The silence on death row was deadly. The inmates could almost hear tears fall to the ground as they sadly awaited the inevitable.
Waiting felt like eternity. Yet time passed too quickly when determined footsteps broke the silence. As the guards approached the cell, everyone knew that it was time to say goodbye.
“I love you. You’re not alone, brother,” Derrick shouted, hoping for a miracle to happen as the prisoner passed by his cell a few minutes later.
When the sound of the rattling shackles died out and the door slammed at the end of the prison hallway, Derrick knew all hope was gone.
Shortly after his friend was strapped to the gurney in the execution chamber and despite Derrick’s promise, no one was there to hold his hand as the poison ran through his veins.
Derrick is a robust man, 6’3” tall and hardened from two decades on death row. Still, he cannot help breaking down as he tells the story of his friend who was silenced by a lethal injection.
Wilford Berry was the first inmate to be executed on death row since Derrick had been put there. During the following years from 1999 to 2005, Derrick would lose another 17 friends. All executed by the state of Ohio.
“On death row, inmates only have each other. Inmates become family. And every execution of my brothers feels like yesterday. I miss them so much,” Derrick tells while he tries to catch his breath, but the sadness is overwhelming and he has to let go of the tears.
Although death row at Lucasville was populated by people who had shown no compassion for their victims, the cell block was full of affection. No prisoner could get through without the support and care of other inmates.
“Some sit on death row and languish for decades. At some point, everyone needs to be comforted,” Derrick says.
Especially when an inmate was scheduled to be executed, the prisoners would support each other, knowing they were tied together by the same destiny. Eventually, they would all face death in the same chamber.
Therefore, Derrick was not afraid of expressing his feelings as he watched dead men walking by his cell.
“The media called them monsters, but I saw human beings despite the horrible things some of them had done. I would tell them that I loved and cared for them as they walked by. I tried to be their family in their final hour. It is unbearable walking alone to the death chamber,” Derrick says.
After an execution, the following days on death row were always marked by sadness. Cynical killers would react with the same fear as their victims had when it became obvious that their execution could be next.
“You could, literally, smell death and fear after an execution,” Derrick says.
Slowly, life would return. The prisoners would continue their daily routines, and most of them hoped to have a long life ahead even though it would be spent behind bars. In this way, the cycle of life reminded much of the one outside the walls, except that when a life ended in prison, it was not necessarily due to the course of nature, but decisions made by mankind. One day, Derrick’s name was called.
When Derrick’s execution was announced, he had already spent more than 15 years on death row living in despair, but as he now sat alone in the cell knowing that his ordeal was about to come to an end, he found no comfort for himself.
When he ate his last meal, he had one more wish—that his execution would be quick and painless. Not all of the 18 men who had been executed prior to Derrick were that lucky.
“They were forced out of their cells, strapped down on a gurney, and had poison shot into their blood. Many suffered physically when killed. They had to have injections again and again. Knowing that death could be painful really scared me,” Derrick shares.
The inmates were always given three different drugs when executed. Sodium pentothal would put the inmate to sleep, pancuronium bromide would stop the breathing, and, finally, potassium chloride would stop the heart beating—at least theoretically.