#GirlsWriteBack: “Pleading the 8th”


#GirlsWriteBack is a summer writing project hosted by the GirlSense & NonSense Blog.
It features weekly essays, poems, and fiction by young women writers responding to news headlines.


Pleading the 8th
By Lauren Bramwell

Responding to: “Supreme Court upholds lethal injection procedure” by Robert Barnes, Washington Post

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June 27, 2015

“Excuse me sir, would you like to sign a petition to replace the death penalty with life imprisonment?”

Brace yourself for impact.

The man’s eyes grew large as he processed my question. His gray eyebrows barreled inward as his lips tightly pierced together. The air was hot and muggy. Nearby a child was crying, the band was playing, and I could hear the laughter of the volunteers at the booth directly beside me. I watched perspiration build on the man’s forehead- his face dripping with disapproval.

Here it comes.

“Go talk to victim’s families- see what they have to say about you wanting to abolish the death penalty,” he said. “Those people– those people on death row deserve to die.”

Shonda Waller, Oklahoma, victim’s mother:
“I don’t see any justice in just sentencing someone to die… after everything I’ve been through, I wouldn’t want his family to suffer the way I’ve suffered…I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.”

The man’s words were angry and jagged. Spit flew with every syllable.

Breathe, Lauren.

“Every single one of ‘em deserves to die- who cares if they suffer.”

–“Suffer.” I watched the word bleed from his mouth without a sign of remorse.

My mind traced through news article upon news article of botched executions.

Michael Lee Wilson
January 2014, lethal injection (used midazolam)
Last Words: “I feel my whole body burning.”
Pronounced dead at 6:06 pm

Charles Warner
January 2015, lethal injection (used midazolam)
Last Words: “My whole body is on fire.”
Pronounced dead at 7:28 pm

Dennis McGuire
January 2014, lethal injection (used midazolam)
“He gasped deeply. It was kind of a rattling, guttural sound. There was kind of a snorting through his nose. A couple of times, he definitely appeared to be choking.” – Columbia Dispatch Reporter
Pronounced dead at 10:53 am

Clayton Lockett,
April 2014, lethal injection (used midazolam)
“The inmate’s body start[ed] writhing and bucking…” – Media Witness Report
Pronounced dead at 7:06 pm

A woman with a floral print dress and a sun hat chimes in, “You know, I just wish the appellate process didn’t take so long. If they’re guilty they are guilty. Get it over with and save the state money.”

A total of 154 people have been exonerated from death row after being wrongly convicted.

The system is not infallible. Even with the appeal process, the state has killed inmates who have later been found to be innocent. Their corpses are rotting in a cemetery—they’re oozing with false hope and unfair persecution. Their headstones ought to read: “Here lies an innocent victim of the state.”

The woman in the sun hat continues, “Plus, I support the death penalty because of the deterrence factor.”

A 2009 survey revealed that over 88% of criminologists believe the death penalty is NOT a deterrent to murder.

The woman’s white, delicate skin glistens in the hot sun. It appears transparent, untouched by racial discrimination.

Studies show that prosecutors and juries are far more likely to seek the death penalty when the victim is White than when the victim is Black.  

It’s arbitrary and reeks of racial injustice.

Eyebrow man and sun hat lady refuse to listen.

They do not sign the petition.

They do not take a flyer.

They do not pass go.

They do not collect 200 dollars.

They scorn and sweat outrage.

Eventually they walk away.

The sun keeps beating down on me as the child cries, the band plays, and the volunteers laugh.

I try again.

“Excuse me sir, would you like to sign a petition to replace the death penalty with life imprisonment?”

June 29, 2015

I brewed a cup of coffee: 2 creams, 1 sugar.

I read the headlines: “Supreme Court Upholds Use of Death-Penalty Drug.”

My heart drops.

Never mind racial injustice.

Never mind a system that punishes those without the resources for a proper defense.

Never mind arbitrary rulings.

Never mind botched executions.

Never mind the cost.

Never mind the 8th amendment.

Hell, there’s retribution to pay.

June 30, 2015

“As long as you can talk on that gurney: Talk. Let the world know how they are executing people here in Oklahoma.”

~ Lockett’s step mother (advice given prior to the execution)

I take a deep breath.

“Excuse me sir, would you like to sign a petition to replace the death penalty with life imprisonment?”



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