We sat on opposite sides of the execution chamber, but felt the same trauma

This story was originally published by Tulsa World on May 11, 2023.

On January 12, 2023, the State of Oklahoma executed Scott Eizember.

We will never forget that morning. It seemed that the entire world was swirling around us.

Repeatedly, we were told where to go. Repeatedly, we were told how to act. Repeatedly, we were told how we were supposed to feel. Repeatedly, we were alone.

Trauma has a way of stripping everything down to leave you shaking in the corner. Though we were on opposite sides of the glass of the death chamber, we were there together, alone.

Violent crime is more than just a grief that comes for a time and passes. It is something that never leaves you.

One of the great lies of the death penalty is that it convinces the believer that the death of another will somehow excise the pain that they brought you. The opposite actually takes place. We felt it.

These executions only cause the trauma to grow and metastasize. The false promise of deliverance from the pain of an evil moment is one of the cruelest lies of these executions. More killing always creates more pain.

In a world of trauma, there is something unique about executions. The journey to those final moments begins many years before.

There is the brutal crime. There is the exhausting trial. There is the painful sentencing. There is the excruciating wait.

Everyone claims that justice is being served. Yet, the slow burn of year after year causes the taste of such justice to grow more and more bitter. Trauma plays out over and over.

Every news story a fresh cut. Every legal argument a new source of questions. Every judicial decision a false promise of finality. The entire process is meant to bring about justice, yet trauma is repeatedly the only end.

As spiritual persons, we know that we are called to love our neighbor, but the process of chasing the death of another is anything but loving. An execution kills more than just the condemned; it suffocates the souls of those who chase them.

The prison officials did everything in secret so that no one could see our pain. What were they afraid people would see?

The great secret of these executions is that nobody leaves the same. It’s not that the execution itself is all that bad. In fact, it really just looks like someone falling asleep. Of course, appearances can be deceiving. It can be hard to know what is happening behind the initial anesthesia.

Nevertheless, the trauma is most visceral when you realize that you are a part of killing someone. You are a participant in a murder. We were literally accomplices to a great evil. How is that any different than the crimes that the condemned committed?

Though our roles were different, the expectation of our behavior was the same. We were to be quiet and not interfere as the state executed Scott Eizember. Our collective inaction was championed as “respectful.”

As soon as it was over, we were pushed out. At that point, all that anybody wanted to talk about was justice. What justice were they talking about? All we felt was pain.

We met each other on the road leading out from Oklahoma State Penitentiary. It was a moment of courage.

We weren’t supposed to be talking: the granddaughter of Eizember’s victims, AJ and Patsy Cantrell, and the minister tasked with comforting the man who killed them during his final moments.

Our two worlds had been incredibly critical of each other. One side determined to save the life of a killer. The other side determined to punish a killer.

Yet here we were.

In time, we became friends. For many, such a friendship is astonishing.

What would we have to talk about? The answer is simple: trauma — and how we never want anyone to have to experience it again.

The trauma that these executions force on all parties involved is simply not worth it. These executions turn generous loving people into monsters, ravenous for blood and revenge.

We sensed it. We felt it. We breathed it. We choked on it.

To senselessly inflict trauma on another is the apex of evil. Yet, this is what the state of Oklahoma continues to do to all parties involved in these executions.

Let there be no doubt, the execution of Eizember did nothing but add to our collective trauma, and any further executions will too. This is the nature of the death penalty.

So, let us be clear. For the love of God and each other, stop.