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Meeting the Former Executioner

I first met Jerry when we interviewed him in Hampton, Virginia. Meeting him for the first time was a little nerve-wracking. I didn’t know what to expect or how I would feel meeting an executioner. Although it was his job, this would be the first time I’d be meeting someone who has taken the life of another person. Nervous can’t begin to describe my feelings as I waited in anticipation.

We arrived at the hotel and sat in the lobby waiting for Jerry to come down and meet us. I looked up and saw him enter the room and immediately sensed a warmness about him. Jerry’s past is nowhere to be found. It was only when we started filming that the layers of who he is and who he was start to show themselves.

This experience was amazing. The stories he tells are ones that will make you cringe and make you wonder how one human being could witness or participate in such an action. But, at the end of the day it was a job. He was doing a service for the state of Virginia. To him, it was no more, no less than any other job because someone had to do it.

As we prompted him with questions, Jerry reflected on his past and that is where I got a glimpse at the internal struggle that plagued him; he did his job to the best of his ability, but was this a job that needed to be done? I walked away from this experience enlightened and slightly disheartened by the man who spent a majority of his life executing people and the rest trying to make up for it in some way.

His opinions on the death penalty and being the executioner were certainly changed by the exoneration of Earl Washington and so I wondered about one thing when we left; would he still be an executioner if Earl Washington never happened?

I think the exoneration of Earl Washington doesn’t point to it being Jerry’s fault, which by his own admission was not his fault because it was a job, a civil service, but it points to the inaccuracies in the court system. How can you work for someone that doesn’t know what they’re doing? “They are not killing these men, I am. My hands are the ones with blood on them, not yours.”

The only true conclusion that I can make about Jerry Givens is there is a goodness about him. What that may mean to someone else, I don’t know, but Jerry accepts his past. It is a part of him and to act like it never happened would be dishonest and insensitive to the men he has executed.

“We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.

- George Bernard Shaw.

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