July 20th, 2015

Anthony Galvin talks about his latest book ‘Old Sparky.’

As I write this I am sitting in a small room waiting for death. I am not on death row, but it gives me some insight into the feelings that must be going through the head of a convict, and of his family, waiting for the needle or the chair.

I am sitting in a hospital watching my father in his final days or hours. The whole family are gathered, sitting down together for a while, then going away to get on with the daily chores of living, then coming back, the impending death looming over us all the time. We can do our work, we can smile at friends, but it is there all the time at the backs of our mind. Death is in the room, and there is no escaping it.

That is what it is like to be on death row. A cancer patient is told that they have a certain period to live, but there are no guarantees. They may go into remission and outlive their doctor. They may pass at any moment. There is uncertainty. But there is also some tiny spark of hope. When you are on death row you have normally been given the date of your death. You know that no matter how healthy you feel, how optimistic about life, it all ends on a certain day at a certain time. That knowledge is a terrible burden to bear.

Most death row inmates are not monsters, though many have done monstrous things. They are people, like the rest of us. They have loved ones who care for them. They have mothers, children, friends, spouses. There are people whose lives will be torn apart once the switch is thrown, just like my life will be torn apart in a few hours or days. It is easy to forget this because of the crimes they have committed, but every inmate of death row is going through a personal hell with their family and friends.

It is a huge responsibility to take a life. As Clint Eastwood said in Unforgiven: “It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man. You take away everything he’s got and everything he’s ever gonna have.”

Leaving aside the morality, which is difficult, we must be absolutely certain that the person sitting in the chair is guilty. And the harsh reality is that one in twenty five executed in the United States is not guilty. They are innocent. And the Supreme Court has ruled that being innocent is not enough to get you a free pass out of jail. To execute someone who is innocent, or suspected strongly to be innocent, does not violate their constitutional rights. And states have done it. Several times.

Children as young as fourteen have been executed. George Stinney was barely into his teenage years when he was strapped into Old Sparky. They had to put a pile of cushions on the seat because the chair had not been designed to kill children. George was one of the 4% of executed people who are completely innocent. The little boy’s only crime was being black in the forties.

America is one of only a handful of countries in the world still taking the lives of people in retribution, instead of trying to rehabilitate criminals. And the methods the country has chosen to carry out the dirty work are among the most prolonged, painful and torturous available. Both lethal injection and the electric chair can result in slow and agonising deaths, though they were designed to eliminate this.

The electric chair has run its course. It is unlikely to be used again. America has run out of the drugs used for lethal injection. The EU, where they are manufactured, will not export them. So the time has come to revisit the question of capital punishment. In Old Sparky I tried to give a history of the chair. But more than that, I tried to put the chair in a wider historic and social context. I hope it can help spark a very important debate.

Meanwhile, my wait is over. But there are 3,002 prisoners across America who are still waiting in small rooms with death for company. My thoughts are with them.

– Anthony Galvin, July 2015

old-sparky-the-history-of-the-electric-chair-anthony-galvin

We are giving away, to one lucky winner, a code to download the eBook from Kindle. First name out of a hat wins. For your chance to be the lucky recipient send your name and email address to: write@creativeauthors.co.uk. We will announce the winner in a few weeks’ time.

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