I still remember how I heard the news. I was sitting in my office doing paper work for the morgue when I heard the phone call. It was my wife and she was hysterical. She was crying and mumbling words that I could not decipher. Finally she took a deep breath and blurted out the words, “Kara has been kidnapped.” At first the words didn’t register. I sat for a moment trying to figure out what those words meant. “Kara has been kidnapped.” I just didn’t know what to think. Ashley was still on the phone repeatedly saying my name; I sat in the chair silent for over five minutes. All I could hear was the clock tick, and my name being repeated through the phone and the words “Kara has been kidnapped” in my head.
I have seen a lot of death throughout my career as a mortician. It never bothered me. After twenty years it just becomes routine. Tending to the bodies that come off of the dangerous Baltimore streets is just my way of making money. Nothing more, nothing less.
My wife never liked me working at the morgue. She says that it stiffens me, that I have lost my emotions and feelings. She complains in our worst of arguments that I am “dull and lifeless.” I can’t say I disagree with her; it seems that my emotions have run dry. Working with the dead can do that.
After receiving news that Ashley, my wife, was pregnant, it seemed that the measly 30,000 plus dollars a year wasn’t enough to support a family with a 10 year old daughter and a son on his way. I managed to get a job at the North Branch Correctional Institution managing the lethal injection. I had some medical training, but not enough for me to be a certified technician. Luckily for me the jail was low on staff and budget so they couldn’t afford a certified technician, so they used me to fill the void.
Within a month after I contacted the warden they called me in to prepare and administer the lethal injection the next day. Steven Thomas, a 35 year old drug dealer who killed three rival drug dealers and an innocent mother and child.
I did not tell Ashley what I was doing; I knew she would not be happy with me becoming an executioner, as she called them. She always saw the death penalty as a bad thing. She believed these people were being murdered. I hadn’t really put much thought to how I felt about the death penalty. I neither liked it nor hated it. As long as the police and the government got the criminals off the street I didn’t care what happened to them after that.
The night before the execution, I was feeling a little nauseous and just felt tired, but I tried not to show it. I guess I was nervous, I wasn’t sure, I just know that I wasn’t looking forward to the execution.
The word execution seems like such a brutal word. It doesn’t describe the simple, painless process of the modern euthanization that the government uses today. These murderers and rapists are treated with the same care and attention as a beloved dying dog.
The next day I woke up to my alarm clock. Five in the morning, just like any other morning, except this day felt different. I wasn’t sure what it was but certain that the execution had to do something with it. I had my morning coffee, said goodbye to my wife and my daughter Kara, then left. I drove about an hour to Cumberland, where the jail was located.
When I arrived I helped set up the gear and got ready for the prisoner. A tall, talky, dark-skinned man came in. His body was covered in tattoos, probably gang related, and his face was covered with marks and scars and his hair was shaven clean. Even with all these intimidating features, he seemed very nice. He greeted me when he walked in and had a very calm disposition. He must have accepted what was going to happen after waiting months on death row. He didn’t struggle at all, which was a surprise to me. I expected him to come into the room fighting and struggling to get loose from his shackles, but instead he calmly walked and followed directions without any attitude. We got him strapped down on the bed and started to insert the needles.
Before I insert any needles, I am supposed to disinfect his arm with alcohol. I always found this part kind of unnecessary. I don’t know why we have to disinfect these needles; this process is used to prevent infection, so I don’t know why you need to do this to someone who is about to die. Next I put an IV in both arms and we start a saline drip in both arms. Then we put a heart monitor so the officials can determine when death has occurred.
There are three different drugs that are used during the lethal injection process. One is meant to put the prisoner to sleep, the second is a muscle relaxant that causes paralysis of the skeletal striated muscles, including the diaphragm so the lungs stop working. The last drug administered stops the heart; this will cause death by cardiac arrest.
As the fluids went into the prisoner’s body, he seemed at peace. Within a couple minutes he was asleep. Then his chest stop moving, a little while after the heart monitor started to make that continuous noise that everyone is familiar with. He was dead.
This way of dying seems so easy. I wouldn’t mind going through this process. This whole process seems unjustified though. I’ve felt that the painless death does not justify the crimes that some of the prisoners commit. Not soon after the execution, Kara was kidnapped. Maybe if I hadn’t have taken this job she would still be with me.
