Abolish the Death Penalty
The death penalty takes a heavy toll on those directly involved in executions— prison wardens, chaplains, executioners, and corrections officers.
Many of those involved in executions have reported suffering PTSD-like symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares and other forms of distress. These symptoms are reported by multiple witnesses such as journalists, executioners, and wardens alike.
“At night I would awaken to visions of executed inmates sitting on the edge of my bed,”
--Ron McAndrew, Retired Warden, Florida State Prison
“If you care about human life, it isn’t just the fetus you care about. You care about all human life. [An execution] is the most premeditated murder you have ever seen. A lot of people were complicit in [the execution]—the governor, the parole boards, the courts. But they call on a very few to commit the actual murder with the sanction of the state. Let me tell you that the first one shook me to the core…And after the fifth [execution] I could not do it anymore. I couldn’t rationalize it anymore.”
--Dr. Allen Ault, former Warden,
Georgia Diagnostic and Classifications Prison
“There is nothing commonplace about walking a healthy young man to a room, strapping him into a chair, and coldly, methodically killing him.”
--Donald Cabana, former Warden, Mississippi State Penitentiary,
from his memoir, Death at Midnight: The Confession of an Executioner
“You sentenced a guy to be executed. You give him a trial, then you send him to me to be put to death. Then later on you [say] that this guy was innocent. You didn’t put him to death. I did. I performed the execution. So you might suffer a little. I’m going to suffer a lot, because I performed the job,”
--Jerry Givens, retired Executioner, Virginia Department of Corrections
“I began to understand why the warden sometimes didn’t return to work for several days following an execution. I too was feeling the drain.”
--Reverend Carroll Pickett, retired Chaplain, Texas Department of Corrections,
from his memoir, Within These Walls: Memoirs of a Death House Chaplain
By directly participating in the execution process, prison workers have to face the moral implications of knowingly participating in the act of killing another human being. At the same time, those responsible for carrying out the execution do not have the benefit of having heard all evidence presented at the trial. Many times the doubt of the condemned person’s guilt is a heavy burden on the consciences of those that have to perform the execution.
Harm to Prison Workers|About Pages
“f you let the [jury] foreman be the executioner, then I think they'd give a second thought about execution. If you let the judge be the executioner, I think he would give a second thought about sending somebody to be executed.”
--Jerry Givens, retired Executioner, Virginia Department of Corrections
Related Posts & Resources
The prison system houses male death row offenders at Central Prison and female death row offenders at the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women. Both prisons are located in Raleigh.
At Central Prison, the men are housed in cellblocks of Unit III. Two correctional officers in a control center watch the offenders at all times. Each unit has eight pods with 24 single cells - 12 cells on each level. The cells open into a dayroom area that has a television at one end, stainless steel tables in the middle and showers at the other end. Each cell has a bed, a lavatory, commode, and a wall-mounted writing table.
Offenders on death row spend nearly all their time in either their cells or the adjacent dayroom. They may stay in their dayroom from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. While in the dayroom, they may watch television.
Death row offenders may be assigned incentive wage jobs in the canteen or clothes house, or may work as barbers or janitors within their housing areas. They are required to keep their cells and dayrooms clean. Offenders are allowed at least one hour per day for exercise and showers. Two days a week, officers escort death row offenders in groups from each cellblock pod to outdoor exercise areas, weather permitting, where the offenders can play basketball, walk or jog. Officers also escort the death row offenders by cellblock to the dining halls for each meal.
Death row offenders may receive one visit a week with a maximum of two visitors. In the visiting booths, visitors may see and talk with offenders, but physical contact is not possible. Offenders may participate in a one-hour Christian worship service each Sunday, or Islamic worship services for one hour each Friday. A Bible study class is also conducted by the prison's chaplain for 90 minutes each Tuesday morning.
If a death row offender violates prison regulations, he may be placed in a segregation cellblock outside of the death row area. He must eat his meals in his cell and is separated from other death row offenders for his daily hour of exercise and shower.
Conditions are similar for female offenders on death row. The women are housed in a cellblock of the maximum security building at the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women. Each of the single cells has a bed, lavatory and commode. The seven cells are side by side down a corridor. At the front of the cellblock is a dayroom with a television, table and chairs. This is where the women eat their meals. This room also serves as the visiting area, and all visits are supervised by correctional staff. As a group, the offenders are given at least an hour daily for exercise and showers. Volunteers provide Sunday worship services on death row. Chaplains are available for counseling.
When a death row offenfder exhausts all appeals, the attorney general directs the secretary of the Department of Public Safety to set an execution date. That offender - male or female - is moved into the death watch area of Central Prison three to seven days prior to the execution date. The death watch area is adjacent to the execution chamber and is located in the prison's custody control building. The offender moves all personal belongings from the death row cell to one of the four cells in the death watch area.
Each cell has a bed, lavatory, commode and a wall-mounted writing table. The cells are side by side and open into a dayroom where there is a table, a television and shower. With the exception of 15 minutes allowed for a shower, the inmate spends the entire day in the cell. A sergeant and a correctional officer are stationed just outside the cell in the dayroom 24 hours a day.
