DASALA (8) FP -- An American woman was sentenced to death for cocaine
The 30-year-old American, Julie Stevens, collapsed when the sentence
was read by the judge. She had proclaimed her innocence throughout
her trial and insisted the drugs had been planted in her luggage.The court could have sentenced her to twenty years in prison on a lesser charge, but the judge said the laws of the country must be applied evenly to all people, including women and Americans.
The American had been on vacation in Dasala last July when she was arrested
when authorities conducting a routine search discovered her luggage contained
The judge ordered that the woman be hanged by the neck until dead. The date
for the sentence will be set after the decision is affirmed by Dasala's highest court.
Mrs. Stevens will be the first American woman ever executed in Dasala. Human Rights
organizations protested the sentence and claimed the trial was unfair. The American
government refused to comment on the case.
Mrs. Stevens was ordered held in the notorious Dasala women's prison until her
MY EXECUTION IN DASALA
By Julie Marie
This is so unreal. I cannot believe this is happening to me. I do not belong here. There has been a
terrible mistake. I want to go home. How long will I have to endure this?
All my possessions, even my wedding ring, have been taken by the authorities as their own
personal mementoes. On my first day, they took my clothes and gave me this filthy, thin cotton
prison smock that is reserved for death row prisoners. They tell me the woman who wore it
before me was crazy and killed her husband and babies with a knife. The guards laugh and say it
has not been washed. I will not be permitted underwear or shoes, only the smock and my chains.
I hesitate, but a guard's baton in my ribs hurries me. I step out of my clothes and shiver in my
nakedness. There is no privacy. No one looks away. My skin crawls as I put on the filfthy blue
smock. It comes down to above my knees. A mean looking guard catches my eye and makes a
dramatic show of licking his lips and smiling evily at me. I shudder and turn away, ashamed.
The guards lead me through the prison yard. We pass women playing volleyball and reading
books in the sunshine. We walk by the rows of cells. The women have decorated their cells with
pictures and paintings. There is a community room with a television set. The guards nudge me
with their batons as I shuffle slowly in my shackles and bare feet. My wrists are cuffed in front of
me and linked to a chain around my waist. The other inmates have no restraints. They all eye me
strangely as I shuffle past.
I do not get one of those cells. The guards push me to keep going. They guide me down into a
basement. It is dark and cold. I shiver and goose bumps rise on my arms. One guard pushes my
head down to force me through a narrow door into a cramped, dark room. I cannot believe this. It
is out of my worst nightmares. The ceiling is so low I cannot stand up. My clothes closet at home
is bigger than this. My eyes adjust to the darkness and I shudder. I see big spiders in the corners.
Water is seeping down one wall and puddles of stagnant liquid pool in low spots on the floor.
As the guard releases my wrist restraints I scream at him. "You can't do this to me. I am an
American Citizen!" He calls me a felon and spits in my face, then shoves me away. I trip and fall
back into a stinking pool of liquid. I cry for hours. I thought I had cried all my tears when the
judge said I would be hanged, but this wretched place brings out even more tears.
Even in my cell my ankles are shackled by heavy iron chains. I am told the shackles will
never be taken off . I have to shuffle and carry my chains whenever I move aroundl There is a
small steel bowl that I must use as my toilet. I have to squat over it to pee or poop. It is so
humiliating. If I miss the bowl, the guards tell me I will clean the mess with my fingers. They tell
me the bowl is my sink, too, but I can not bring myself to wash with it.
When I am allowed to leave my cell for an hour each day my wrists are cuffed in front of me and
bound to a chain locked around my waist. My chains distinguish me as a death penalty inmate. My
light complexion distinguishes me as an American. I am one of a kind in this horrid place.
Only the death row inmates are shackled constantly. Some of the other prisoners in the clean,
modern cells on the floors above me are killers who will someday walk free. Those women are
allowed to shower and shampoo daily. They receive visitors twice a month, write letters and even
watch television. They eat in a modern cafeteria. They are sent packages from their families and
wear their own clothes. Since I have been sentenced to die, the government considers any money
spent on me to be a waste. If I was not certain the American government would get me out of
this place soon, I would go crazy.
I am allowed to walk escorted through the prison, but I can never mingle with the other inmates.
During my hour outside my cell, the guards follow me around. They warn the other inmates that
"the American felon," or "the Yankee offender" is coming. No one calls me by my name. The
guards sometimes call me"convict." That is usually the nicest thing they call me.
One guard says he is going to be nice to me. The one who licked his lips so lewdly when he
watched me put on my prison smock. He pressed himself against me that first day and blew me a
kiss as I was pushed into my cell. He said I belong to him. Whenever he sees me he makes
menacing gestures and gives me an obscene smile. I try to avoid him, but I have no control,
except of my eyes. I do not look at him if I can help it.
