Executions Stays With Reporter

From the Hattiesburg American, an account of the execution of Larry Puckett in Mississippi by reporter Jesse Bass:

It was time to go. A swarm of Mississippi Department of Corrections personnel told me to leave everything I brought on the table – no wallet, no pen, no cellphone.

I walked through a maze of banisters into the “shakedown room.”

A prison guard made sure I really left everything behind, ushered me through a quick briefing and into a prison van with doors that don’t open from the inside.

And the morbid, suspenseful wait began.

Attempts at small talk between those of us in the van floundered quickly.

I silently peered through the bars on the van window for 55 minutes before someone let me out, and by that time, we were already inside the perimeter fence of Unit 17. Two layers of chain link draped in razor wire were split by a row of staggered electrified cables.

I was halfway through a morose process Lamar County Sheriff Danny Rigel aptly described as “choreographed.” A dance with many steps. Documentation, access control, inspection, preparation, movement.

A squat, doomy red brick building with tiny windows pushed up against the eaves contained only one prisoner – the prisoner I had come to see.

I walked into a tiny hallway and met frigid air carrying the strong smell of institutional cleaning products.

The corridor ended with a closet-sized room and a window offering a clear view of Larry Matthew Puckett.

The time had come.

He was strapped to a table with several wide brown-leather bands, lined up longitudinally along his body, with the exception of those securing his left arm to an outcropping, ending where his fingers were wrapped in several layers of black tape.

He stared at the ceiling through glasses, blinking erratically. He looked nervous.

The clear tube inserted at his left elbow was the only object breaking the circle of nameless men and women in suits surrounding him inside a small room made of bricks painted stark white.

He didn’t have anything to say with his last breaths. But he took advantage of them, sucking as much air as he could until his lungs fell silent.

And it was over.

Rigel later eloquently described Puckett’s death as “sterile.”

Those of us who survived March 20, 2012, at Unit 17 sat stoic, not making a sound for almost 13 minutes as we stared at Puckett’s corpse. It was the purest silence I’ve ever heard.

The scratching of my MDOC-issued pencil and notebook sounded like a wire brush on the head of a snare drum.

He went out quietly with a reality so subtle it was practically transparent – a reality that was easy to tuck away in the back of my head on the van ride back to the table that held my wallet and pen.

But like a seed planted deep in my brain, it has grown from its initial silent subtlety into an ominous, searing presence.

Watching Puckett die has left me pondering much – far more that I can adequately describe here.

One thing’s for sure: After watching that, I feel like anyone’s opinions on the merits or pitfalls of capital punishment are incomplete until they watch it happen.

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