The offender may receive visits from his/her attorney, chaplains, psychologists and others authorized by prison administrators and may receive non-contact family visits in the prison's regular visiting area. Contact visits may be allowed at the warden's discretion in the days immediately preceding execution. An offender on death watch is not allowed contact with other offenders. The offender remains in the death watch area until receiving a stay or until escorted to the execution chamber. Executions are carried out in accordance with the state's execution protocol.
Prison Guards and the Death Penalty
This is an excellent primer on how correctional officers are deeply impacted by working on death row. It is essential reading for corrections professionals, policymakers, and the public. Sections of this paper include: introduction; guards on death row; interactions with prisoners; guards at executions; and conclusion. "Like murder, execution inflicts emotional and psychological damage on those linked to it. This can begin with anticipatory trauma when a court sets an execution date and the impact can remain even years after an execution. Prison guards, who most closely interact with condemned prisoners on a daily basis, are particularly affected, including and especially those acting as executioners. The death penalty compounds the anxiety and depression to which prison guards are already especially vulnerable (over a quarter of all US prison employees suffer from depression36 – three times the level in the general US population). Given such negative aspects to the work, executing nations use enticements and punishments to keep guards in execution service … Alternatively, they may try to dissuade guards from quitting by using ridicule, bullying or demotion: one guard was given "weird duty, weird hours" after asking to be removed from the execution team, while others reported being threatened with lower paying, lower status jobs. The exposure of guards to executions and anticipated executions should therefore be a matter of serious concern to prison administrations, which have a responsibility towards the wellbeing of their staff. The unacknowledged stress experienced by guards on death rows and execution teams risks dangerous mental health consequences for them and those around them. The simplest (and best) solution would be to remove the cause of the problem and abolish the death penalty" (p. 3).
Death Row Records
American record label
Death Row Records (formerly Future Shock and Tha Row) was an American record label founded in 1992 by Dr. Dre, Suge Knight, The D.O.C. and Dick Griffey. The label became a sensation by releasing multi-platinum hip-hop albums by West Coast-based artists such as Dr. Dre (The Chronic), Snoop Dogg (Doggystyle), Tha Dogg Pound (Dogg Food), and Tupac Shakur (All Eyez on Me) during the 1990s. At its peak, Death Row was making over US$100 million a year.
By the late 1990s, the label began to decline after the death of its star artist, Tupac Shakur, imprisonment of co-founder Suge Knight, and the departures of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. Although Death Row was enjoying financial success, it was embroiled in controversies, lawsuits, and violence by its artists and associates. Death Row Records filed for bankruptcy in 2006 and was auctioned to WIDEawake Entertainment for $18 million on January 15, 2009. The owner of WIDEawake bankrupted in 2012 and the label was then sold to Entertainment One, then became a division of Hasbro until April 2021 when eOne Music was sold to The Blackstone Group.
Main article: Ruthless Records
In the late-1980s, N.W.A's producer Dr. Dre signed to Eazy-E's Ruthless. As head of production at the label, Dr. Dre produced a large number of Ruthless projects, many of them successful; feeling the pressures of having to produce so many acts and feeling he was underpaid, Dr. Dre became frustrated with Ruthless. After the departure of Ice Cube in 1989 over financial disagreements with Jerry Heller,Suge Knight and The D.O.C. went over the books with a lawyer. Convinced that Jerry Heller was dishonest, they approached Dr. Dre about forming a label with them, away from Heller. Allegedly using strong-arm tactics, Suge Knight was able to procure contracts from Eazy-E for The D.O.C., Dr. Dre and Michel'le.
Dr. Dre and Suge Knight along with partners The D.O.C. and Dick Griffey began the process of starting a record label and music partnership in anticipation of Dre's departure from Ruthless. Although the name of their new music venture was originally called Future Shock, The D.O.C. claimed to have suggested changing the name of the new label to 'Def Row' (a play on the Def Jam), but rights to the name were already owned by The Unknown DJ, who also happened to be one of Dre's former music associates in the 1980s. Unknown stated in an interview that he created the name "Def Row" for a potential deal to start another record label under Morgan Creek. However he later sold the naming rights to Dr. Dre and his partners in July 1991 and by 1992 the name changed to its eventual title of Death Row. Knight approached Michael "Harry-O" Harris, a businessman imprisoned on drug and attempted murder charges. Through David Kenner, an attorney handling Harris's appeal, Harry-O set up Godfather, a parent company for the newly christened Death Row.
Knight approached Vanilla Ice (Robert Van Winkle), using management connections with Mario "Chocolate" Johnson, claiming Johnson had produced the song "Ice Ice Baby", and had not received royalties for it. After consulting with Alex Roberts, Knight and two bodyguards arrived at The Palm in West Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, where Van Winkle was eating. After shoving Van Winkle's bodyguards aside, Knight sat down in front of Van Winkle, staring at him before asking "How you doin'?" Similar incidents were repeated on several occasions, including alleged attempts to lure Vanilla Ice into a van filled with Bloods and Crips, before Knight showed up at Vanilla Ice's hotel suite on the fifteenth floor of the Bel Age Hotel, accompanied by Johnson and a member of the Los Angeles Raiders. According to Vanilla Ice, Knight took him out on the balcony by himself, and implied he would throw Vanilla Ice off unless he signed the rights to the song over to Knight; Van Winkle's money helped fund Death Row. Death Row was initially located at the intersection of Westwood Blvd and Wilshire Blvd, later to be relocated to the intersection of Wilshire Blvd. and San Vicente Blvd.
