IN THE EXECUTIONER'S SHADOW

A STORY OF JUSTICE, INJUSTICE, AND THE DEATH PENALTY

Perspectives

I had the opportunity to travel to Hampton, VA with Maggie and Rick to assist with the most recent interview of Jerry Givens. This would be my first time interacting with a former executioner first-hand, so I was excited to hear his perspective on the profession. 

Upon meeting Jerry, the most striking thing about him was that he was such an unassuming and friendly person who immediately put me at ease. Given the morbid nature of the task he performed for so many years, one might expect a former executioner such as Jerry to have a more intense, possibly cold personality. Jerry greeted us warmly and was easy to engage with.

In more recent years, Jerry has spent time speaking to at-risk youth to help steer them away from the pitfalls of crime and a life inside the prison system. For the sake of filming, I role-played with Jerry putting myself in the position of a young person asking for advice on how to stay out of trouble. When prompted on the subject of youth getting into trouble, Jerry was clearly passionate and had a lot to say about the importance of guiding young people.

It was evident that Jerry doesn't believe most of the troubled youth he's spoken to or the men inside the prison system he dealt with were inherently bad people. Jerry frames these stories as people who have made mistakes and found themselves in a downward spiral because they haven't had the strong guidance of anyone to tell them to avoid certain paths. Jerry has a natural talent for making a connection through conversation and weaving a story that brings to life his experiences.

-Michael Henry