Posted by: smstrouse | September 24, 2011

Aftermath of an Execution; Our National PTSD

“You’re killing somebody, and there’s no denying that.”

As I listened to coverage of the execution last week of Troy Davis in Georgia, I was taken by the remarks of Allen Ault, who was interviewed on the Rachel Maddow Show. Ault is the retired Director of the Georgia Department of Corrections and former Warden of the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, GA.

One might expect such a person, steeped in the culture of crime and punishment, to be in favor of the death penalty. But Ault and five other corrections officials — former state directors of corrections and wardens from Ohio, Florida, California and Georgia —  came at the issue from an angle that I had  not seen addressed before:  the effects on corrections staff who are required to carry out executions.

It may have been addressed previously, but this time it really caught my attention. So I googled the letter that Ault and his colleagues wrote to the governor of Georgia and the State Board of Pardons and Paroles, in which they warn of the “awful lifelong repercussions” of directly participating in the state-sanctioned killing of a fellow human being.”

No bleeding heart liberals, these (not that there’s anything wrong with that, in my opinion), but corrections officials who have a unique perspective of having witnessed executions up close and knowing first-hand the long-term effects of what Ault called ‘premeditated murder.”

The letter is most poignant in light of the Troy Davis case:
“While most of the prisoners whose executions we participated in accepted responsibility for the crimes for which they were punished, some of us have also executed prisoners who maintained their innocence until the end.  It is those cases that are most haunting to an executioner.”

“You’re killing somebody, and there’s no denying that.”

I imagine that there are plenty of corrections employees who have no qualms about carrying out executions. Still – should we be asking them to do it, paying them to do it? Because, in the final analysis, we are all the executioners; we all bear the moral burden for intentionally taking a human life. And there are spiritual consequences to doing so. I’m not talking about burning in the fires of hell, but I agree with Allen Ault that there are lifelong repercussions. These can vary from person to person, but must be addressed as a spiritual wound – not unlike the PTSD of some military veterans.

There’s been a lot of media coverage of Troy Davis’ execution and the others carried out in Texas and Alabama. It will soon die down, I know, to be replaced by the next big story. But if we are honest with ourselves as a nation, we will admit to our collective PTSD. We are diminished by our actions. We are spiritually wounded. And we should pay attention to the likes of Allen Ault, who knows whereof he speaks.

“You’re killing somebody, and there’s no denying that.”

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