Main article: The Chronic
With the help of Kenner, Knight began signing young, inner-cityCalifornia-based artists and arranged for Death Row Records to handle the soundtrack for the 1992 film, Deep Cover. The single, "Deep Cover", established Dr. Dre as a solo artist and a young Snoop Dogg (then known as Snoop Doggy Dogg) as his protégé. Work soon began on The Chronic, Dr. Dre's debut solo album, which heavily featured Snoop and the rest of the label's core roster.
The album went on to sell 5.7 million records in the US, establishing the West Coast in the hip-hop industry and popularizing the distinctive style of G-Funk. The Death Row roster consisted of Dre, Snoop, Kurupt, Nate Dogg, Lady of Rage, The D.O.C., RBX, and many more. Later on, Death Row artist Lil 1/2 Dead's contract was later sold to Priority Records where he released his debut album The Dead Has Arisen.
Main article: Doggystyle
After finding solo success, Dr. Dre began crafting Snoop Dogg's debut album Doggystyle; the process took two years. Snoop's debut was released in 1993 due to public demand and high pressure from retailers. Though unfinished, it outperformed The Chronic at Quadruple Platinum, and garnered similarly glowing reviews. Soon after the release of the album, Snoop Dogg was charged with murder, fueling the debate that politicians C. Delores Tucker and Vice Presidential candidate Dan Quayle sparked by criticizing gangsta rap for being against American values, degrading to black women, and encouraging violence towards police officers.
Death Row Thanksgiving
On November 22, 1994, at the offices of The Brotherhood Crusade in Los Angeles, Suge Knight and several artists from Death Row such as Tha Dogg Pound and DJ Quik (wasn't signed to the label) distributed nearly 2,000 turkeys to the public. Death Row also donated turkeys the following year as well.
Signing Tupac Shakur and Suge Knight's rise
By 1995, the label began to flood with Suge Knight's cronies—friends and gang members fresh out of jail, as well as off-duty LAPD officers later implicated in the Rampart scandal working as security. Emboldened, Knight began taking more control of the label and further sought the spotlight, while Dr. Dre receded into the background, shying away from the violent atmosphere and Suge Knight's newfound volatility. Tucker's pressure to conform extended to a joint proposal by herself and a Warner executive to set up a record label with Knight to put out content-controlled hip-hop music, which Knight billed as a breach of contract, resulting in a switch in distribution from Time Warner to Interscope. At The Source Awards in 1995, the Death Row roster's performance garnered a poor reception from the mainly East Coast audience; Knight also made comments pertaining to Bad Boy CEO Puff Daddy, sparking friction between the two labels (and, soon after, the two entire coasts). Knight soon signed 2Pac while he was incarcerated on a sexual abuse conviction, after agreeing to post 2Pac's bail. At the same time, a rift between Michael and Lydia Harris and Suge and David Kenner began to grow, with the latter pair denying Harris' involvement in the company and refusing to take his phone calls.
Bad Boy Records feud and Dr. Dre's departure
2Pac began work on his Death Row album, kicking off his tenure by insulting The Notorious B.I.G., Junior M.A.F.I.A. and Puff Daddy (the founder of Bad Boy Records), whom he accused of setting him up to be robbed and shot at Quad Studios on November 30, 1994, as well as Mobb Deep, Jay-Z, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, The Fugees and Nas. Tha Dogg Pound's debut album, Dogg Food, continued the label's streak of commercial successes; its members – rappers Kurupt and Daz Dillinger – then joined Snoop in ridiculing New York rappers with their single "New York, New York", featuring Snoop Dogg. The video, set in New York City, New York, was also heightened when the set was fired upon in a drive-by. After the shooting, Snoop Dogg and Tha Dogg Pound filmed scenes kicking down a building in New York. The single provoked a response called '"L.A., L.A." by East Coast rappers Capone-N-Noreaga, Tragedy Khadafi, and Mobb Deep.
Another report was that Sam Sneed was beaten in one of the label's meetings by a group of Death Row affiliates, led by Suge Knight and 2Pac. According to Daz Dillinger, the reason this happened was that Sam Sneed had too many East Coast rappers in his Lady Heroin music video. Disillusioned with the direction of Death Row, artists RBX and The D.O.C. chose to leave, after which Suge Knight exercised tighter control over the rest of the roster.Dogg Food was not produced by Dr. Dre but was mixed by Dr. Dre, a further testament to Dre's dwindling involvement with his own record label. Dr. Dre also grew tired of Knight's violence within the label, although he contributed toward two tracks on 2Pac's All Eyez on Me. The rest of the tracks on the album, however, were mostly produced by Daz Dillinger and Johnny J, despite Dr. Dre being nominally titled as Executive Producer. Shakur's behavior reportedly became erratic as he continued his verbal wars with The Notorious B.I.G., Bad Boy Records, Puff Daddy, Mobb Deep, and Prodigy, including many violent confrontations with many of those rappers at some points. On March 22, 1996, due to the infighting, Dr. Dre officially left Death Row Records to found Aftermath, which provoked 2Pac to turn against Dr. Dre.
