Death at Midnight

The Confession of an Executioner by Donald A. Cabana

Donald Cabana, a prison official for 25 years, recounts his experiences and his change of heart about the death penalty. In this folksy narrative, Cabana elaborates on his early fascination with corrections systems, which brought him from his native Massachusetts to the Parchman Penitentiary in Mississippi.

When Cabana arrived at the untraditional Parchman in 1972, inmates planted acres of cotton and vegetables, and slaughtered their own cows and pigs. They were housed in small “camps”‘ scattered across the 20,000-acre facility. Cabana left Parchman a year later, returning as warden in 1984 to find Parchman considerably altered. His beloved reformatory had become “just another prison.” It lacked crops but featured a new gas chamber.

Cabana avoided entering the chamber for years, but he did visit the men on death row and notes that all of these inmates share the same deeply disadvantaged background. He is closest to Connie Ray Evans, a relatively mild soul who had killed a convenience-store clerk. Cabana describes with real affection—and a twinge of guilt—how their relationship developed, despite their differences.  Evans, remorseful and philosophical, actually provides comfort to Cabana about the nature of their friendship.

In 1987, faced with a rising tide of anti-crime fervor, the state of Mississippi randomly chose inmates to execute, and Evans was the second. In one horrifying scene, Cabana met with Evans’ mother, who pleaded in vain for her son’s life. A few days later, Cabana oversaw Evans’s execution, and within the year he left prison corrections forever.

Cabana argues ardently and rationally against the death penalty, not because of his sympathy for Evans, but because it’s clear to Cabana that executing criminals does nothing to eliminate the roots of criminal behavior. A gentle and affecting addition to the Dead Man Walking canon.

DEATH AT MIDNIGHT: The Confession of an Executioner by Donald A. Cabana (ISBN: 1-55553-264-0 Page count: 196pp)

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Rebecca Kurson

Rebecca Kurson writes about literature, pop culture, television, science fiction and music. Her work has appeared in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Observer, The Federalist and Rodale's Organic Life.

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