Dying to see Death Row

A friend once asked me, upon learning that I was taking a class in Death and Dying, whether or not we ever did any “off-the-wall” things in the class. Not passing up the opportunity to show off my sardonic prowess, I responded, “The whole class is pretty much off the wall.”Thursday, the Philosophy 471 class did something that was even more “off-the-wall” than the class itself. We visited the Walls Unit, which is located two blocks away from the university.When we arrived, an officer took our driver’s licenses, checked us in and we were underway. The first part of the unit we visited was the room where prisoners are allowed to talk to people from the outside world. There are two special cells in this room where our guide said they put people who are extremely violent or gang members.From there, we walked to the death chamber. The guard showed us how the condemned are transported from outside the unit into the cell where they will be held until the moment of execution.As we walked into the building, there were two doors to the right. One door is where the family of the victim and the family of the condemned are taken to witness the execution. Another door is where the inmate is led into the death chamber.The guard took us to the left, where there was a row of cells. The inmate is usually kept at the end of this row before his execution so he will not hear those entering and leaving. Before the execution, the inmate is questioned as to his state of mind, and the guards use this to determine whether or not the inmate will put up a fight when his time comes.The cell closest to the door leading into the death chamber is black, and our guide told us that is the cell where those likely to resist are kept. The guide said it is a lot easier to carry a struggling prisoner from that door into the death chamber than from the cell at the end of the hall.From there, we were led into the death chamber. As you walk, you notice that the walls are painted a neutral grayish-green and in the center is the bed where the condemned is strapped down. The guard explained the process of execution to us and pointed out the windows to the rooms for the victim’s family and the inmate’s family. Our guide pointed out that the two families are kept segregated for precautions of arousing tension between them.Our guide then led us into the “IV Room.” In this room, the guide pointed out to us what is done. We were allowed to see the equipment as the process of how the team mixes the drugs and administers them to the condemned was explained. On the wall there was the infamous phone with a red light at the top, where the governor calls to give the go ahead to proceed with the execution.After our detailed view of the death chamber, we went to the original unit where Thomas Hardin was once kept. We were showed the solitary confinement cell where our guide informed us that at one time there were 15 prisoners kept as punishment.From there we were lead to the yard and the guide showed us the education building. You could see the bullet holes in the stairs leading to the education building from the hostage situation in 1975.All around, our tour was very in-depth and very informative. It helped bring a further understanding of the execution process in the state of Texas.Note: the name of the guard was left out to protect his/her identity.

Leave a Reply