I am given a cup of water three times a day. That is not enough. The roof of my mouth if dry and
my tongue sticks to it constantly. Usually there is a dead cockroach or spider at the
bottom of the cup. I know the guards put the insects in my water and in the thin, cold soup and
cereal I am fed every day with little variation. Sometimes I am given cold rice, and I have to be
very careful to pick out the maggots. I dream of the salmon and pot roast I used to eat at home.
My cell is dim during the day. I can barely see the ugly spiders in the webs they have spun in the
corners of the ceiling. At night I imagine the spiders coming down to eat me. And there are mice
and mean-looking beetles that make me shiver and sometimes scream when I see them. At night I
can hear them scurrying around the cell. In the morning I find the bowl of dry cereal and stale
bread that is my breakfast covered with the feasting bugs. After days of losing my appetite to the
revulsion of the bugs, I am reduced to fighting the bugs off for my meals. Often the food is
inedible no matter how hungry I am. If I do get a piece of meat it is usually too putrid to keep
down and I end up retching and gagging. It gets so I prefer the stale bread.
At night it is pitch black. I try to fall asleep before it gets too dark. I have trouble sleeping out of
fear of the spiders and mice. It is not a silly fear. I wake up with bites on my body. Some of the
bites are infected and do not heal. I dread the nights. I feel like I am being eaten alive by these
My skin itches from the filth and the bites. I sit in my cell scratching myself. I spend hours using
my fingers to untangle the snags in my lank hair. My condition is so pathetic that I yearn for the
time when I could lather my hair with shampoo and conditioner. At night I fall asleep dreaming of
taking a warm, sudsy bath. I remember the faint strawberry fragrance of my hair from my favorite
shampoos. I always took such pride in my appearance, especially my long hair. I feel hideous.
After awhile I begin to feel insects crawling in my scalp. I am appalled! And I am incessantly
picking at my scalp with my fingers to get the bugs out of my hair.
If I lay still for just a moment, I soon have flies crawling on my skin. The flies are constantly
buzzing around my little toilet bowl and landing on my sores. I never thought it would be
possible, but as the days turn into weeks, I stop noticing the flies or the smell. It becomes my life.
The final indignity comes with my period. I cower in a corner of the cell making a bloody mess on
the floor. The one concession to my situation is a dirty rag the guards throw at me. I keep it
between my legs for three days. The day my period arrives I realize I have been in here three
In my solitude I have plenty of time to think about how I got here. I see now it was all a plot. The
whole idea of a vacation down here to repair our marriage was a plot. The emergency at work
that made my husband leave so abruptly and led to me flying home alone. It was all a big plan. I
had been set up by my husband and his lover. This way they get rid of me without the mess and
expense of a divorce. I had been left alone in this terrible country with thousands of dollars worth
of cocaine planted in my luggage. Someone called the police at the airport to alert them to me.
They found cocaine in my suitcases, sewn into the lining of my clothes and even a little
packet in my purse. It totalled one hundred grams. They called me a trafficker! I never saw
cocaine before in my life! No one cares.
I am totally alone. I find some comfort in singing to myself. I am constantly singing softly songs
that I used to listen to at home and sometimes singing nursery rhymes I used to sing to my
children. When I am not singing, I am humming. It gives me comfort. I probably seem crazy to
One morning I find the menacing guard outside the open door of my cell. He has a taunting smile
as he boldy fingers a ring he is wearing on a chain around his neck. I am shocked to recognize it
as my wedding right. "This means you are mine," he says in his accented English. "You will be
nice." I feel sick to my stomach.
When I am let outside my cell I become a marked woman. The guards despise me and treat me
cruelly. But the other women inmates truly hate me. The guards just stand by and laugh when I
am attacked. The other day I was shuffling in my chains when a woman broke past my guards,
grabbed my hair and bashed my head against the wall, making me fall to my knees in pain. As I
knelt there dazed, she spit in my face. When the guards deliver my food, they always spit in my
bowl or my water as they hand it to me. The one guard who says he owns me likes to poke at me
with his baton. He presses his baton into my breast and uses it to lift up smock and presses it into
me with while he laughs at my discomfort. I hate him. He says I will be his girlfriend.
I talk with no one because few people will speak English around me. Everyone spoke English to
me when I was a tourist with an American Express card. They were all smiling and polite to me
then. Now they just spit and talk in their Dasala dialect. I cannot understand what they say. I talk
to them, but they just shrug. Sometimes they hit me.
After several days a mean looking woman guard and three men come into my cell. They take the
pan of my waste and dump it into a big pail. Then the men bring a big hose into the cell and turn it
onto me. They hose the cell down, avoiding the ceiling so they will not disturb the spider webs.
