hit counter
Matthew Hamilton is a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines. After graduating from Belmont Abbey College in 1999, Matthew was
clothed as a Benedictine Monk. After living a life of prayer, solitude, and study for four years, Matthew decided to leave the monastery.
Born in Bowling Green, Kentucky, but raised in four other states, Matthew has a yearning for travel. When he is not teaching, Matthew
reads, writes, and researches his next country to visit or his next story to write. After service, he plans on pursuing an MFA in Creative
Writing.
Death Watch


I murdered my parents eight years ago. Now I sit all alone in a four-by-five cell and write — and think. There’s not much else to
do here. I’m 28 years old and my time is short. I need to share my story. I’ll be dead in 24 hours. The correction officers are
looking at me like I’m already dead. They look at me as if I were a ghost.

It’s just me and the boys, a fraternity of murderers. The dues we pay: our lives.      

We live with our memories. They’re like shadows that slide across the floor or glide along cracks in the wall. I often think that if I
were a shadow, I could slip out of my cell and be a free man.

I remember that night. It’s hard to forget. I want to erase my thoughts. I want to throw away the hundreds of pages of notes
stacked in my head. They are notes full of anger and sadness and remorse. They are pages stained with tears and blood and
wrinkles.  

My lawyer wasn’t able to keep me from death row, although he tried very hard. It was as if he were trying to save his own life.
But the 12 had no compassion, not like the Apostles. Is killing me going to solve anything?

I stood and the foreman said guilty. I knew I was dead. I saw it in his eyes. I saw it in the menacing black robes of the judge.
The mahogany wood of his bench rose above my chair like a swarm of demons. He hovered over me like the devil himself and,
drawing me closer to the fire of his eyes, he slammed his gavel. All was silent.

The dark wood of the courtroom was uninviting. The jury stood like willing executioners of the Einsatzgruppen waiting for
orders to put a bullet in the back of my head and throw me in a shallow grave. My parents’ spirits whispered to me.

“Yes, Bobby made a dreadful decision,” my lawyer said. “But is killing him an appropriate punishment? Is it right? Is it just? Will
it change anything? Will it make us feel better?”

For two weeks I listened, sitting patiently in my seat, my orange jumpsuit stained with the passage of time and sleepless nights.

My limbs were chained together. To scratch my nose I had to lean down a bit and raise both hands and shift my feet. I was a
violent offender. Death awaited me. I could run.

The prosecutor introduced everything into the courtroom: pictures of the crime scene and my apartment, a diagram of my
parents’ house, the shotgun used to murder them. And each time he spoke, he looked at me in disgust and, if he could, he
probably would have killed me right there and saved the taxpayers a load of money. I ignored him most of the time. I spent my
time staring at the walls.     

They say that dying by lethal injection is quick and easy and that it’s more humane than the gas chamber or electric chair. But I
think that’s crap. I’ve read that the electric chair burns and jerks a man’s body and their eyes bleed and their veins explode and
they feel every bit of it until they finally make one last convulsion — right before they bite or swallow their tongue — and slump
over.

The gas chamber. North Carolina first used it in 1936. It doesn’t sound that much better. It takes 6 to 8 minutes for a person
to die from the cyanide gas and within that time their bodies convulse violently and they throw up all over themselves. Their
guts go limp and they crap their pants.  

For lethal injection — like the electric chair or gas chamber — I think you feel the poison going in, your body jerking, foaming at
the mouth, your eyes rolling to the back of your head until they explode in a mass of blood and pain. I mean, if they put you to
sleep first, why do they need to strap you to the bed? It makes no sense to me.

But I guess I’ll know soon enough. I’ll be strapped to a bed and a needle plunged into my arm, four liquids disintegrating my
last breath, a group of witnesses sitting still as they look at me one last time through the immortal window before I close my
eyes.

Then flat line. A five minute wait to make sure I’m dead — like a high dosage of potassium chloride wouldn’t kill me? Who are
they kidding?  Then the witnesses get up and go about their day and my body is released to the medical examiner — and to
God.

I was born in Jacksonville, North Carolina in 1980. I was a latchkey kid by the time I was 10. Mom usually got home from work
by 6, but by then I had made myself dinner, the usual peanut butter and jelly or macaroni and cheese, and was up in my room
taking apart old toys and feeding my fish and reading comic books. She’d come in my room and check on me and then go
downstairs and make her a gin and tonic and fall asleep reading one of her romantic novels – you know, the kind with the overly
muscular guys on the cover and half naked women clinging to their legs, usually with them surrounded by a pit of lava or on top
of a mountain or a dragon or some fantastic animal attacking them, the
man’s sword deep in the dragons belly, flames of fire bellowing out of its mouth, knowing that it’s about to die. I’ll soon know
that feeling.

