To The Condemned:
Rage All The Way To The Ugly End
Comment, Philadelphia Inquirer, 7-17-00
By Dave Bulley
You, quiet walkers and dreamers of a noble death, who make whatever peace you can and then walk unassisted toward the chair or strap-laden table that will end your life. You, who wish your last actions on earth to be courageous, accepting your fate. You have been lied to.
Do you think that people will remember your courage? They will not. The only witnesses to your execution are those who wish you dead. Those who are relieved at your passivity and the ease with which you died. The walk you think noble, in reality, means a slight lessening of guilt for
those who would kill you.
The only noble death is that of old age or accident. Your death, strapped to a table and put away like a dog too homely to find a home, is an obscenity.
The obscenity is compounded by your complicity. A person who strides toward death dealt by others is an accomplice in that death. Stop.
Dylan Thomas wrote to his dying father, "Do not go gentle into that good night." In the same poem he wrote, "Rage, rage against the dying of the light." I call such rage a noble death.
Ancient Celtic warriors thought the best way to die was face down, charging toward the enemy. Vikings, too, thought dying was best done fighting for life.
Here is how to be remembered. Here is the statement worth making on your last day of breath: "I have learned enough while in this prison to realize that killing people is wrong. I will not be a part of my own death."
When the guards come, and the priest, all somber eyes and grim, look hard into their eyes. Look hard enough to find either the pain, guilt at what they do, or the joy because they are murderers too cowardly for law-breaking. Look deep enough to find which and challenge it. Then fight.
Kick and scream, man! Punch, and gouge, and bite, and fight and fight more.
Death is no quiet lover for open-armed acceptance. Death is the enemy, and those who seek to help you find it are not your friends. Fight them.
Fight them hard enough so that the journalist, luckless witness to your execution, will notice the struggle and be sick to her stomach. Make her feel compelled to write how you struggled for life and the state took it from you. Make the doctor at his needle go home and puke. Make the warden resign, horrified at what he's done. Make yourself, at that last moment, know you did every useless thing you could attempting to prolong your own life.
Part of the reason we think it is OK in this country to kill prisoners is that the prisoners don't seem to mind. We, the public, hear only how the condemned ate the last meal, joking with family, saying sweet good-byes. We hear of the walk, unassisted and quiet. We hear the considered last words or stony silence, and then we think, "Thank God that is over. Thank God they didn't fight. Thank God it was easy."
You, the murderer on death row, you know - because you have dealt it out - far better than we that death is ugly. Help us, the "We the People," see the ugliness with our own eyes. Fight hard enough for your own life that we might see the value in it. If you do - if you all do - then we might
repeal the sick and twisted law that allows executions. If this happens, if people get sick at your struggle, and change the law as a result, then your death truly will be noble. It will have helped save the lives of others.