Whether or not someone is for or against capital punishment, listening to the 2000 audio documentary Witness to an Execution is a harrowing experience. The documentary focuses on the stories of the women and men involved with the execution of death row inmates at the Walls unit in Huntsville, Texas. What is particularly emotionally grim is the minute-by-minute description of carrying out an execution by lethal injection. The listener is not the only one distressed by the description.
One corrections officer, named Fred Allen, who was part of the tie-down team, talks about his own mental breakdown attributed to taking part in too many executions, 130 by his count.
I was just working in the shop and all of a sudden something just triggered in me and I started shakingà.I just thought about that execution that I did two days agoàand what it was, was something triggered within and àall these executions all of a sudden all sprung forward (Witness to an Execution Transcript.
Warden Jim Willett, who has overseen about 75 executions, remarks that he worries about his staff. He says that he is retiring soon and the executions are something he won't miss. "There are times when I'm standing there, watching those fluids start to flow, and wonder whether what we're doing here is right. It's something I'll be thinking about for the rest of my life" (Witness to an Execution Transcript).
These remarks come at the conclusion of the documentary, leaving the listener with a variety of feelings and ideas to consider. Overall, the documentary does not take sides in the death penalty debate; it just presents and facts and reactions of those taking part in the process, and this makes it more thought-provoking.
The timeframe of Witness to an Execution is an important element. The documentary lasts nearly 23 minutes, two minutes shorter than an actual execution. The purpose of the documentary appears to be to involve the listener in the ...