I had known what I’d have to go through as an executioner, I wouldn’t have done it. It took a lot out of me to do it. You can’t tell me I can take the life of people and go home and be normal.”

Givens executed 62 people during his 17 years working for Virginia’s Department of Corrections, and like many executioners, he felt the consequences long after the act itself. It was clear from speaking with Givens that he couldn’t shake the lasting weight of his actions, and he’s certainly not alone: a startling 31 percent of prison staff who perform executions will suffer from post-traumatic stress. Flashbacks, nightmares and other symptoms of PTSD are habitually seen among correctional officers and executioners, according to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

It isn’t just the prison staff who suffer. California Gov. Edmund Brown had the unenviable task of deciding whether to commute death sentences to life without parole — absolute judgments over life and death that continued to haunt him through his later years:

“The longer I live, the larger loom those decisions I had to make as governor. Looking back over their names and files now, I realize that each decision took something out of me that nothing – not family or work or hope for the future – has ever been able to replace.”

More from Salon.com

Posted by The NON-Conformist

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