Kara was walking home from school when she came across a man claiming to be selling ice cream. He enticed her to ride in his car and took off. Three days later police had found her body outside of town. I was devastated. I was depressed before she was found but I still had some hope, but after they found her body, I became enraged. I have always held in my anger but after my daughter’s death, it became very hard, but I still managed to keep it inside. These emotions boiled inside, and I wanted revenge.
After about a month the police found out who took my child. A house security system caught the whole thing. Charles Penner was immediately arrested and the police called to tell me the news. I got to see the guy, and when I first laid eyes on him, I automatically hated him. Just looking at him made me want to beat his face in. I wasn’t used to these feelings, so I just held them in. I guess I had a lot of experience holding in my emotions.
The police officer told me that this man already had problems with children. He was already a convicted villain. “It seems like convicted child molesters always have problems staying away from the children. I am just surprised this guy took such a major leap from molesting to kidnapping and murder,” the police officer explained. I was outraged to hear this. The only thing I wanted to hear was when his court day was, which would be in two weeks. This excited me.
The days leading up to his court day were very slow. I just wanted to see this man get sentenced to death, this way I would be the one to end his life. The day finally came and as I got ready to go to the hearing, I couldn’t help but smile. After about an hour in the court house the judge finally made his decision. Charles Penner, whose name I hadn’t learned until the hearing, was convicted of kidnapping and first degree murder. The only thing important to me was his sentencing, death. This would mean death by my hands. I couldn’t help but smile.
In my head I couldn’t help but picture him on that table. I couldn’t help but picture his eyes close as he went unconscious after the first injection, I couldn’t help but picture his chest’s gradual movement slow until it completely stopped after the second injection. I couldn’t help but hear the constant tone of the heartbeat sensor after his heart stopped beating. My smile grew bigger, but my happiness soon diminished as the picture of my daughter suffering from the hands of this monster flooded into my mind. At this moment is when I felt that the death penalty was not enough to justify what this man did to my daughter and my family.
Penner’s lethal injection was not set for a couple of months, but I managed to move some paperwork around and managed to get his injection at an earlier date. This date could not have come faster. It seemed like a dream but unlike the random natures of dreams, I knew how this day was going to unfold.
He walked into the room where I was waiting. He didn’t know who I was, he didn’t understand what he had done to me, but I knew, and that’s all that mattered. The officer strapped him into the bed and I hooked up the heart monitor, stuck the two needles in his arms, and started the saline drip. The first drug went in and his eyes closed and he relaxed. The second drug went in, but instead of shutting down all the muscles, it merely relaxed them, the diaphragm was still active, just barely visible. The third drug went in, but instead of being the drug that shuts down the heart, it was a simple sugar and water solution. I had changed all the drugs before hand. They were not the approved drugs that painlessly euthanize someone; they just made it appear that Penner had passed on. As with the heart monitor, I had simply disconnected it from Penner, which made it beep. He had not died, just been knocked unconscious. This way I could make him pay for what he did to my Kara.
I had taken him back to my morgue; it was late so no one was working. I had put him on the table and strapped him down and waited for him to wake up. He was obviously surprised to be alive. He just stared at me with wide observing eyes. He asked me what was going on, who I was, and why he was still alive. I simply showed him a photo of Kara that had been in my wallet. When he saw that photo he immediately started yelling and struggling to get out of his constraints. I stuck a rag in his mouth which muffled his screams and quieted him down. I grabbed a scalpel and cut down his legs. I had known what he had done to Kara, so my first target was obvious. Next, I cut off every one of his toes, found the nerve in his leg and pulled it until it snapped. By now he had already passed out from the pain so I stopped. I checked his pulse, he was still alive. I only worked on his lower body since only the upper portion would be visible in the casket. I decided the last thing I could do was embalm him. I sucked out all his blood and inserted the embalming chemicals. By now he had passed, so I continued with the routine and got him ready for viewing.
I had sat down and looked at what I had done. This man was punished for murder. As I was staring at his body I finally realized that I was no better than him. I had viscously murdered this man for personal reasons, much the same way he did to Kara. I couldn’t help but feel that I must be punished for the viscous crime I had committed.
The reason I wrote this letter was to tell whoever wants to know what happened to me. Most of you probably think I just ran away after the funeral of Charles Penner, but instead I put the matters of my punishment into my own hands. Just before he was to be placed into the ground, I switched caskets and instead of burying Penner, they buried me, alive. I tried the best I could to make sure this letter would be delivered one week after the funeral. This way I will have suffered without any interruption.
Gage Blair originally published this work on Palabras's official Website back in April 2013.