[BOOK REVIEW] " THE GALLOWS " / by Aoki Osamu / Kodansha (2009), Yen1600 +Tax


Please, do not say "Another book on the death penalty? We've had enough for the time being!"
Do you really think you know so much about death sentences? Do you really know about executions or the life and psychological state of mind of death row inmates? Are you aware of the pain prison officers and chaplains have to bear? Have you ever experienced the victims' feelings? Although I've been involved in the movement to stop executions, I realize that I am ignorant of many things. I learned many things from this book and I want to share here what impressed me most.

"A death row male inmate stumbling towards a Buddhist monk grabs his robes and, in a voice coming out from the depth of his throat, shouts 'Master, Masterrr!' But, what can he be told now? In reality, what spiritual help can a monk or any cleric give this prisoner at this moment?" (From the thoughts of a monk prison chaplain)
"Executions are nothing but mandates. In fact, there is no prison officer willing to take the life of others. Various devices, like being shown several buttons so that prison officers will not know which button caused the execution, have been installed to soften emotions. Nevertheless, the thought that maybe I was the one that pressed the button for the execution never leaves you." (From the reflections of a prison officer)
"The family of the victim reels from the loss of one dear to them and have been cast into the depths of misery. From a distant vantage point the Penal Code, the mass media and most people sympathize with these families, but, in fact, do not solve their problems. On the other hand does not their energy work towards throwing the criminals down into the abyss of death?" (From a victim's relative)
"From the point of view of a person facing death, an execution is neither responsible compensation nor punishment. It is nothing other than an escape from a painful life. In exchange for accepting death I gave up repentance and stopped thinking about the victims and their families as well as about my own family. People will despise me, but a death sentence says 'Compensate by your death. There is no need for you to repent.' Is not true that it is because one has a future that one can regret his past and make efforts not to repeat the evil done? Death row inmates without a future find no meaning in repentance." (From a death row inmate)
"I could not restrain my emotion at the sight of NN working in a jail to send his salary to the victim's family. I felt happy at the way he was acting now. I am also scared at the thought of having to die. I understand that he has repented of his past mistakes. Please do not pass a death sentence on him. I beseech you earnestly." (A petition to spare the life of a criminal sent to the Supreme Court by a relative of the victim)
"The Life Message Exhibition held by families of criminals and victims of road accidents that have lost some of their loved ones is a public appeal for the dignity of life. We doubt the rightfulness of demanding capital punishment. Even the life of a criminal is valuable. Is taking a life permissible? No, it is not. Many people say that it is not enough simply to apologize. There is no other way but the death penalty, they claim. Such a feeling is still strong." (From a relative of a victim)
"I willingly apologize for the big crime I committed. I remain unable to be forgiven, but is living good or bad? I am in great anguish…I try to pray for the happiness of the victims and continue my efforts to compensate them as much as I can. I promise to do my very best to lead a life that will not become a cause of resentment to the victims and their families" (From a criminal)

As you may observe, the opinions of those involved in death punishment are quite complex. Can you truly favor capital punishment?

(Shibata Yukinori, Jesuit Social Center, Tokyo)
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