M.C. Hammer's involvement and departure
Suge Knight's relationship with MC Hammer dates back to 1988. With the success of Hammer's 1994 album, The Funky Headhunter (featuring Tha Dogg Pound), Hammer signed with Death Row in 1995, along with his close friend, 2Pac. The label did not release the album of M.C. Hammer's music (titled Too Tight), although he did release versions of some tracks on his next album. However, Hammer did record tracks with Shakur and others, most notably the song "Too Late Playa" (along with Big Daddy Kane and Danny Boy). After the death of 2Pac in 1996, MC Hammer left Death Row Records.
Tupac Shakur's murder and Suge Knight's incarceration
Main article: Murder of Tupac Shakur
Formerly a united front of artists, Death Row's roster fractured into separate camps. Daz, now head producer, worked on Snoop Dogg's second album Tha Doggfather, which featured Bad Azz and Techniec of his LBC Crew, Warren G and Nate Dogg of his group 213 and Tha Dogg Pound. 2Pac shut himself into the studio with Hurt-M-Badd and Big "D", crafting The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory - unlike All Eyez on Me, it was devoid of high-profile Death Row guest appearances, instead showcasing The Outlawz and Bad Azz. Suge Knight was now barely reachable by his staff, and employees were assaulted as punishment for not following orders.
During a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada, for a Mike Tyson boxing match, 2Pac was interviewed on the possibility of Death Row East, an East Coast branch of Death Row. It was also during this time that Alex Roberts and David Kenner had been seen at Suge Knight's Vegas Club 662, in discussion about the possibility of having Roberts' New York underworld connections help pave the way for Death Row East. Though names from Big Daddy Kane and The Wu-Tang Clan to Eric B. and K-Solo were mentioned, the label would never be formed; On September 7, 1996, Suge Knight and 2Pac were caught on surveillance camera at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas attacking gang member Orlando Anderson, who was a member of the Southside Compton Cribs street gang. Later that night, 2Pac was shot four times in a drive-by shooting in the front seat of Suge Knight's BMW 750iL waiting at a red traffic light at crossroads; en route to Knight's Las Vegas Club 662; despite living six days in critical condition, 2Pac died September 13, 1996.
Shakur's "The Don Killuminati: 7 Day Theory" was released in November 1996, just one week before Snoop Dogg's "Tha Doggfather". Both albums achieved Platinum sales. On February 28, 1997, Suge Knight was convicted of parole violation and sentenced to nine years in prison, causing Interscope to drop their distribution deal with the label. Suge Knight's control over the label diminished, as Nate Dogg was able to leave, followed by Snoop Dogg and Kurupt. After the release of her solo album, The Lady of Rage left. Daz Dillinger departed in 1999 but produced for Big C-Style, he later formed Dogg Pound Records. Kurupt returned to the label in early 2002 upon Suge Knight's release from prison on August 6, 2001.
Second generation exodus (Tha Row Records)
Maintaining artistic control from behind bars, Suge Knight launched smear campaigns against his former artists, most notably Snoop Dogg, death threats were exchanged, and Snoop Dogg responded by publicly dissing Suge Knight, leaving the label, and later releasing a diss track named "Pimp Slapp'd", critically acclaimed by music magazineComplex. The label supported itself with releases pulled from vaults—most successfully various posthumous 2Pac albums, along with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg re-releases and then-unreleased compilation records such as Suge Knight Represents: Chronic 2000. He signed new talent, including Crooked I who had been lighting up the Californian underground with his rhyming ability, particularly the Wake Up Show with Sway & King Tech. Suge Knight also signed Left Eye.
Despite bad blood, Kurupt would again sign with Suge Knight in exchange for the position of Vice President, which sparked a feud between himself and Daz Dillinger and Snoop Dogg. He began work on Against tha Grain; his verbal feud with his former partners continued from 2002 to 2005.Left Eye signed with Death Row after finishing her solo deal with Arista who released her first album Supernova in 2001. At this time, Death Row changed into Tha Row Records. Lopes joined to record a second solo album under the pseudonym N.I.N.A. (New Identity Not Applicable), while also working on TLC's new album 3D. N.I.N.A. was cancelled after her death in April 2002. The album was leaked online in 2011.
After promoting his new talent from prison, directing a campaign against his former artists and exacerbating the conflict between Daz Dillinger and Kurupt, Suge had still yet to release any albums by his new artists. After Kurupt's second departure, Against tha Grain was released; soon after, citing dissatisfaction with serving five years on the label and seeing no release, Rapper Crooked I left Death Row, eventually filing a gag order on Knight to prevent him from interfering with him finding a new deal.Petey Pablo, who had signed in 2005 and started the never-released album Same Eyez on Me, left along with rapper Tha Realest in 2006.
