Lessons from inmates' last words Print
Youth Column
Written by Erick Rommel, Catholic News Service   
Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014 -- 12:00 AM

We spend so much time on the Internet that we're often numb to what we see and read. Whether it's a pretty picture or a surprise announcement by a close friend, we respond and move on. It's rare that something makes us stop and reflect or even reconsider truths we hold self-evident.

That's why those moments are noteworthy when they occur.

I recently experienced one of those moments while randomly surfing the Internet. For some time, I just bounced from link to link. I couldn't tell you where I began and I couldn't tell you the path I took to arrive at my destination.

That changed when I arrived at www.lastingstatement.com

This isn't a website I would recommend to anyone. It's less than a site; it's just a page. But it's proof that content doesn't have to be fancy to make an impact. It's a page that lists the final words of Texas death row inmates.

Many of their statements could be said by any of us. They express love, sorrow, and regret. They console their loved ones. They declare belief and faith in a higher power. Reading them is a forbidden peek at a personal and universal moment, a person facing the unknown that awaits us.

After reading each statement, I thought about the people behind the words. They not only knew their end was coming, they knew when. As they watched their time shrink, each inmate gained great insight. They weren't thinking of themselves. They were thinking of the people they loved, the people they hurt, the people they killed.

It's believed that people facing death are incredibly honest. That's why what I read bothered me so much.

A few of those executed professed innocence. Some defiantly in a way that could indicate a lack of remorse, but others in shock, in disbelief they were being killed because of something they didn't believe they had done.

Others expressed ultimate sorrow; words were not enough to communicate their regret.

Then, there were those who used their final words as a gift, choosing to provide comfort, not only to the families they left behind, but to those whose lives they destroyed.

No matter what they said, each person said it while seeing the world with a clarity that we often lack. We choose not to see because we're numb, because we're callous, because we create walls to keep the hurt out. As they faced death, those inmates realized barriers are meaningless. Each self-deception fell away because it was no longer needed.

I wonder if those who died would have been on death row if that realization had come before they committed their crimes.

I can't say whether reading each person's final statement altered my views about capital punishment. What I know is that it altered my view of the world, even if only momentarily. In that moment, my walls cracked and I saw my world without filters. I saw parts of myself that I often don't acknowledge.

We never know when these moments of clarity will occur. We just know that they do. When you're aware they can be triggered at any moment, you're better prepared to take advantage of those moments when they come.

Bask in the warmth of a pretty picture. Feel excitement at your friends' happiness. Don't wait until you're aware of how little time you have before you find clarity.

When you do that, the thrill you find in daily life will be the most self-evident joy you will ever experience.

Erick Rommel is head staff writer for The Catholic Spirit in the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J. His column is syndicated through Catholic News Service.


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