Reverend Carroll Pickett
An interview with the author of “Within These Walls: Memoirs of a Death House Chaplain.”
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“Nobody understands what it’s like to watch somebody die,” says Reverend Carroll Pickett, Presbyterian minister and former Death House chaplain for ‘The Walls,’ the Huntsville unit of the Texas prison system. From 1982-97, Pickett ministered to ninety-five men on the final day of their lives—all of them waiting to die by lethal injection—making him the last person to converse with notorious killers like Samuel Hawkins (“The Traveling Rapist”) and Ronald O’Bryan (“The Candy Man”). In his book “Within These Walls” (St. Martin’s Press) Pickett recounts the final hours of many of these criminals, giving the reader an unflinching look at what really transpires on execution day.
Originally a supporter of capital punishment, Pickett now claims that his firsthand experience with a seemingly endless parade of executions led him to come out against the death penalty, a bold reversal in a state infamous for its pro death penalty stance. He now characterizes the death penalty as “useless,” a punishment that not only adversely impacts those involved with meting it out, but causes undue suffering for witnesses and victims’ families. In this Failure Interview, Pickett recalls the executions of several heinous criminals and the circumstances that led him to dub the death penalty a failure.
What led you to taking on the role of Death House chaplain at The Walls?
I had been a minister in Huntsville [Texas] when the director of the prison system—a member of my church—asked me to come to work for a year. I agreed and he assigned me to the Walls unit. [At that point] we weren’t doing executions.
Do you recall how you felt about the death penalty before becoming chaplain?
I was a typical Texan. I was raised in South Texas where the sheriff was the king of the county and he could do no wrong. It was revenge and I thought that’s the way it oughta be. That’s the way most of us in this area were. The Wild West, you might say.