Capital punishment is not a theoretical concept for me. I have murdered five human beings for a state.
At the time of these deaths, I was director of the Georgia Department of Corrections. The executions were carried out in the same maximum security prison where I had previously served as warden.
As a result of these experiences, I became a strong opponent of capital punishment. I am against the death penalty because:
■ It does not act as a deterrent.
■ It is costly (for example, California has spent more than $5 billion for 17 executions).
■ It is not applied to the most egregious cases.
■ The criminal justice system that administers it is extremely imperfect; over the past decade, nearly 150 Death Row inmates have been exonerated.
■ It is illogical for the state to teach citizens not to kill by killing.
The final reason for my opposition is a particularly personal one — the heavy toll capital punishment exacts from the individuals who have to carry out the sanction. Corrections officials are expected to commit the most premeditated murder imaginable. You follow a policy book and even have rehearsals.
I have been told by a Kentucky prosecutor that I obviously wasn't suited to be a director of corrections if applying the death penalty affected me adversely. But that statement begs the question: How does an individual prepare him or herself to become a serial killer? Only an individual without a conscience is equipped to become an executioner. Is that what society wants?
Capital punishment forces the person who has to carry it out to fall below the base humanity level of even the individual he is executing.
I know two executioners who have committed suicide and several who are completely dysfunctional due to drugs, alcohol or suicidal depression. I do not know one who has not experienced a negative impact.
Kentucky should join the rest of the civilized world (18 states, Europe and Canada) in banning executions. Even Russia has a moratorium on capital punishment.
Instead, our state is in sync with Texas, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia and Third World nations.
Life without parole is a much more appropriate sentence and considerably less expensive — at a minimum, one-third of the cost — than capital trials, maintaining a Death Row and 20 years of appeals.
The only reason for capital punishment that does not act as a deterrent is revenge. But the Chinese proverb about revenge is true for those who have to murder a human being for a state: "Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves" — one for the target and the other for the avenger.
I once wrote an article for Newsweek entitled, "I don't remember their names, but I see their faces in my nightmares." I dug my grave, as the state's avenger, and now I am condemned to live in it. I shudder to think that corrections commissioners in Kentucky and other states are condemned to the same fate.