An excellent piece about a horrible subject

A description of a hanging:

At around 7.50, Ken and I watch as the governor, lord lieutenant of the city and other officials file into the block. At three minutes to eight, Allen nudges his assistant. “Right, it’s us,” he says. He leaves a freshly lit cigarette in an ashtray and the two men tiptoe away.
….
For barely a second he stands on the trapdoors, bound, blindfolded, isolated. Inside the silent darkness of the hood, Pascoe knows it is about to happen. As the prison clock strikes its fifth chime, Allen pulls the lever. Without a sound Pascoe plummets 5ft and dies instantly as his neck is broken and the nerves from his spinal column to his brain are severed by the weight of his body. He is already dead as the prison clock strikes the three remaining chimes. From leaving the cell to dropping through the doors, 14 seconds have passed.

The hangmen return to the officers’ mess. The cigarette in the ashtray still burns. Allen picks it up, takes an appreciative draw. “Any tea on the go?” he asks, rubbing his hands.

“Was he any bother?” I ask.

“Nah, good as gold, Jock.”

27 comments on “An excellent piece about a horrible subject

  1. George Orwell – A Hanging

    It was about forty yards to the gallows. I watched the bare brown back of
    the prisoner marching in front of me. He walked clumsily with his bound
    arms, but quite steadily, with that bobbing gait of the Indian who never
    straightens his knees. At each step his muscles slid neatly into place,
    the lock of hair on his scalp danced up and down, his feet printed
    themselves on the wet gravel. And once, in spite of the men who gripped
    him by each shoulder, he stepped slightly aside to avoid a puddle on the
    path.

    It is curious, but till that moment I had never realized what it means to
    destroy a healthy, conscious man. When I saw the prisoner step aside to
    avoid the puddle, I saw the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of
    cutting a life short when it is in full tide. This man was not dying, he
    was alive just as we were alive. All the organs of his body were working
    –bowels digesting food, skin renewing itself, nails growing, tissues
    forming–all toiling away in solemn foolery. His nails would still be
    growing when he stood on the drop, when he was falling through the air
    with a tenth of a second to live. His eyes saw the yellow gravel and the
    grey walls, and his brain still remembered, foresaw, reasoned–reasoned
    even about puddles. He and we were a party of men walking together,
    seeing, hearing, feeling, understanding the same world; and in two
    minutes, with a sudden snap, one of us would be gone–one mind less, one
    world less.

  2. I think lethal injection is more about pandering to the sensibilities of the executioners rather than any concern for welfare or indeed humanity. The rope is pre – industrial and therefore barbaric; the injection is scientific. Ergo we FEEL better about ourselves if we stick a needle in and paralyse him. Even if he is in agony we don’t notice and so don’t FEEL bad.

    I say feelings are irrelevant.

  3. “dies instantly” is wrong. Breathing stops instantly because the spinal cord is severed, but the heart continues to beat for several minutes until stopped by asphyxia.

  4. I believe Paul is correct, though shock may stop the heart.

    An unpleasant business, and I have read Orwell and others, but am still in favour of the death penalty for murder.

    Of course, I have yet to be faced with the challenge of pulling the lever or dropping the blade…

  5. My old man actually knew the Copper who arrested these two fuckers. He always said that the death penalty was the right one for them as the poor old chap they murdered died a very unpleasant , and prolonged, death. Two very nasty pieces of work.

  6. That is the other side of it –those hanged had generally done some very nasty things indeed. Apart from the ones who were fitted up.

  7. @Mr Ecks
    Absolutely. I understand that there can be a huge amount of pressure on the Police regarding some crimes which catch the Publics and Politicians imagination. But how could you bring yourself to incriminate someone who didn’t do it, with the knowledge that the real perpetrator is still at large? It doesn’t make sense to me.

  8. The murdered victims deaths deserve at least the same media attention as those of their killers. Here’s what the victim of the last-but-one ‘botched’ US execution might have said if she could have been reached by liberal journalists.
    “I was scared. The three of them had my baby. They’d raped my best friend. They’d beaten my man. I tried to talk to them but they duct taped my mouth. They made me kneel as they dug my grave next to me. When that was done they shot me in the shoulder and pushed me in the grave and as struggled they shot me in the chest. In my agony I screamed through the duct tape ‘Oh God. Please! Please!’. But they just laughed and God did nothing. The first shovelful of dirt hit my face and I knew they were burying me alive and I screamed again for God but he still did not come and they just kept shovelling. My world went dark as the dirt blocked my eyes, my mouth, my nose. I could not speak or move and so I silently begged God to save my baby. I took long time to die.”

    http://www.independentsentinel.com/outrageous-sympathy-pours-out-for-rapist-murderer-who-buried-19-year-old-alive/

  9. I never thought O’s ever find myself using this argument;

    So, are we saying that our understanding of our own humanity leads us to measure the horror of the crime and then plan a vengeance suitably barbaric? If so folks, then I’m a better man than you.

  10. There are all kind of taboos surrounding death and by extension other taboos to do with execution. The point of the extract is surely to contrast these taboos with the workaday behaviour of those involved with the business of despatch.

    The funeral or slaughtering industries are, I imagine, operated by folk who regard what they do as no more than a job requiring certain specific skills and sensibilities which make them neither inhuman nor immoral.

