...true stories intended to touch your heart and change your life...
Where did you spend your day? I spent mine on death row.
A friend invited me to a movie shoot at a vacant prison in Nashville. While waiting for props to be set, he took me on tour down a corridor of 20 vacant cells.
Paint hung in massive flakes from ceilings and walls. Asbestos covered pipes. Pigeon roosts dripped with droppings. Graffiti…sketches of demons, swastikas, crosses, roses, homemade calendar systems, dates, poetry and prose remained. Walls…some bare, some dark, some covered with nothing, others with patterns, one with dried feces. Doors…metal, short and narrow hung rusting and heavy on stiff creaking hinges. Gun turrets, guard shacks, bars, metal, concrete, razor wire, electrical fencing, gates and massive locks spoke both of out-of-control men and the expense and energy invested in keeping them at a safe distance from the general public and one another.
It doesn’t take much to imagine the walls' echo of spoken graffiti. Vulgarity the norm. An angry place filled with angry words. A hate filled existence overflowing with hatred for authority, for the ones incarcerated along side, for self, for life and living. A loud place. A sleepless, restless, tormented place. Never silent. Speaking even now, though vacant.
The day’s filming was on death row. The cell numbers counted down 5,4,3,2,1. The last cell shared one wall with the execution chamber. One hundred twenty eight men had been executed in a chair which once sat atop a small raised cement slab in the center of that 10’x10’ room. The ceiling was low. A large vent hood -- its function obvious-- hung directly above the chair. To one side a metal door opened to a smaller chamber housing a large electrical control box, a switch and a dial. Gauges along the front were labeled, “Chest”, “Arms”, “Legs”, “Head”.
I walked along the cells and thought, “What a way to spend your last days…even years.” Tiny 8’x10’ rooms. A bunk. A stainless steel toilet. Bars. The floor. An etched glass window several feet away for some; not even this much light for others. Dark colors, in a dark place, amidst dark souls. “What a way to spend your last days and hours.”
Yet, isn't it where Jesus spent his. Didn’t he come to serve his time with us here on death row? Here, away from heaven’s love and light. Here in the pit of despair, angry words, hatred for God’s authority, for other races, for self, for life and living. A loud place. A sleepless, restless, tormented place. Never silent, with days counting down for each of us 5,4,3,2,1. Didn’t he end his final hours between criminals—those on crosses and those beneath his own? The gasping Chest, pierced Arms, cramping Legs, thorn crowned Head.
He who committed no wrong, took my punishment. I’ve spent my time in darkness. I’ve been, like the others, an object of wrath. I’ve lived where there were demons and darkness. I’ve lived where there were paper crosses and calendars counting meaningless days. I’ve seen my own prison walls, but thank God that when I got to the end of the row, He stepped into my place and I walked free from death.
I'm no longer on death row. Where are you?