Those of you who have been following this blog know that I was recently the pastor or
“spiritual advisor” to a Death Row inmate, Wm. Glenn Boyd who was executed last Thursday at Holman prison in Alabama.
Today there was, as the news called it, an “inmate disturbance” at Holman. I have been told that around the time of an execution, tensions are higher in the entire prison. I can believe it. Not that Glenn’s execution five days ago had anything to do with today – but it may have been another straw on some camel’s back.
So when there is a disturbance, the prison goes into “lockdown” mode. What does this mean for prisoners who, like Glenn, are (were) on death row? On normal days, death row prisoners are in their cells 23 hours a day. There are times when they are permitted to come out, individually, like to take a shower. Some have other reasons for getting out of their cells, like for religious services. Another reason is to attend to the prisoners who are infirm. Yes, there are death row inmates who are so old and so sick that they need palliative care – and it is other death row inmates who provide it.
During the one hour they get to come out of their cells, they typically go out to the yard to walk or exercise. Actually Glenn told me he had not been outdoors for two years – it was just too depressing, he said, to look across the field and hear trucks passing on the highway, knowing he would never be on a road again.
So, when there is a reason for the prison to be on lock-down, then there is no one-hour outside the 5×8 cell. That little cell has a toilet and a tiny sink, and a steel cot – your guest bathroom is probably bigger. Three sides are concrete, the fourth is bars overlaid with a metal wire mesh. On lockdown days, the death row inmates stay in all 24 hours. It’s not necessarily over after one day – it all depends on security.
Lockdown also shuts out guests, including ministry groups. If it happens on a Monday, the regular Monday night chapel service that Glenn attended will be canceled. If on a Thursday, a lockdown prevents Kairos visits, and so on.