The Execution

“The Quaker Reform has failed,” said the well-dressed governor, that towering figure of authority, who always seemed sincere. “Isolation,” he said, “brings neither repentance nor salvation; it brings only madness. And that is surely the cruelest punishment of all.”

He was content to make due in his single mind with the cunning of a one-sided truth. Yet the words he uttered were always correct, preferred, chosen to satisfy as many voters as possible and to offend none. It was politics, and he was a player—a good one—ingenious in fact, but only in the way some preachers are scholars: they read one book and think it’s gospel. His book, it happens, was printed at the polls.

“People don’t like to hear it, so we don’t say it, publicly,” he added, “but the goal has changed from saving the prisoner’s soul to breaking his spirit, and, if that fails, we sacrifice them to the collective. It’s clear that deterrence is marginally effective, that recidivism is the rule, and that we must be decisive.”

Like most politicians, he enjoyed the sound of his own voice, and as he filled his ears with that long tongue, it began to sound as if he were trying to convince himself, to sure himself up, while he waited for the last minute call he knew would soon come.

He continued, avoiding the name—that powerful invocation—of the man whose life he would spill. “He was innocent,” said the governor, “except of doing what was best for himself in a culture that told him to do so. Oh, he killed, but that killing, he thought, kept him safe. And now we kill to keep ourselves safe.”

He paused, and said, “Politics, it seems, makes princes of us all in Machiavellian terms. We’ll expose a vein or spin plumes of smoke from the noses of disagreeable men, who, strapped in and out-numbered, killers that they are, could be heroes in the bizarre ring of our culture, given a sword and a fighting chance and crowd to cheer.”

Getting up from his polished desk, he began to pace, saying, “In most respects, we are in complete harmony, he and I. Our only discord comes from our unequal positions, how we’ve maneuvered the tangled mappings of right to power, not at all from our purpose, which is simply relentless and incorrigible self-promotion. We all have such huge egos, but no idea of ourselves…”

The governor’s thoughts trailed off when the phone rang, but he continued to pace. He had always tried to move gracefully, because he knew people were attracted to that quality. But the weight of the moment made him clumsy and slow, as he calculated every step.

That night, there would be no reprieve, no stay, and no grace, but his staff agreed, it was a good and sincere killing, a last and most assured effort to find a place for the failed citizen.

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