The woman points to the webs and says "poison" in English. She smiles hideously and steps away
from me. The guards direct the water onto me, turning up its force and aiming it onto my face,
laughing as I am knocked sprawling onto the floor. Its powerful torrent takes my breath away
and drenches me with an antiseptic smelling blast of cold water that leaves me shivering and
makes the thin smock stick to my skin. The guards laugh at me. They hose down the rest of the
cell and leave me in the cold and wet room. It is a ritual repeated every week. When they leave I
list the moisture off my skin.
By the end of the week my little bowl is overflowing with urine and excrement. I try to keep it as
far away from me as possible, which is not more than five feet. When ever she comes to empty my
bowl and hose my cell down, the woman guard wrinkles her nose and calls me a disgusting pig.
Usually she pokes at the webs to stir up the spiders so they will come down and bite me. When I
protest, she calls the men who come in and shackle my wrists to the wall over my head. My
boyfriend comes in and humiliates me with his baton while I am totally helpless. They leave me
like that as my punishment for as long as they feel like it. They can do anything they want to me.
There is one man who talks to me in English. He is not one of the guards, but the prison doctor.
He has penetrating eyes that seem to focus intently on me whenever I am with him. It is like he is
constantly studying me. His English is pretty good and he knows a lot about America. He says it
is his job to pronounce me dead while I am still hanging from the noose! He seems fascinated by
me, I think maybe because I am a foreigner and because I am going to die. He is not at all
sympathetic, but seems eager to see me die. He likes to tell me what my death will be like. This
doctor has given me several physical examinations, some in his office and some in the dark, dirty
corner of my cell.
The doctor lectures me about Dasala. During my vacation I had seen the beach and the hotel we
stayed at, but I never saw the rest of the country. The people are poor and oppressed and they
resent Americans, especially me. The lucky ones get jobs serving the tourists, but they all detest
the rich Americans who exploit their country. My execution is viewed as a great opportunity to
see an American get theirs, he told me. "They see you as an immoral American bitch," he says
matter-of-factly. "It will be like a holiday for the people of Dasala."
" They all want to come to see how a young and pretty American girl, convicted of a crime in
their country is punished like all other felon women are. It is good for the country," he said with a
smile as he patted me on the knee. "Your death serves a purpose. It will be good for them to see
you are no more wearing fancy modern clothes: just a plain inmate's uniform., barefoot, your
soles dirty like the miserable peasants', heavily shackled, like a slave, humiliated, terrified, begging
for mercy, receiving none. Just a slow, painful and degrading death, slowly strangulated by the
hard noose, having enough time to think about your crimes while in sheer agony, dancing like a
puppet at the end of the rope."
The doctor does have a way with words.
The doctor treats me for my cold, which will not go away. My nose is running and I have a bad
cough. I show him the sores on my ankles from the shackles. He only nods at my bruises and cuts
inflicted by the guards and other inmates. He is curious about my yeast infection, but will not
waste antibiotics on me. He takes a picture of me with an old Polaroid camera. He says he is
keeping a record of my case.
I ask him if he can get me some shoes. Maybe some cheap flipflops. He said he will pass my
request on to the prison authorities.
The next day when the guards come to take me from my cell my boyfriend grabs a handful of
my hair and yanks my head back while his friend stomps on my bare foot with his heavy boot. The
pain is excruciating and I scream. The guards laugh. I am certain my toe is broken and I limp.
That was the prison's response to my request for shoes!
When I see the doctor the next day I tell him about the attack. He asks several questions
about the pain and twists my toe in his fingers, making he scream and grimace. It occurs to me
he is not setting the fracture, but torturing me!
I see the doctor almost every day. He gives me examinations and questions me about my state of
mind and my health. He does nothing to ease my discomfort. He has a morbid curiosity about me.
I have told this doctor several times that I am innocent. The doctor just shrugs and says it is too
bad. I ask him to go to the American Embassy for me, but he says they will not intervene because
of the political situation. They all want to make an example of me in their War Against Drugs.
The doctor says the United States government has been pressing this government to crack down
on drug traffickers, so they could not very well ask for leniency for me, just because I am
American, could they? I beg him to try. I just want to live. He is more interested in telling me
about the hanging. He watches my face closely as he talks about my execution, like he is trying to
memorize my reaction.
I ask him if he can, as my doctor, convince the authorities to give me more water and food. I tell
him I am thirsty all the time and my mouth is so dry. He suggests I try drinking my urine. I tell
him I am so hungry I barely have the strength to walk. He says I have no where to go.