Being a pharmaceutical salesman, Dad was rarely home. But when he was he would use me as a stress ball. His fists were large
and every time he hit me I thought I was going to die. Mom never did anything to stop him. She just went to work, drank her
gin and tonics, and read her sleazy novels.     

I shot my first gun when I was 13. It was a .22 caliber and my friend Jason and I would ride out with his grandfather to his
tobacco fields and shoot old beer cans. I started reading crime novels around that time, too.

I thought about being a soldier. My grandfather was one. He fought in World War II and earned a Silver Star. He was dead by
the time I was born — throat cancer, I think. He gave all his war stuff to Dad and Dad eventually gave it all to me. But I soon
decided against being a soldier and thought that a doctor — an orthopedic surgeon in fact — would be a more suitable
profession. That time I broke my collar bone; rather, that time my son-of-a-bitch father broke my collar bone, first put the
thought into my head.  The doctor was so nice to me. He healed me and that was something I wanted to do, too — heal people.
I wanted to take their pain away and I suppose, now that I think back on it, helping others was going to help me deal with my
own pain and unhappiness. It was going to be a way of escape, to forget about my childhood, to separate myself completely
from mom and dad and all the troubles they had caused me.  

Then something snapped. I was well into my second year of college. Premed. I was on the Dean’s List. I had a steady girlfriend. I
wasn’t taking drugs or even smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol. The strongest drink I ever had was a Red Bull. My mood had
nothing to do with genetics or chemicals in the brain or me feeling sorry for myself syndrome. I simply had an urge to kill my
parents. And this urge was induced by anger. Years of it. Years of holding back the rage and resentment and confusion.
Nothing more. Yes, my parents gave me life. They fed me and bought me clothes. But one thing they never did:  they never
showed their love to me. They never hugged me or kissed me. They never said they were proud of me. It was like I was a
mistake to them. It was as if Dad forgot to put on the condom or Mom forgot to take the pill or something. And once I was
born, they were stuck with me for 18 years.

Why did they keep me, then? Why did they not give me up for adoption the moment I was born? Why did Dad hit me? Why did
Mom ignore me most of the time? I don’t know the answer to any of those questions. I guess now I never will.

What exactly happened that night? This is what you really want to know, isn’t it? It’s simple. I drove two hours to their house
and blew their brains out and left. I threw the gun in the bushes. I bought it from some drug dealer. He said it was untraceable
and cost me $1,000.

I parked my car a block from their house and walked the rest of the way. It was about 11 p.m. and no one was on the street. A
few house lights were on and I could see shadows of people against the windows. A few dogs barked in the distance, but other
than that, it was quiet. I could smell the warm asphalt and feel the stillness of the neighborhood. It was a safe neighborhood
and Mom and Dad never locked the door, so I slipped in easily. I stood in the foyer a while and
listened. The TV was on. Dad was drinking a beer and watching the late night news. Water was running in the kitchen and I
heard the sound of a dish or glass being dropped in the drain board.

“Hey, John… can you come here for a minute?” Mom called.

And with that I rushed down the hallway and met Dad halfway. Before he could say a word, I hit him in the face with the butt of
the gun and then turned toward the kitchen. Mom stood in the corner, a knife in her trembling hand, her eyes as big as the
plates she was cleaning.

“Bobby,” she said, almost at a whisper, fear and confusion in her voice. Then I pulled the trigger. Her head rocked back from the
impact and pieces of skull and brain splattered all over the glass cabinets. Blood dripped on the tiled floor. Her body, now with
half a face, crumpled like a slinky spiraling down a set of stairs.

I ran back toward the den. Dad was still in the hallway. He was on his knees and rubbing his head. Beer foam was sliding down a
picture that was hanging on the wall. He didn’t see me coming or have time to look up when I pointed the shotgun at his head,
point blank, and fired. Half his head disintegrated. Blood and matter speckled the walls and he folded over like a sack of dark red
garbage.  

I then slipped out the back door, chucked the gun in the bushes, and walked casually to my car, as if I had just had tea and
cookies with them. More lights were on in people’s homes at that point. I assumed they all heard the gun shots and were calling
the police. No one seemed to notice me, though. I was camouflaged by darkness. I was blanketed by the secrecy of evil. I was
evil. I was the devil. I was sheathed in hardened hearts and corrupted souls and the thoughts of evil men. I had many faces —
more than three. I lived in dreams, the Cave of Treasures, the cloudy waters and the fires of the earth. I had the strength of a
lion and the cold poison of a viper. I wore the garment of dark light. I was hidden beneath the illusion of the sun dance. Yes, I
was the devil. I was the face of lustful maidens and prideful men. I took people from their beds and shared with them the land of
the untamed dragons and frightened them with stories of witches that lived under lakes and demons that hid in closets. I
sharpened their horns and pointy tails and pitchforks. I delighted myself in their terrified minds.      

