This happened in 1932, when the state penitentiary was still at Cold
Mountain. And the electric chair was there, too, of course.
The inmates made jokes about the chair the way people always make jokes
about things that frighten them but can't be gotten away from. They called
it Old Sparky, or the Big Juicy. They made cracks about the Power bill,
and how Warden Moores would cook his Thanksgiving dinner that fall, with
his wife, Melinda, too sick to cook.
But for the ones who actually had to sit down in that chair, the humor
went out of the situation in a hurry I presided over seventy-eight
executions during my time at Cold Mountain (that's one figure I've never
been confused about; I'll remember it on my deathbed), and I think that,
for most of those men, the truth of what was happening to them finally hit
all the way home when their ankles were being damped to the stout oak of
"Old Sparky's" legs. The realization came then (you would see it
rising in their eyes, a kind of cold dismay) that their, own legs had
finished their careers. The blood still ran in them, the muscles were
still strong, but they were finished, all the same; they were never going
to walk another country mile or dance with a girl at a barn-raising. Old
Sparky's clients came to a knowledge of their deaths from the ankles up.
There was a black silk bag that went over their heads after they had
finished their rambling and mostly disjointed last remarks. It was
supposed to be for them, but I always thought it was really for us, to
keep us from seeing the awful tide of dismay in their eyes as they
realized they were going to die with their knees bent.
There was no death row at Cold Mountain, only E Block, set apart from
the other four and about a quarter their size, brick instead of wood, with
a horrible bare metal roof that glared in the summer sun like a delirious
eyeball. Six cells inside, three on each side of a wide center aisle, each
almost twice as big as the cells in the other four blocks. Singles, too.
Great accommodations for a prison (especially in the thirties), but the
inmates would have traded for cells in any of the other four. Believe me,
they would have traded.
There was never a time during my years as block superintendent when all
six cells were occupied at one time -- thank God for small favors. Four
was the most, mixed black and white (at Cold Mountain, there was no
segregation among the walking dead), and that was a little piece of hell.
One was a woman, Beverly McCall. She was black as the ace of spades and as
beautiful as the sin you never had nerve enough to commit. She put up with
six years of her husband beating her, but wouldn't put up with his
creeping around for a single day. On the evening after she found out he
was cheating, she stood waiting for the unfortunate Lester McCall, known
to his pals (and, presumably, to his extremely short-term mistress) as
Cutter, at the top of the stairs leading to the apartment over his barber
shop. She waited until he got his overcoat half off, then dropped his
cheating guts onto his tu-tone shoes. Used one of Cutter's own razors to
do it. Two nights before she was due to sit in Old Sparky, she called me
to her cell and said she had been visited by her African spirit-father in
a dream. He told her to discard her slave-name and to die under her free
name, Matuomi. That was her request, that her deathwarrant should be read
under the name of Beverly Matuomi. I guess her spirit-father didn't give
her any first name, or one she could make out, anyhow. I said yes, okay,
fine. One thing those years serving as the bull-goose screw taught me was
never to refuse the condemned unless I absolutely had to. In the case of
Beverly Matuomi, it made no difference, anyway. The governor called the
next day around three in the afternoon, commuting her sentence to life in
the Grassy Valley Penal Facility for Women -- all penal and no penis, we
used to say back then. I was glad to see Bev's round ass going left
instead of right when she got to the duty desk, let me tell you.
A sweeping, evocative epic of two women's intertwined fates and their search for identity, that moves from the lavish parlors of Shanghai courtesans to the fog-shrouded mountains of a remote Chinese...
YA author Ned Vizzini dies aged 32(Dec 20 2013) Ned Vizzini, the author of YA favorites It’s Kind of a Funny Story and Be More Chill, died Thursday in New York City. According to the Los Angeles Times,...