Warden Donahue leaned back in his chair in the prison office and stared at the ceiling. His deputy, John Sanders, studied him with concern.
“It’s never easy, Sir,” Sanders said.
Donahue nodded, said nothing.
“If you would rather I handle this, I would be happy to fill in.”
Donahue picked up a pen from the desk.
“No. No thanks John. It’s a part of my job and I accept it.”
Donahue held up his hand. “I’ve been the warden here for eighteen years. In that time there have been eleven executions. Twelve if you count the stay that the governor granted to Hiram.”
“It is without question the hardest part of my job. But I’m not alone. You are there. Three prison guards are there. The priest or pastor. The executioner. The doctor.”
He sighed. “Nobody wants to be there.”
“No, of course not.” Sanders said. “But this isn’t the same.”
The warden shook his head. “They’re always the same.”
“But sir, you certainly…”
The warden sighed. “I know what has to be done and I know that I am expected to do it.” He tapped the pen on the desk and stared out of the barred window that overlooked the exercise yard.
“How long have you been here, John?”
“Five years, sir.”
“So you have witnessed two, or is it three executions?”
“This will be my third.”
Donahue grunted. “It takes time to deal with it so that it doesn’t affect you personally. For instance, I dehumanize them. They have no personality. No feelings. No reason to live. They are merely flesh and bones. Nothing more.”
“Is that possible?”
“Not entirely. But it helps. I never get too close to the condemned; never visit death row unless it is unavoidable. I leave that to the guards. I read their reports, familiarize myself with their crimes and their potential dates of execution. Beyond that I give them no thought.”
“But surely, sir,” Sanders started. Again Donahue silenced him with an upraised hand.
“It hasn’t been easy. But as incredible as it sounds, I have dealt with this in the same manner and with the same results.” He sighed deeply. “Almost the same.”
Sanders shook his head. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do that. Certainly under these conditions…” he pointed to the dossier on the warden’s desk.
Warden Donahue gave a humorless smile.
“Maybe I’ve been in this business too long. It has taken away part of my humanity.” He nodded toward the prison. “Maybe I’m no better than they are.”
“I…I didn’t mean to…”
“Of course not. I understand. If I were in your shoes I’d feel the same way.”
He stood up, stretched and reached for his jacket on the rack by the door.
“It’s time,” he said.
Sanders followed him out the door and down the hall. At the steel locked door, guarded by a burly guard with a rifle, they paused. With a nod of recognition the guard took a key from his key ring and opened the door. Waiting for them on the other side were two more armed guards who fell into step behind them.
The infamous door to Death Row loomed before them. The guard unlocked it and they stepped through. Donahue started, then paused and put a hand to his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. Sanders watched with concern.
“Are you all right?”
“Please allow me to…”
Donahue held up his hand. “Thank you, no. I have to do this.”
Slowly, with measured steps, the four men walked the long empty corridor leading to the cell. The prison chaplain stood at the entrance of the cell, his body shielding the other occupant from view. Donahue paused, took a deep breath, and stepped forward, eyes focused on the condemned man. The chaplain stood aside while the guard unlocked the cell door.
“It’s time, Harrington,” Donahue said.
Harrington glared at the warden. “You’re lovin’ this, ain’t you?”
Donahue looked away, motioned to the guards.
He stood back while the guards escorted the prisoner from his cell, followed by the chaplain. Donahue and Sanders fell into step behind them. He looked at the prisoner’s back as they walked. Finding the image too painful, he stared at the floor.
Sanders was right, he thought. This wasn’t the same, couldn’t possibly be the same as the others. And, contrary to what Harrington said, he was not “loving it.” Executions are painful to watch.
Even executions of your wife’s killer.
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