  11. When I read some very fine writing I ask myself: Yes, but is it true?

    For instance, there have been quite a few little accidents over the years when people line up to get a gong from the Queen. So Buck House flunkeys are very keen to make sure you’ve been to the toilet recently.

    Here… nothing. Maybe he was a psychopath as careless of his own life as for others’, but most people would be even more impressed about going to their Maker than to go to see Her Maj.

    In short, an imaginative ghost.

  12. As an aside, was this piece ghost written? It read very much like an “as told to” piece but wasn’t marked as such. The teller would be pretty old by now – not a definitive bar to writing such excellent prose, but did make me wonder …

  13. Hang on a sec, was the Graun presenting that as a piece of original writing? It’s been around for years – I think it predates Robert Douglas’s book, and that was published years ago. I seem to recall it was written and first published around the time of the events it describes, but I might be mistaken.

    As for the death penalty, no-one ever seems to challenge the notion that execution is the worst thing you can do to someone, even though that’s plainly false. It may very well be kinder to kill someone for a crime they didn’t commit than to lock them up for life for a crime they didn’t commit and then tell them they have no chance of ever getting out until they admit to it.

    When you look at cases like Stefan Kiszko, or Sally Clark, we might as well have hanged them for all the good the eventual overturning of the verdicts did in putting things right (and it would undoubtedly have been kinder to have hanged them in the first place). The contention that somehow an unfair prison sentence is more reversible is simply wrong.

  14. The contention that somehow an unfair prison sentence is more reversible is simply wrong.

    I’m happy that your original contention about which can be worse is arguable. But you can let people out of prison. You cannot unkill them. Therefore it, logically, has to be “more reversible”.

    You can argue about how much or, in your case, little, more. But to boldly state that it is “simply wrong” is well, simply wrong.

  15. The funeral or slaughtering industries are, I imagine, operated by folk who regard what they do as no more than a job requiring certain specific skills and sensibilities which make them neither inhuman nor immoral.

    I know soldiers who take this line, some of whom have actually killed people. They see it as a job, and operate within (fairly) clearly defined boundaries.

  16. SE

    Indeed it doesn’t. However , if the horror of the crime is used to justify barbaric punishment then you can forgive me for believing it a self – evident truth. I accept you may not agree.

  17. Surreptitious Evil said: “You can argue about how much or, in your case, little, more. But to boldly state that it is “simply wrong” is well, simply wrong.”

    Whole life tariffs excepted, people are meant to eventually get out of prison. A prison sentence is a less severe punishment than a death sentence but it is still punishment. Getting out of prison because your conviction has been quashed is not restitution. You can no more return the years of wrongful imprisonment than you can return a corpse to life.

  18. Gareth – but unlike with the death penalty the sentence may only have been inflicted in part, so one is spared the remainder of it. (Not much help if the psychological damage is done at the start of course.) In that sense a cleared convict can “get something back which they would otherwise have had taken away”, which sounds like partial reversibility to me. It’s not the time in prison which is reversed but the time saved.

  19. SE>

    Did I really need to state explicitly that I was talking about time served? The death penalty is also reversible if you get there before it’s been carried out.

  20. Who’s to know if it is a humane end? Problem is, there is no going back if you execute the wrong people. So best not do it.

  21. The funeral or slaughtering industries are, I imagine, operated by folk who regard what they do as no more than a job requiring certain specific skills and sensibilities which make them neither inhuman nor immoral.

    I know soldiers who take this line, some of whom have actually killed people. They see it as a job, and operate within (fairly) clearly defined boundaries.

    I imagine it’s like any occupation: some people enjoy it, others see it as a grim necessity.

  22. @BiF
    Perry in “In Cold Blood” is really preoccupied about shitting himself when he’s hanged.I suppose snapping the spinal column is likely to make it that much more likely.
    There ‘s a short description at the end of this piece about the body being cleaned up.Why, if not for the subject of Perry’s fears?
    On the other hand when men were strung up in public by being hauled up off their feet and slowly strangled some of them got a hard-on.
    Best not to execute people really.

  23. What is the purpose of a punishment for a past misdeed? We argued about this the other day. The punitive and retributive aspects of a sentence do nothing to provide restitution to the victim (except maybe vindictively, which I don’t discount). There is obviously some form of deterrent effect, even if we can argue about how big it is until the cows come home. Rehabilitation might or might not work, but it’s not much of a factor in death penalty cases. I’m increasingly coming round to the idea that the only real function of criminal sentencing is incapacitation. It’s why I favour fairly modest sentences for most first offences with a rapidly escalating tariff for subsequent appearances before the beak. When it comes to murder we can’t allow recidivism, so we may plausibly adjudge a crime so heinous, and a perpetrator so dangerous that the safest course of action is to neutralise him permanently. Of course the difficulty then comes in making this adjudication.

  24. According to the Time Traveller’s Guide to the 14th Century, all criminals were executed (I think barring those punishable by the stocks). No prisons needed & so a smaller state. Possibly because of this, they had many more murders per capita (as it were) than now.

  25. Really excellent comment halfway up the page JeremyT. It moved me as much as the article, and reminded me why these people are down for execution in the first place.

    I didn’t click the link though – that was harrowing enough. I am now a new father and have anxiety contemplating harm to small ones.

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