Thursday, June 11, 2009

Two sides of a story: Learning about the death penalty

Reverend Carroll Pickett, a prison chaplain who presided over several executions, reflects on his role in and thoughts on the Death Penalty. Pickett is profiled in the film At the Death House Door, which forced me reexamine longheld views on the issue (photo source: NY Sun).

I always make a case for education being a lifelong commitment. For me, education doesn't stop with a diploma of whatever sort from an institution; it is only the beginning. Issues and people are living things; and as long as they are living, they are changing; and that means that you need to constantly read up and educate yourself about an issue.

I was reminded again of this recently, when I watched a documentary about the death penalty. I have always believed in the death penalty. If you killed, then you deserved to be killed in return; the point being that it was only fair, and would act as a deterrent to others. Then I watched a documentary called At the Death House Door, that profiles the life of a prison chaplain who has had to preside over executions. It REALLY forced me to rethink my views on the death penalty.

Father Carroll Pickett is a man of great faith, who had personally witnessed friends being murdered, comforted their families during their funerals, and later had to pray with the man who had murdered them. He is a person who had believed strongly in the death penalty, but after spending years as a prison chaplain and presiding over several executions, has experienced a change of heart. It is a poignant, humane, and moving portrait of a man of great strength and faith, pushed to his limits; then finding peace and strength in his family.

Regardless of which side you stand on, it is a fascinating look inside the life of an ordinary man with an extraordinary role. Here's a preview (not a huge fan of the trailer...the film is FAR more softly and beautifully done than the trailer indicates):

On this subject, also check out one of the chapters in Atul Gawande's book Better, that profiles the ethical dilemmas of medical practitioners who preside over executions. Another write up that really forces you to think deeper about this issue.

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