I made it safely back to my apartment and went to bed. The next morning I went to class and listened to Professor Davidson
give a lecture about the human genome and his explanation on how we once lived in the ocean as my parents’ bodies leaked out
their last drops of blood in the hallway and kitchen floor, a police photographer taking pictures at every possible angle and
detectives, fitted with rubber gloves and keen eyes, hovered around the scene in search for hidden clues.

I got the phone call late that afternoon. The cops found my number on the refrigerator door. Why my parents had it, I do not
know. I had not spoken to them since my freshman year.

“Mr. Reid?”

“Speaking.” I tried to sound like I wasn’t expecting the call.

“This is Sergeant Jacobson from the Jacksonville P.D. You are the son of John and Martha Reid, correct?”

“Yes, sir, that’s right.”

“Then I’m afraid I have some very bad news.”

“I’m listening… go on.”

“Their bodies were found this morning by a neighbor. They were shot… they’re dead.”

I went to the morgue to identify their bodies. There wasn’t much left, as I well knew, having been the one to cause their deaths.
The top of Dad’s head was missing completely and I only could identify him by his wedding ring. Mom’s face was half gone, but
there was enough of her right side to easily identify her. And I did this most convincingly, tears and all. No one seemed to
suspect a thing.

But, as most criminals do, I made mistakes. I didn’t thoroughly wipe down the gun and the cops found half a thumb print. I left
a bloody footprint at the scene. Stupid things like that.

I always dreamed about other kids’ lives, how different they were from mine. I always wished my grandfather were still alive and
owned a tobacco field or cattle farm.

I wanted a normal life. I wanted days of hot cakes and grits, family dinners, cigarette smoke, and fresh coffee. All I ever got was
pop tarts and cold cereal. I wanted long summers chasing butterflies and June bugs and the katydids chanting to the twilight of
celestial dreams and the chickadees praising the cool waters of a birdbath and the delectable crunch of thistle seed in a large
back yard. I wanted the smell of fresh cut grass, sweaty bodies of tough boys with black eyes and skinned knees playing
backyard football. I wanted a farm by our house, the odor of the cows, the tin-roofed barn, the dusty and dry sweet smell of
hay, the pigs slopping up blends of liquid corn and tomato juice and days old potatoes, the red tractor slinging manure and the
sweet air of honeysuckle and the perfume of the yellow rose. But living downtown we had no yard at all. I wanted days by the
ocean — olive skin and golden hair — the enchanting voice of whales, the smooth movement of the dolphin, the burning sting of
the man of war, the mysteries of the ghost crab, the cloudy eyes of the Great White dragon, the skeletal ships of buccaneers
and the periwinkles of buried treasure. And although we were not far from the ocean, my parents never took me.

Death row. It’s a lonely and scary place. It’s just me and the ghosts and creeping shadows walking the halls — and the
darkness. I can’t escape the darkness. Although we move and breathe and eat and talk, we are all of us dead. We’re zombies.
There’s no light in our eyes anymore and our skin is pasty and pale. Everything is of the same color: our clothes, the walls, the
floors, either white or gray. The correctional officers move like robots. Each and every hour of the day is spent alone. 24 hours a
day with nothing to do but think or go crazy. Some lose their mind in here.

Hate is a very strong word. It’s a word that initiates war and violence. It’s a word that boils your skin and slaps you in the face
and kicks you in the chest and pushes you down the stairs and breaks your collarbone. Hate is why I’m on death row. Society
hates me and they want me dead. Many of my executioners claim to be Christian. The correction officers who watch us all day
long say they are Christian. But they are all a bunch of damn hypocrites. “Love your enemies” means nothing to them.

Religion wasn’t something that was discussed in our house, unless you count Dad yelling at the TV and saying “God damn!” and
“Jesus Christ!”

What is God? As a child I believed that God lived in the ocean. When I saw it for the first time I knew it to be true. But now the
ocean is just a memory, a mystery of daydream sand and the meditative blue of my conscious.

Now, after eight years on death row, a voice in the wilderness has cried out to me, and, beneath the galloping splashes of my
thoughts, my spirit has awakened. I have returned to my innocence.

As the last needle goes into my arm, I hope to see angels. I hope to hear their music. I have dreamed that it will be an
enchanting sound:  their voice carried by a gentle breeze; speaking softly through the trees; dancing by the river. I want to
reach out to them, but I fear that they will disappear behind dark clouds and a soft rain. I fear that I will hear drum taps of war
on river rocks and rolling thunder.

I need to stop writing now. I’ve been thinking and writing almost the whole night. I’ll be dead in a couple of hours. My eyes are
watering and I can’t see the page. I don’t remember the last time I cried, but it must have been the last time Dad hit me. The
officers behind the door are looking at me funny. They want me to put away my pen and paper. A priest is waiting to pray with
me.

Now I walk into the unknown and give my arm to the needle and my soul to God.
Matthew Hamilton
Bookmark and Share