It really doesn’t matter what you did. By this point, none of that really matters. Once these gears start turning there is no stopping them.
Nobody has to think about anything — and that’s intentional. There is a big book, and at each stage of the operation those tasked with its execution need only turn to the appropriate page and do what it says. It helps absolve those who must undertake this macabre operation of any undue moral responsibility. They were just doing what the book directed.
Twenty-four hours in advance, the prison SWAT team reports to your cell to move you to the observation area. You can walk along with them peacefully or not, but they will move you.
The observation cell has entire wall constructed of nothing but bars. It’s here where you take your last meal. The prison makes every reasonable effort to accommodate this request. Some poor guy sits and stares at you for the full 24 hours. This is to keep you from killing yourself. The government will not be denied.
A few hours before the big event, the SWAT team shows up again, this time to move you from the holding area to the place of execution. There is a series of stone steps leading down to the death room. As I walked down these steps, I couldn’t help but imagine what it might feel like to do this for real.
Two walls are one-way glass, one window is for government witnesses and the other is for the victim’s family. The inside is covered with acoustic soundproofing. The ceiling is formed from those banal institutional ceiling tiles, but more on those in a minute.
Once in the room, the SWAT team ensures you stretch out peaceably on the table. There are extensions for your arms. The table looks like a cross, and the thing is festooned with straps. Your arms, legs, torso and head are securely affixed. There can be a little movement but not much. I assumed the position. This may seem unduly dark, but I wanted to know how it might feel.
Paramedics then start a large bore IV in each arm. Physicians are intentionally excluded from the process as this would be such an egregious violation of the Hippocratic Oath. The IV lines run through a pair of innocuous-looking holes in the wall. And then you wait.
There is a bank of five identical telephones with sequential phone numbers standing side by side. Should there be a last-minute stay there is no way word won’t get there in time. On the other side of the wall are two little closets. Inside each closet is a handcrafted wooden contraption to hold the mystical elixir affixed to each IV line. One is normal saline, the other is something else. On the wall is also a pair of lights, one red and the other green.
Meanwhile, the subject of this exercise stares at those accursed ceiling tiles. Think back to the last time you were enduring some ghastly dental procedure or other. It’s like that, but much worse.
There is a little microphone hanging down from the ceiling; a tiny corner of one tile carved away to accommodate its cord. At the appointed time the warden enters the room and reads the charges against you. The condemned then has three minutes to say anything they want. The warden actually has a stopwatch. At the end of three minutes the warden turns and leaves whether you are still speaking or not. When you die, you die alone.
Gravity is ultimately the engine behind this enterprise. The IV bottles sit inverted in their holders. The executioners enter their closets and wait for the lights. When the lights change, they each flip the bottles upright and leave, never seeing the object of the exercise. This is by design.
As I lay on that hard table, technically padded but only just, I was so viscerally struck by those ceiling tiles. They’re the last thing one sees. It doesn’t matter what a heartless bloodthirsty monster you might be, the process of bringing you to this point will invariably break you. You have absolutely no control over anything.
Our actions have consequences, and this is a really big one. The ponderous machinations of the legal system tend to separate cause and effect substantially in situations of such exceptional gravitas. However, Lady Justice is a cold-hearted lass. She ultimately extracts her due.