Dead Man Walking, a cruel description of the life in the death row.

The Father:“Are you familiar with the Old Testament? Thou shalt not kill (Exod 20:13). If anyone sheds the blood of man, his blood shall be shed. (Gen 9:6).”.

Sr. Helen: “Yes Father. Are you familiar with the New Testament where Jesus talks about grace and reconciliation? (Matthew 6:14)”.

Title: Dead Man Walking

Directed by: Tim Robbison

Year: 1995

The story: Dead Man Walking is a movie of 1995, directed by Tim Robbins and inspired by a book with the same title. It tells about the relationship between Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn), a death row detainee sentenced to death after the killing of a teenage couple and the rape of the girl, and Sr. Helen (). After receiving an invitation from Matthew, Sr. Helen finally decided to visit him in prison, finding an arrogant and racist man that proclaims his innocence. They firstly start a legal process to try to commute the sentence into a life without parole one, but without success. During their meetings, they build a special spiritual relationship and Sr. Helen decided to spiritually guide Matthew to the death. The main part of the movie deals with the last six days of Matthew life, which in the end is executed with the lethal injection.

The movie is incredibly intense and it deepens a controversial and grave issue without any manipulation and without expressing a position. The director has been able to give a voice to all the possible parties without no one prevailing on the others. Thus, for the audience, watching this moving story is a great emotional experience that leads everyone to take a moment to reflect on capital punishment and on its rationale. Despite the presence of an abolishing trend, death penalty is still legal and applied in many countries. The Amnesty International reports that more than one thousand people were executed in 2016 in 23 different countries and more than three thousand received a death sentence in 55 different countries worldwide. In particular, the United States are the only western country where death penalty is still legal. In 2016 the US were the 7th top executionists in the world. In the US, death penalty is present in 31 States. In th

e US, death penalty is a hot topic that is still generating a huge debate. It should be noted that in 2016 a survey highlighted that the 60% of Americans are in favor of death penalty and these different opinions are well showed in the movie.

To me, what makes the movie so effective is that Matthew is not innocent (sorry for the spoiler). Matthew is presented as a beast without feelings of regret or humanity, so it is natural to think that he has to die. If we put ourselves in the shoes of the victims’ families, we would understand their need for justice and revenge. However, in the end, we can see the dad of the murdered guy saying that he is still full of anger and sadness, since no one would be able to return his son. Matthew’s death has not given him any sense of peace. Furthermore, it is important to note that Matthew had an absent and problematic family and he comes from a poor and isolated neighborhood. His actions has been determined also by his socio-economic background. Is it right to prohibit him any form of redemption or rehabilitation? What he did has been terrible, but I cannot define if he is a monster or a victim of the system.

Then, the movie introduces the audience into the life in the death row, well presenting the conditions of the detainees. The death row is the physical area of the prison where the prisoners condemned to death wait for their execution. In the US, the conditions of death row prisoners are very harsh. Usually, they live in a quasi-isolation and they have only one hour a day of “freedom”. Moreover, they cannot participate in the educational and employment programs implemented by the prison for the other inmates. Finally, inmates usually may not experience natural light and have inadequate sanitation. In the story, Matthew waited more than 6 years before the execution. The average awaiting time before the executions is rapidly growing, a now it is approximately 15 years. This prolonged delays and the harsh conditions suffered from death row prisoners could lead to several psychological consequences that raise doubts about the ethics of this treatment. In fact, in some international cases, the death row phenomenon has been defined as a violation of human rights. The death row conditions and the execution could also be considered as violations of human dignity. You are not allowed to hug your families before the execution, since you are considered dangerous. You are going to die in front of a public.

Is this what we mean for security? Is this really a preventive tool for other crimes? Do you really feel better watching a criminal die in front of you?

I hope you will enjoy the movie and take a moment to dip into this issue.

Valeria Ansaloni

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