The Gallows

The GallowsThere are no guilty men on death row, Miss.

That’s kind of a running joke, you see, since every low life, rapist, and murderer in here swears he’s been set up. Take the guy three doors down  – goes by the name of Tinker. Ten years ago, the cops busted in on him in a motel in Corpus Christi, and he’s got a hooker’s head in his hands, brushing her hair and doing God knows what else, while her body is getting cold and stiff in the bathtub. Can you imagine that? A guy the size of Tinker – sorry, I didn’t mention that he’s about the biggest son of a bitch I’ve ever met – sitting there, covered in blood, with a head in his lap? Those cops could have run like hell for their mommies and nobody would’ve blamed them. But back to my point – ask Tinker when you walk by him what he did to get the needle and he’ll just stare at you with his big, dumb, animal eyes and tell you, “Not a thing, ma’am. I was framed.”

Most of the guys that have gone through here use their last words to say something similar. We don’t get to watch, of course; that information is courtesy of the guards. They are sworn to silence when it comes to the executions, but you should see these guys when they get back from a snuff. They have this look of supreme knowledge that they lord over you for a while, but eventually it gets to eating at them. After a couple days they start shaking when they talk, just dying to scare the hell out of us with the tale. It’s usually one of the rookies that cracks and spills the beans; the older guys have gotten over the thrill. Once you see one itching to squawk, it only takes a bit of prodding before they’re acting out the whole deal – down to the way the guys flinch when the first needle goes in. Forget about me – the guards are the best story tellers we’ve got in here. And nine times out of ten, the scene crescendos with the strapped-down beast turning to the gallery and swearing he’s an innocent man.

See, that’s the part that never made any damn sense to me; especially since most of us tend to find religion during our stay in this fine federal institution. There are probably more Bibles in here than any congregation you’re likely to find in the world. Hell, even I keep six copies, just in case there’s any protection to be found in numbers. Yet the last thing ninety percent of these sad sons of bitches say on this Earth is a lie, and every one of my Bibles has that listed as a sin. “Thou shalt not bear false witness,” Miss, and that’s a fact.

Of course, you’ll get the rare exception here and there. Right next to Tinker is Victor Morales – bad news if ever there was such a thing fit to print. If he’s awake when you walk by, keep on moving. I don’t think a stack of Bibles a mile high could save Vic’s immortal soul after the things he’s done. Sometimes when it’s quiet in here I get to thinking about all those women and kids he hurt, and I just want to curl up and bawl like a hurt puppy. They’ll probably never find half of them. But what gets me most is that Vic doesn’t hide from his crimes like the rest of us. He’ll tell anybody that’ll listen about each and every one of his victims, and swears on his mother that he’ll start listing all the ways they died until the poison takes him.

I see you checking your watch, and I know I haven’t gotten to your question yet, but bear with me, Miss, because I’m nearly there. You came here to get a full accounting of what I did and hear me say I’m sorry for it. But you’re not going to get that from me, because it’s not a joke – there aren’t any guilty men on death row. I was guilty when they caught me, and I was guilty when they stood me up in front of a jury of my peers. Hell, I was probably even guilty when I got here. But the man you see today? No, ma’am. The only thing I’m guilty of is sitting is this box for fifteen years, thinking about all the bad in the world and building a wall of Bibles to keep it out. Time’s made me its own killer, and I plead innocent. You better write that down, because the only thing I’m going to say in there is, “Goodnight.”


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