On April 4, 2006 both Death Row Records and Suge Knight simultaneously filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection following the appointment of a Receiver to acquire and auction off assets of both Death Row Records and Suge Knight in the civil case filed by Lydia Harris against Suge Knight. Among those listed as unsecured creditors to Death Row include the Harrises, the Internal Revenue Service ($6.9 million), Koch Records ($3.4 million), Interscope Records ($2.5 million) and a number of artists previously signed to the label. Suge Knight eventually lost control of Death Row Records and his personal assets when Chapter 11 Trustees took over both cases.
From WIDEawake acquisition to E1
WIDEawake Entertainment Group was created in 2006 by Lara Lavi.
On January 15, 2009, Death Row Records was successfully auctioned to entertainment development company WIDEawake for US$18 million. WIDEawake Entertainment made a leveraged purchase of Deathrow Records in part thanks to financing provided by New Solutions Financial Corporation. On January 25, 2009, an auction was held for everything found in Death Row's office after it filed for bankruptcy.
Both WIDEawake and New Solutions Financial were based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. New Solutions by the end of 2009 began to squeeze Lara Lavi out of WIDEawake Entertainment by restricting her ability to access funds they had lent her for Deathrow. By November 2009 Lara Lavi was removed from WIDEawake entertainment and Robert Thomson of New Solution Financial had taken over day-to-day operations. Lavi then sued her former company, Ontario-based WIDEawake Entertainment Group, New Solutions Financial Corporation and New Solutions Managing Director Robert Thompson in New York County Court on November 19, 2009. New Solutions Financial Corporation was eventually exposed as a Ponzi scheme.
Of note was the Death Row electric chair which went for US$2,500.
Since the acquisition, the company has continued to release material from its vast archives of materials acquired in the sale. Noteworthy releases include previously unreleased material from such artists as Snoop Dogg, Kurupt, Danny Boy, Crooked I, Sam Sneed, LBC Crew and O.F.T.B. Since the acquisition of the material, Death Row, under the management of WIDEawake, has made many positive steps towards improving the image of Death Row by making good on its promise to make royalty payments to many of the artists, producers, and songwriters with commercially released material under the label. On Record Store Day, April 18, 2012, the label issued a free Death Row "Record Store Day" CD sampler which included music from Petey Pablo and Danny Boy.
The Chronic Re-Lit was released on September 1, 2009. The album contained The Chronic re-mastered with seven bonus songs from the vault by Snoop Doggy Dogg, CPO, Kurupt, Jewell, plus a DVD containing music videos, a Dr. Dre interview, a Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg mini movie, and 1992 television commercials for the original The Chronic release.
Snoop Doggy Dogg – Death Row The Lost Sessions Vol 1 was released October 13, 2009 and contains 15 previously unreleased tracks with four being produced by Dr. Dre.
Death Row The Ultimate Collection was released on November 24 and was a special box set containing three audio CDs (one greatest hits disc and two discs of unreleased content), one DVD of music videos which includes the unreleased Dr. Dre music video "Puffin' On Blunts" and a limited edition Death Row T-shirt. The set boasts over 20 unreleased tracks by Snoop Doggy Dogg, Tha Dogg Pound, The Lady of Rage, Lord Autopz and Petey Pablo. During this period, there was a distribution venture between Entertainment One, WIDEawake, and Death Row.
On December 10, 2012, New Solutions Financial Corp., the Canadian company that owned WIDEawake Death Row, had gone bankrupt and sold both the label and catalog to a publicly held company. In 2013, Entertainment One purchased the rights to the Death Row catalog. The Group invested £175 million in content rights and television programmes in the year (2012: £135.8 million) and £4.2 million ($6 million) to purchase the music library assets of Death Row. Death Row had a Pop-Up event in Los Angeles on April 10, 2019.
On August 23, 2019, American toy company Hasbro announced a $4 billion purchase of eOne, making them the owners of Death Row Records. In April 2021, Hasbro and Entertainment One announced it would sell-off eOne Music to The Blackstone Group. The acquisition was completed in late June 2021, making eOne Music the sole owner of Death Row.
Death Row Records UK
In 2001, Knight decided to enter the UK market with Death Row Records operating as an independent record label in conjunction with the Ritz Music Group, a company known for its success with Irish country music artists such as Daniel O'Donnell The joint-venture signed British R&B singer Mark Morrison to a five-year deal with Death Row Records UK, with a single called "Thank God It's Friday" and an album called Innocent Man scheduled for a 2002 release. However, the single did not chart in the UK and the album ended up being released by footballer Kevin Campbell's record label 2 Wikid, before being re-issued in 2006 by Mona Records.
