I've worked in the corrections field, all in all around 19 years. Admittedly our inmate census is majority male. In Madison County, Alabama approximately 85 percent of our census is male. All inmates get their day in court, then comes sentencing. In a capital crime (Generally murder, requirements for capital is more than one death, or a death in the commission of a felony) the death penalty is usually an option for the prosecution. Now, I'm not here to debate the rectitude of the death penalty. But it never ceases to surprise me when a woman is sentenced to death, no matter how heinous the crime.
Now, it's easy to arm chair jury. Watching women trotted out on Court TV (when it was a "thing"), Fox News, CNN, who have committed serious crime, we can offhandedly say "I hope she gets death!" But, do we really? Do we not still have the genteel spirit dictating that women are still the fairer sex. We can wish death, but are we willing to pull the switch? Al and I got the opportunity to speak at length with Tennessee writer, Kelly Banaski, author of "Voices from Death Row". While Kelly writes on both men and women, she has specialized in telling the stories of women sentenced to death.
We spoke about various cases and what is the ethereal thing inside of us that makes the difference between executing a man versus a woman. All of us agreed it is difficult to pinpoint. Perhaps when we see a woman, we see our mothers. Or perhaps we see our daughters, sisters, or grandmothers (I mean who could kill MeeMaw?). I postulated on this with Kelly. I see hundreds of female inmates come through those jail doors some I sympathize with, others I don't. But when I have a guest like Kelly, I serious have to ask myself could I actually perform the defining act, could I physically commit the act of finality and execute the sentence? I have witnessed the executions of two men in my past working for a state agency. I saw the sheer panic, fear and fight for survival in those inmates. But to subject a woman to this?
Now, allow me to throw a twist in this little blog. As I listened to Kelly Banaski tell the stories of these women, and I found myself in this mental quandary a sneaky little thought followed a serpentine path into my thought process........Is it non-politically correct to sympathize more for women than for men on death row? Is it raising? Training? Chivalry? I'm really not sure what it is.
In closing, we can all agree that the American justice system isn't perfect. In all honesty it's mostly broken. While we rationalize that we are attempting to rehabilitate inmates of both sexes, I can point to some success stories, the fact is.......as Kelly said....it's mostly broken. Overcrowded, over-budget, over politicized and suffocating under it's own weight. But, it's the only one we have right now. While it's not pretty, it is our human effort to bring justice for the victims. Having said that, lets be intellectually honest. Once the inmate is sentenced and off to prison, we as a society tend to forget the story, the humanity, the soul sitting in that cell awaiting their fate. We are content to turn off the news and return to our comfortable little lives.....until a woman is sitting at the defendants table for murdering her children, or poisoning her husband, or committing a murder spree and we have to ask ourselves "How could this of happened? How could a woman kill her kids?" and as a compliment, without authors like Kelly telling their stories we will probably never know.