Fourteen Days In May. A title I came across while watching TV when I was just 16 years old. Twenty three years on, those four words can still transport me to a horrifying realization - the first awakening to the reality of capital punishment.
It seems obvious, doesn’t it? The death penalty is where we as human beings “punish” other human beings for the most atrocious crimes. It goes on all around the world and yet is so easy to ignore. After all, it’s not our world, it’ll never happen to us.
I’m sure it wasn’t even on my radar until that fateful evening in 1987 when I watched the TV cameras enter into this unknown world. They followed a man on Death Row in the US who was nearing his execution date. It was that last two weeks of his life. I can’t even recall all the details but the man who was representing him, and literally fighting for his life, I’ll always remember. He was an English guy, softly spoken, and full of such integrity and determination to do what was right for this man. His name was Clive Stafford Smith.
The man he represented, Edward Earl Johnson, was also quietly spoken, intelligent with a shy smile and a calmness that made even his guards uneasy. As the story unfolded and the cameras followed him as he took his last meal, made his last request, joined his amazingly loving, supportive family for the last time (they sang ‘Always’ to him just as he left - what else could they do?), finally Clive and the cameras had to say goodbye. It seemed so unreal that this man, who knew exactly what was about to happen, had so much dignity. And it absolutely tore me apart that humans could do this to another human … and there seemed to be nothing anyone could do about it.
I was not politically motivated at that time, I was just moved to the core by my human response. Since then, I have come to realize the facts about the death penalty. I always come back to the question, “How does this fit into our humanity, how does it make us better people and a better world?”. And statistics show us that the death penalty is no deterrent for the people that commit these crimes (let alone the question of their mental health, and should we be treating mentally-ill people in this way).
After he had been put to death, Clive Stafford Smith announced to the press that evidence had come forward that conclusively proved that Edward Earl Johnson was innocent and had been framed. He could not have been responsible for the crime for which he was killed by the state.
Clive Stafford Smith now works as the legal director of Reprieve, a British charity that is opposed to the death penalty.
You can see Fourteen Days in May for yourself at Veoh.com - to watch the whole thing, you have to download their video player (free). Traci and I welcome your comments.