While waiting for the evening to begin the lady sitting next to me turned to me asking when I first began to form my position on capital punishment. She correctly presumed that I was there as a supporter of ending the death penalty across the country.
Over the next couple of days I wandered back in time to see if I could find when the kernel of disapproval was planted.
He was called the “Red Light Bandit.”
One of the older kids, at the park I went to everyday, told us younger kids that the moniker meant way more than his using a red light on his car to make his victims think he was a lawman. I only got the police car image. I had no idea at the time what else it could have meant.
At school one of the kids asked our teacher, a nun, about the upcoming execution and why so many people were talking about it. She brilliantly dodged the question and moved us on to whatever the subject was we were suppose to be concentrating on in class.
Since she didn’t answer, we, of course, wanted to know everything.
One of my friends had twin sisters, high school seniors, who took great joy in pointing out how bothersome we were and how they were planning on having us sold to pirates, as soon as they could figure out how to do that without the finger of the law pointing back at them.
One of my older brothers, at dinner, shared how Chessman was in the gas chamber when a phone call come through to the warden telling the warden that Chessman had another stay. Apparently the warden told the caller he couldn’t stop what had begun or the poison would leak out of the gas chamber and kill everyone in attendance.
I recall family members being happy that he was dead. I hope thats a false memory, but I dont think so-
I looked up his remarks to see if my memory had any truth to it.
“The purpose of capital punishment [is] to set an Example. And if this is so, why isn’t it done properly? Why isn't Caryl Chessman gassed in the middle of Union Square at high noon, so that thousands of people (plus millions of TV viewers) can witness the fate of wrongdoers and vow, then and there, never to step outside the law? But no, that would be an indecent spectacle, abhorrent to those who prefer to live by euphemisms. He must be done away with in a gloomy little room surrounded by a protective nest of walls, before the eyes of a few select witnesses - as though the act itself, the final demonstration of the majesty of the law, were some dark and dreadful thing. And a dark and dreadful thing it is.”