When: Thu., April 19, 6-9 p.m. 2012
The Walls, as its known, is the most famous death row lockup in the nation. Located 12 miles north of Huntsville, Texas, it has been the setting for hundreds of newspaper and media accounts of executions; it's the centerpiece of Werner Herzog's documentary Into the Abyss and of the book and DVD In This Timeless Time: Living and Dying on Death Row in America by documentarians Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian.
A series of black-and-white photos taken in Cell Block J in 1979 portrays life on death row. We see a man's hand protruding from his cell door, holding a mirror so he can see the person next to him—anything for human contact. We see inmates in their brief hour in the day room or on the dirt volleyball court. We look into the eyes of murderers—and the wrongly convicted. We hear from inmates whose execution time had arrived, only to be postponed minutes beforehand.
A second section, "Words," provides additional context beyond the photographic reach: the legal framework for capital punishment and its many inconsistencies, even absurdities; the racial disparity in death sentences; and the inhumanity inside The Walls—the sounds, smells, violence. In some cells, the lights intrude 24 hours a day; in other cells, light rarely reaches beyond the bars. It is true that most of these men—and nearly all the inmates are men—have committed horrific crimes. But this book shows that in state-sanctioned cruelty and killing, each of us loses some of our humanity.
A reception from 6–9 p.m. will recognize not only In This Timeless Time but also Jackson's historic exhibit Full Color Depression, a selection of Kodachromes from rural and small-town America during the Great Depression that's on display at CDS through July 23. Jackson will speak at 7 p.m., with he and Christian signing copies of the book afterward. Admission is free. —Lisa Sorg