.Life Without Parole: A Different Death Penalty

If you were sentenced to life in prison with no chance of release, how long would you want to live? Would you want to live at all?

I think about these questions often. My clients, inmates on death row, think about them every day. In more than twenty years of representing prisoners facing execution, I’ve had several ask me to waive their appeals so they could hurry up and die. There are some who think any client who “volunteers”—that's our euphemism for giving up—is necessarily irrational. I don't share that view. To be sure, two of my clients who told me to waive their appeals were mentally ill, and I fought to keep them from volunteering to die. But the others were perfectly rational. They did not want to spend at least six years, maybe fifteen, appealing their sentences, only to ultimately be strapped to a gurney and injected with poison.

It’s easy for most people to see their decisions as unhinged. We don’t spend twenty-three hours a day in sixty-square-foot cells with no TV, limited access to radio, books or magazines, and no contact with other human beings (unless you count being escorted from point A to point B by often sadistic corrections officers). I’ve had clients who want me to fight for them, and then when we win and get their death sentence converted into life, end up telling me I’ve betrayed them.

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