Mornings, when her commute offered time to think back on everything she had seen at the Walls, were the hardest.She was flooded with memories from her time inside the Death House: of the conversations she had shared with particular inmates in the hours before they were strapped to the gurney; of the mothers, dressed in their Sunday best, who had turned out to attend their sons’ executions; of the victims’ families, their faces hardened with grief; of the sudden stillness that came over the prisoners soon after the lethal drugs entered their bloodstreams.Despite all the time the two had spent together—the workday lunches, the happy hours, the long evenings waiting to hear if the appellate courts would grant a reprieve—Michelle had never asked Larry how he felt about watching inmates die, and he had never offered his opinion.So when she had phoned him from the road the previous fall and he had casually mentioned that he was having nightmares—which he downplayed by calling them dreams—about his time inside the Walls, his words had sent a jolt through her.Michelle thought back to a few months earlier, when she had called her former boss, Larry Fitzgerald, on the way to work, as she did every now and then to check in on him.The authoritative sound of his voice—Larry had been a radio news reporter back in the sixties—had always reassured her.Michelle thought about her as she drove to work that morning.When the Houston skyline rose up in front of her, she realized her face was wet with tears.
I’m sorry we didn’t meet under different circumstances. Michelle, who sat behind the wheel of her blue Chevy sedan nursing a travel mug of coffee, had worked for TDCJ herself for more than a decade.
She had also attended executions for her previous job, as a reporter covering prisons for the hometown newspaper, the Michelle spent many evenings—hundreds, in fact—standing shoulder-to-shoulder with witnesses in a cramped room that afforded a view of the death chamber, where she watched as men, and two women, were injected with a three-drug cocktail that stopped their hearts. As Michelle pulled away from the school, she headed out of Huntsville, toward Interstate 45 and her new job more than an hour’s drive away, in downtown Houston.