Main article: Death Row Records discography
|1992||Dr. Dre – The Chronic|
|1993||Snoop Doggy Dogg – Doggystyle|
|1994||Above the Rim|
|Murder Was The Case|
|1995||Tha Dogg Pound – Dogg Food|
|1996||2Pac – All Eyez On Me|
|Makaveli (2Pac) – The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory|
|Snoop Doggy Dogg – Tha Doggfather|
|Death Row Greatest Hits|
|Christmas on Death Row|
|1997||Nate Dogg – G-Funk Classics, Vol. 1|
|Lady of Rage – Necessary Roughness|
|1998||Daz Dillinger – Retaliation, Revenge and Get Back|
|Michel'le – Hung Jury|
|2Pac – Greatest Hits|
|1999||Suge Knight Represents: Chronic 2000|
|2Pac and Outlawz – Still I Rise|
|2000||Too Gangsta for Radio|
|Snoop Doggy Dogg – Dead Man Walkin'|
|2001||2Pac – Until the End of Time|
|Tha Dogg Pound – 2002|
|Snoop Doggy Dogg – Death Row's Snoop Doggy Dogg Greatest Hits|
|2002||2Pac – Better Dayz|
|2Pac – Nu-Mixx Klazzics|
|2005||The Very Best of Death Row|
|Kurupt – Against the Grain|
|2006||15 Years on Death Row|
|2007||2Pac – Nu-Mixx Klazzics Vol. 2|
|2Pac – Best of 2Pac, Part 1: Thug|
|2Pac – Best of 2Pac, Part 2: Life|
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Staff death row
The Enforcers of the Death Penalty
How does capital punishment affect the prison guards and wardens tasked with carrying it out?
By Tolly Moseley
It was the late 70s, and Kathleen Dennehy was working at Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Concord, the oldest running men's prison in the state. Opened in 1878, it has a vault filled with corrections records dating back to the turn of the century, both from the now-demolished state prison that preceded it and from MCI-Concord's prison cemetery. The weathered papers include death certificates, sentencing documents, and other records, including those of Sacco and Vanzetti, the famous 20s anarchists ostensibly sentenced to death for first-degree murder, but whose larger crime was being Italian.
But one particular document—from the early 1900s, she estimates—caught her eye. "The wording was so unusual," says Dennehy, who now works for the National Council on Crime & Delinquency. "It was for a prisoner who had died in custody at the old state prison, and next to 'cause of death', it read 'judicial homicide.'"
It's a telling turn of phrase. Sometime during the 20th century—historical sources disagree as to the exact year—the term "capital punishment" entered American legal parlance, and with it a sanitized rebranding of state-sanctioned killings. Dennehy had never heard the term “judicial homicide” used before encountering it in the vault, nor—during her 30-year career in corrections that followed—did she hear it used again. Taken separately, the words "capital" and "punishment" are both qualifiers for the condemned, but "judicial homicide" points to someone else entirely. It's the guard standing at the door to the death chamber, the strap-down team member holding the prisoner's ankles, and the physician inserting the needle. It's the people who walk into the death chamber and walk back out, and sure, their task is judicial. But just because we call it "punishment" now, does it affect their psyches any less than when we called it "homicide”?"At job interviews we don't ask things like, 'So how do you feel about wheeling away a body?' But maybe we should."
Unlike other professions that involve death, such as the police force or the military, few corrections officers enter the field with the expectation that they'll eventually have to kill somebody. On the contrary, many view themselves as protectors.
"We are caretakers for a population of people who instantly go out of sight, out of mind for the general public," says Jennie Lancaster, a retired prison warden with the North Carolina Department of Corrections. In 1984, she oversaw the execution of Velma Barfield, the first woman in 35 years to be executed in the United States and the first to die of lethal injection.
"At job interviews we don't ask things like, 'So how do you feel about wheeling away a body?'" Lancaster says. "But maybe we should. It's not a role many of us picture ourselves playing."
And why would they? When it comes to the death penalty, much media attention has been paid to families of the victims and the condemned. Not so with corrections officers. It takes stories of executions gone wrong, such as Clayton Lockett's heart attack after a failed lethal injection in Oklahoma last April, or Joseph R. Wood III's injection of 15 times greater than the standard dosage, to shift the lens. Then, we wonder: What must it have been like to be in that room? To watch a person's body convulse, rather than calmly shut down? What is it like to wait two hours and 600 gasps of air for a man to die?
Following the media circus around Velma Barfield's execution, Lancaster was asked to appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show for a panel on capital punishment in 1988. This was the same year that Congress reinstated the federal death penalty, with then-president Reagan as a vocal supporter (though it should be noted that the Supreme Court put capital punishment back into effect several years earlier in 1976, after a four-year moratorium). On the episode, Lancaster coined the phrase "silent actors" to describe the corrections officers who have to physically mete out executions, and whose names are protected from the press.
"There is a code of silence around execution teams, and it's used to protect people who are involved in them," says Lancaster, who was one of the first wardens to bring public awareness to corrections job stress. Still, she acknowledges that the flip side of protection is isolation, and that execution teams have few people to talk about their experiences with. "It's not necessarily something you go and bring up in church," she sighs with a North Carolinian drawl.
So how do you cope with that kind of job stress? In the American legal system, we burden a small handful of people with what is arguably the hardest part of corrections: There are only 38 execution chambers in the country, five of which—in New Hampshire, Kansas, Nebraska, California, and New York—are never used. When almost nobody can relate to your job, is it easier to quell your feelings about executions than express them?
