Final Words: 517 executed prisoners of Texas Death Row share their last words. It’s time to listen!
This is not a typical SCSJ blog post. I am speaking to you as one person to another, not in my professional capacity as an attorney. I hope you will bear with me. -Shoshannah Sayers, Deputy Director, SCSJ
What is Final Words?
FinalWords is a truly unique and compelling book featuring the last statements of the 517 people executed by the State of Texas since 1982. With every page, FinalWords not only testifies to the elemental humanity at the core of the death penalty, it further raises critical questions about this systematic and dehumanizing practice.
Final Words interrogates our presuppositions about the death penalty in an effort to challenge our comfort with perpetuating this legacy of state-sanctioned executions. It allows these executed death row inmates to speak to us, to have a voice in the debate.
Final Words forces us to examine this legacy and in doing so it offers an opportunity to look to the future and question if we can’t create a new way forward. To judge the death penalty on the basis of its full consequences is to honor our own democratic tradition. Let us face our beliefs with open minds, so we can listen to these voices—let us hear their final words.
Why is this important to me?
North Carolina is one of the top ten states with the highest execution rates in the nation. It stuns me that for all of our talk about redemption and second chances, we continue to practice state-sanctioned murder at rates far above the national average. For me, it is impossible to work in a place like SCSJ – where we believe so strongly that every person deserves a second chance – and not be viscerally opposed to the death penalty. When our criminal justice system suffers from huge outcome disparities based on nothing more than the race or socioeconomic status of the person being tried, it is impossible for me to believe that any execution could ever be warranted.
Final Words gives us a chance to see people on death row as what they truly are – human beings. Regardless of race or class, guilt or innocence, the death penalty (and the entire system of mass incarceration, for that matter) takes away people’s basic humanity. We cannot allow this to stand.
Why I supported the Final Words Indiegogo campaign
The death penalty embodies the mistaken belief that a person’s single, most horrible act means more than the sum of every good thing they ever did – it means more than their right to life. It says that there is a point at which we stop being people and start being chattel; bought and sold, permitted to live or forced to die subject to the whims of a broken criminal justice system. I cannot participate in such a system. And while I cannot end mass incarceration and execution in the United States by myself, perhaps we can, together.
So, with this hope in mind, I made a modest donation. Perhaps you will too. And perhaps together our voices will be louder, truer, and stronger than the voices of hate and fear that currently direct our criminal justice system. Perhaps together, our voices will manifest change.
I choose to amplify the voices of these 517 humans executed on Texas Death Row. Let’s publish their Final Words and begin a new conversation about the death penalty in America! I choose to support Final Words. And I hope you will do the same.
Shoshannah Sayers, Deputy Director, Southern Coalition for Social Justice