Yesterday was probably one of the most interesting days of my life. It isn't often one can say that. Of course, it didn't "just happen", it was the result of a series of events, but it was a result that I didn't see coming.
Several weeks ago while attending a meditation class, the Buddhist monk who was leading the class mentioned that he would need a ride to Oklahoma to attend the execution of a prisoner on death row. It happened to be during the week on a day that I was available, so I volunteered. My intent was to help the monk so he could help the man die in a compassionate way. As the day drew closer I had to submit identification information to the people at the prison, this was so I could enter the grounds. I was told that I would not be allowed to witness the process. Good enough, I was just there to help the monk.
So, in the morning I was surprised to receive a call from the monk, saying we should leave earlier than we had originally planned because of administrative issues. So leave early we did. Along the way the monk was telling me that he was informed that he would probably not be able to see the prisoner nor attend the execution. He was disturbed because he had to miss several classes that he teaches at the University of Arkansas in order to do this. We both felt as if we were going through an unnecessary sacrifice; not being able provide the compassion either of us had envisioned. We got to Mcalester at two in the afternoon; the execution was to take place at six. It seemed like a lot of extra time for paperwork, but I was happy to oblige. We killed a little time by having some snacks and a coffee at the local Denney's.
We arrived at the Maximum Security state prison at 2:45, after being approved by the guard at the gate, we parked and entered the building. Walking up the stairs I began to feel very uncomfortable. Our ID's were taken at the front desk and we waited for further instruction. It came quickly. We were in the wrong building. I was glad to leave this one but wasn't all that anxious to get to the next. So we followed the signs and went to the building with the name they gave us...wrong again. The third stop proved to be successful. It was an old converted hospital that was being used by the prison system. Our ID's were taken again and they led us both to a waiting area. Gee, it looks like I will be attending. I pulled out a puzzle and tried to busy myself but found I wasn't able to concentrate on it. Then the Warden came in the room and informed me that if I had asked earlier, they could have made space for me. But now it is too late and I will have to leave. I knew I wasn't going to attend the process, but I thought there would be a place they would let me sit. Well, there was: my car. A little stunned, I asked where the local library was, got directions and headed out. The monk, however, would be attending the execution.
I drove around town for a while and cleared my head, found the library and proceeded to enjoy six magazines that I am too cheap to subscribe to. That worked very nicely. I lost myself in Oprah, Traveler Magazine and a new one for me Discover (had a fabulous article about poker) and others that escape my memory right now. I was surprised when I checked my watch and found it to be 5:20. The whole thing would be over in less than an hour.
People started coming out of the prison at 6:17. Most were dressed very formally in business suits and women in dresses and business suits. I did not expect to find dignity here. The Monk was among these folks and I watched as he went to each person at their car and spoke with them, shook their hand and was obviously being supportive. He got in the car at 6:25. I asked him if he was alright. He was. I waited for him to say anything about the experience.
He said he had come to visit with the prisoner back in early October to teach him about love, tolerance and compassion towards those people who want him dead. The prisoner was a converted Buddhist and accepted the teachings; meditated on them during his remaining days and said that he was ready to die today. The monk then lead a chanting prayer for a good rebirth and that he should become a disciple of Matuya Buddha.
All of the monks and the prisoner joined in chanting the mantra of compassion, "om mani padme hum" during the execution. There was a microphone placed above the prisoners head and he continued to chant until the life passed out of him.
Our mission was accomplished and the day ended on a good note. Not only was the prisoner able to attain true compassion and die peacefully, but his family was also touched by the compassion and love demonstrated in the end.
It wasn't until I got home did I find out from a news article that the prisoner was charged with the murder of a fisherman in a failed robbery attempt. The accused still maintained his innocence, saying his wife committed the murder.
Note: (there is a saying that all men on death row are innocent)