A 2005 study published in Law and Human Behavior titled "The Role of Moral Disengagement in the Execution Process" sought to answer that question. Conducted by then-Stanford psychology student Michael Osofsky, social cognitive theory pioneer Albert Bandura, and Stanford prison experimenter/psychologist Philip Zimbardo, the five-year study aimed to pinpoint the psychological strategies officers use to repeatedly perform, and cope with, executions.
"The core thesis is that individuals must morally disengage in order to perform actions and behaviors that run opposite and are counter to individual values and personal moral standards," Osofsky says. "Capital punishment is a real-world example of this type of moral dilemma where everyday people are forced to perform a legal and state-sanctioned action of ending the life of another human being, which poses an inherent moral conflict to human values."
To develop his moral disengagement metric, Osofsky studied eight behaviors: moral justification, the use of euphemistic language, advantageous comparison (for example, "the execution prevented him from killing many more people"), displacement of responsibility, diffusion of responsibility, distortion of consequences (i.e. minimizing the execution process: "lethal injection is humane as the inmate has no pain"), attribution of blame, and dehumanization of the prisoner. During his interviews with execution teams and uninvolved correctional officers, he used the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS-1) Life Events Checklist and the Beck Depression Inventory, two tools psychologists use to measure trauma and depression.
One unsurprising aspect of the research was that nearly all corrections officers, whether involved or uninvolved with the execution process, rated high on the CAPS-1 Life Event Checklist, meaning that they had experienced and witnessed some pretty extreme events. But interestingly, there were almost no incidences of depression and scant evidence of PTSD among the wardens or executioners, even for those who had participated in 20 or more executions. Why?
Perhaps because moral disengagement does a good job of protecting the psyche. In fact, Osofsky made another striking discovery: an inverse relationship between levels of moral disengagement and how close to death each team member was. In other words: Carry out your execution day task in the next room (sitting with the victim's family, for example), and your moral disengagement stays low; touch the condemned while they die, and your moral disengagement soars. This is, of course, keeping in mind that it's incredibly difficult to quantify these types of psychological effects: Everyone processes death in their own unique way, which is why Osofsky's study makes ample use of storytelling and interviews. A quote from his research, this one from a death-chamber door guard at Louisiana's Angola State Prison, aptly illustrates the moral disengagement/proximity-to-death pattern: “After it is over, you get to thinking about him," the guard said. "You try to block it out, but you can’t—his death is there.”"I always ask myself, would I have agreed to participate in executions if I knew then what I do now?"
It's a dimension of capital punishment that is rarely discussed. We frequently debate whether it's moral to make human beings die for their actions. But should we also be asking how moral it is to appoint other human beings to be their killers?
It’s not a question with any neat answers. But no matter what retired corrections officials think about the morality or justness of capital punishment, many seem to have one thing in common: When asked to join executions, they were hesitant to take the job.
"I always ask myself, would I have agreed to participate in executions if I knew then what I do now?" says Steve J. Martin, who began his corrections career on death row at age 23 at Ellis Unit, part of Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville. After leaving to earn his law degree, he eventually returned as executive assistant to the director and general counsel of the Texas Department of Corrections. During that time, he was asked to sit inside the death chamber while each execution happened, keeping the phone line open in case the Attorney General called at the last minute with a reprieve.
"I wasn’t conflicted at that point about it, and I agreed without giving it a lot of thought," Martin says. "After each execution, I signed the death warrant too, until the thought occurred to me that I didn't really know much about these men. So I started pulling the file each afternoon before someone was assigned to die and reviewing it, just to get to know them better."
Things changed after the 1985 execution of Doyle Skillern, a co-defendant in a homicide case that gave Martin pause. As a lawyer, he knew that murder co-defendants often avoid the death penalty—but Martin had gotten to know Skillern, too, as part of an experiment in the 80s in which Ellis’ death row inmates were mixed into the unit's general prison population, where they interacted with prison staff as well as fellow inmates. Though the experiment was eventually cut short, it afforded Martin and Skillern some one-on-one conversations—including one in Skillern’s cell on the day of his execution, when he looked Martin and his boss, the Director of the Texas Department of Corrections, in the eye and thanked them before being taken away.
"The whole thing made me step out of my role professionally, and touched me on an emotional level," Martin says. "I began to realize that this is how these things happen, executions. We do these things that personally you would normally never be involved in, because they're sanctioned by the government. And then we start walking through them in a mechanical fashion. We become detached. We lose our humanity."Should we also be asking how moral it is to appoint other human beings to be killers?
A few years later, there would be another corrections officer at Huntsville who was equally hesitant to join executions. Like Martin, Jim Willett spent his youth working in corrections, starting at the Huntsville penitentiary as a college student in 1971. As is the case with reliable wardens, Willett was tapped often for promotions, until he was made an offer that he initially turned down: the position of head warden, where he'd be overseeing executions.
"I had some personal feelings about it," Willett says. "But I made the mistake of telling my supervisor that if they couldn't find anyone else, I would do it."
