How much can we forgive? Can I forgive someone who has raped and murdered a 6 year old boy, an executioner, or a DA who falsified evidence in order to send a 17-year-old to death row that he knew was innocent?
I pursued this project over the course of ten years, using spare funds earned through my commercial photography work. I have met hundreds of murderers and serial killers, parents of murdered children, teenagers sentenced to die for crimes they did not commit, and wardens and prison guards who are haunted by the men they executed.
I've met people so evil that they should never be allowed to walk among us. It’s not nice to say, but there are people who are not worthy of our compassion and forgiveness. One thing I learned from this project is how lucky many of us are never to have been touched by the terrors that our prisons protect us from.
But there are also prisoners I’ve met who are living their lives by attempting to redeem themselves daily. Men who made horrible mistakes and fully acknowledge the consequences of their actions. Men who know that they should never walk free for the crimes they have committed, but accept that within prison walls they can attempt to live a redeemed life.
Forgiveness from others can often ring hollow, but redemption is a gift that only they can give themselves. It is the measure of their capacity for self-forgiveness. It can only be earned through positive action and unflinching self-reflection. The catch is that a man who is truly redeemed will never be able to forgive himself. Redemption is a bitch like that.
And ultimately, that’s the problem. The death penalty denies the highest values of our society and precludes forever a man’s hope to eventually live a redeemed life, which might be the most “cruel and unusual” punishment of all.