For laypeople, death row probably seems an exotic kind of limbo, where the convicted keep hoping to escape the death penalty.
But, for the inmates, such as Lyle May, it is home, perhaps for many years. Vice prints his plea for staff on death row to be human beings, that is, capable of kindness.
May recounts the quiet humanity of one-time chaplain Chestnut. Always sensitive to the needs of the inmates, Chestnut would devote his time to individual grief sessions with inmates after an execution.
That usually irked the other staff. They were more focused on The Rules of the system, not the human residents.
Most of the others who tried to be present for the inmates also bumped up against The Rules. They were chastised often enough to leave in frustration.
Essentially, those were the sins of omission - withholding of human kindness.
Then there were the sins of commission - alleged infliction of abuse. For example, The Rules seemed to be a power game in which inmates were bound to lose. The bed wasn't made. Or the family photo shouldn't be on the wall. The punishments ranged from fines to piling rocks in the exercise yard.
May's article resonates because most of us are aware there, but for the grace of god, we also could be on death row. For some reason we were able to flip the switch on the rage, in time not to commit murder. Had we not been able to flip the switch and afford a top criminal lawyer, we could be May's neighbor.
May is housed at Central Prison in Raleigh, North Carolina. He had been convicted of two counts of first degree murder. The victims were a mother and her young daughter. He is now 40 years old.
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