Willett ended up becoming Huntsville's head warden during Texas' three busiest years for executions, 1998-2001, when he oversaw a staggering 89 of them. "I'd tell the inmate to lie down on the gurney, and I'd stand by his right shoulder, with the chaplain at his right foot. And there is some emotion that runs through all of that, through the whole experience," say Willett. "You'd have to be crazy for it not to be. I don't know how anybody could totally disassociate."
Still, one gets the sense Willett would score low on the Beck Depression Inventory, just like the prison workers in Osofsky's study. When asked if those 89 executions affect him at all today, his response is either a stunning testament to the durability of the human spirit or a haunting confirmation of Osofsky's research. Or both.
"To be honest with you," Willett says, "They rarely cross my mind. They rarely cross my mind at all."
Staff & Board of Directors
Board of Directors
The Center’s Board of Directors includes many renowned experts on the subject of capital punishment:
Anthony G. Amsterdam (Board member emeritus), Edward Weinfeld Professor of Law at New York University Law School. Mr. Amsterdam argued Furman v. Georgia before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972, resulting in the overturning of the death penalty and the sparing of more than 600 lives.
David J. Bradford, Partner at Jenner and Block in Chicago. Mr. Bradford serves as Counsel to the MacArthur Justice Center. He has lectured on the death penalty at the University of Chicago Law School, been active in death penalty litigation, and spoken extensively on this subject. Mr. Bradford was recently elected a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers. He is a former President of DPIC’s Board.
David Bruck, Director of the Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse at Washington & Lee School of Law and Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel. One of the country’s leading experts on the death penalty, Mr. Bruck has argued seven death penalty cases in the U.S. Supreme Court. Among other high profile cases, Mr. Bruck represented Susan Smith in her capital trial in South Carolina.
Deborah W. Denno, the Arthur A. McGivney Professor of Law at Fordham University School of Law. Ms. Denno is a nationally recognized expert on many aspects of the death penalty and criminal justice. The National Law Journal selected her as one of its “Fifty Most Influential Women Lawyers in America” in 2007.
James W. Ellis, the Henry Weihofen Professor of Law at the Univeristy of New Mexico School of Law. Mr. Ellis argued for the petitioner in Atkins v. Virginia, the case that resulted in the exemption of the intellectually disabled from the death penalty. He was chosen as the “Lawyer of the Year” by the National Law Journal in 2002.
Phoebe C. Ellsworth, Frank Murphy Distinguished University Professor of Psychology and Professor of Law at the University of Michigan. A former professor at Yale and Stanford, Ms. Ellsworth specializes in law and psychology. She is a research expert on emotions and has written extensively on Americans’ views on the death penalty. She is Vice President of DPIC’s Board.
Brandon L. Garrett is the L. Neil Williams, Jr. Professor of Law at Duke Law School. From 2005-2018, he taught at the University of Virginia School of Law, where he was the Justice Thurgood Marshall Distinguished Professor of Law. Professor Garrett’s books include Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong, published in 2011, examining the cases of the first 250 people to be exonerated by DNA testing, and End of Its Rope: How Killing the Death Penalty Can Revive Criminal Justice, published in 2017, examining the statistics and the significance behind the decline in American death sentencing.
George Kendall, Director, Public Service Initiative at Squire Patton Boggs in New York. He formerly served as Death Penalty Counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Mr. Kendall has defended death penalty defendants nationwide, including in the U.S. Supreme Court, particularly where racism has been a factor in the prosecution. He is a nationally recognized spokesman on the injustices of the death penalty. Mr. Kendall is President of DPIC’s Board.
John R. MacArthur, President and Publisher of Harper’s Magazine. Mr. MacArthur is the inspiration behind the Death Penalty Information Center. He has written on a wide variety of social justice issues.
Mark Olive is one of the nation’s leading experts and trainers in capital punishment law and habeas corpus practice. He is the former director of death penalty resource centers in Florida, Georgia, and Virginia, and is now in private practice. He has litigated capital cases in state and federal courts throughout the country, including in the U.S. Supreme Court, where he most recently argued Wilson v. Sellers.
Diann Rust-Tierney, Executive Director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. Ms. Rust-Tierney is a nationally recognized spokeswoman on capital punishment and has led a number of legislative efforts to reform the nation’s capital punishment laws.
Sia Sanneh is a Senior Attorney at the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, where she represents people on death row and other indigent defendants who have been wrongly convicted, unfairly sentenced, or denied effective representation. Sia also helps develop and manage EJI’s racial justice projects. She has taught courses on capital punishment and public interest law at Yale Law School since 2011.
Cassandra Stubbs, Director of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project. Ms. Stubbs is a leading advocate against the death penalty. She has represented capital defendants in trial, post-conviction, and appeals across the country. Her clients include Levon Jones, a North Carolina former death row inmate exonerated in 2007, and Marcus Robinson, the first defendant to win a life sentence based on a showing of statewide racial bias in jury selection.
Ronald J. Tabak, Special Counsel and pro bono coordinator at the Law Firm of Skadden, Arps in New York City. Mr. Tabak is a veteran of capital litigation, and has been instrumental in drafting American Bar Association positions on capital punishment. He currently serves as co-chair of the Death Penalty Committee of the ABA’s Section of Civil Rights & Social Justice.
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