Even many prison officials seem convinced that witnessing an execution is bad for you. A group of former wardens recently wrote a letter to Arkansas' governor protesting the state's plan to execute eight prisoners in a short period, because of the stress on prison staff:
Even under less demanding circumstances, carrying out an execution can take a severe toll on corrections officers’ wellbeing. For those of us who have participated in or overseen executions, we have directly experienced the psychological challenges of the experience and its aftermath. Others of us have witnessed this same strain in our colleagues.Prison officials now speak of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder among staff involved in executions. Allen Ault, a former corrections commissioner, oversaw five executions over the course of two years and ended up opposed to the death penalty, partly because of its effect on the executioners. He told NPR:
Killing somebody in a premeditated way is extremely traumatic, except for a psychopath. Anybody with a conscience, it really wears on you. ... And here we have two by two by two by two — two a day. . . . This isn't hypothetical. I have known a lot of people who have been involved. I have known none who have come out of it unscathed.Even back in the bad old days, executioners were sinister, uncanny figures, rumored to have satanic powers; hence the black hood they sometimes wore to keep from being recognized. Now in the age of anxiety the fearful miasma of state murder has spread to anyone watching, and the process may have to end because nobody sane wants to go near it.