I am not be allowed to see my children or even to receive any mail. I beg the doctor for paper
and a pen so I may write them a letter. He could mail it for me. He said he will think about it,
but he would be taking a great risk. I am not worth it. I ask if he could get me some better
clothes, like the other inmates. Just a sweater?
I hate the blue smock I have been wearing since the first day. It is filthy and the thin cotton does
not keep me warm at all. I am constantly cold.
"Don't complain about the way you are dressed. After all, you could be hanged completely naked.
That would be infinitely more degrading for you, and more exciting for us!" He laughed at his
"If I cannot get my clothes back, maybe I could get a hair brush? Would you ask if I could?"
The doctor says he will see. That night I dream of brushing my hair. I curl up on the cold concrete
floor listening to the mice squeak and the beetles scrape, and remember how my mother taught
me to brush my long hair one hundred strokes every night before bed. It is a nice memory. I cried
for my mother that night.
During our meetings in his office, the doctor sits in his fine leather chair while I stand next to his
desk, shackled and in my dirty gown. He sips iced tea and peels a tangerine while he interrogates
me about my medical history. He pops a section of the tangerine into his mouth as he talks. I eye
the tangerine hungrily and the tea makes my mouth water. He smiles kindly at me and I am certain
he will offer me some, but he does not. One day I tell him how much I love raspberries. At our
next meeting he makes a point of eating raspberries in front of me. Sometimes he eats cookies.
Sometimes he calls me in while he is eating his lunch. He never offers me any.
I hate the way my mouth feels. I have always been very good about brushing my teeth and using
mouth wash. I do not have a toothbrush and the three cups of water leaves me dehydrated. My
mouth is dry and my teeth are coated with a film.
The doctor asks me all sorts of questions about my life back home. I tell him about my love of
dancing and the little black dress that my husband liked me to wear when we went out. I told him
how I used to run every day on the bike path down by the river, how I danced ballet for seven
years before I became pregnant. I know I must seem like a snooty American.
We talk about books and movies. He asks me if I have seen the movie "Dead Man Walking." It is
a cruel question and he enjoys my pain. His questions become more intruding. He asks me how I
lost my virginity, if I take birth control pills. He takes copious notes about my sexual history. I tell
him everything. I want someone to know who I was, and I think if this man knows me, he will
become my ally. He is my only hope. He is the only person who does not spit on me.
I ask about my hairbrush. He ignores me.
The doctor monitors my broken foot, which is still swollen and purple. I have stubbed my toe
several times and my boyfriend has deliberately stepped on it whenever he can. The doctor
says there is nothing he can do. I will be dead before it can heal. Between the chafing of the
shackles on my ankle sores and my broken toe I hobble painfully whenever I have to walk. I am
slow, which angers my impatient guards and they push me around to go faster. I become even
more crippled when a spider bites me behind the knee and the bite gets infected, making my leg
stiff and swollen. I am in such pain!
During my prison yard walks "my boyfriend" walks behind me pressing his baton into the small of
my back to push me along. Then he lowers the baton beneath my smock and raises the stick
between my legs to goose me into moving faster. Even the other inmates laugh at my humiliation.
The doctor is obsessed by death. He talks about the hangings he has seen. He is intensely curious
about my terror and is constantly questioning me about my fears, my nightmares and telling me
stories designed to heighten my panic. He says I remind him of a British teenager who was hanged
in Malaysia for being a drug trafficker several years ago. He tells me enthusiastically how it took
her five minutes strangling on the rope before she died.
Later I am dragged out of my cell and taken to a sparse room and forced to sit in a wood chair. A
stern looking woman enters the room and glares at me. It takes her about five minutes to cut my
hair off with her dull scissors. The woman is rough and mean. She grabs my chin cruelly and turns
my head from side to side as she snips and cuts. Tears are streaming down my face. She just hacks
it off and the chestnut brown hair I had worn so long all my life is on the floor. When she is
finished she holds my head in her hands and spits in my face. I am given a broom and dustpan and
ordered to sweep my hair up and throw it in the trash can. The sight of my long hair on the floor
reminds me of my daughter's first hair cut. I saved her hair in an envelope that is still in a drawer
in my bedroom back home.
I feel absolutely degraded by the loss of my hair. They have taken absolutely everything from me.
There is nothing left to take, except my life. The doctor tells me the brutal haircut was the prison's
response to my request for a hairbrush. I decide I will not ask for a toothbrush. He says my hair
was cut off for hygienic purposes. They do not want vermin getting into my hair and spreading
disease and they will not waste their time cleaning the hair of a woman who will soon be dead
The doctor tells me about another woman he has seen executed. Kathleen. He talks wistfully of
her. They had an affair before she died. The story was touching, even romantic in a sordid tragic
way. It seems clear that he finds doomed women attractive. I am desperate. I find myself flirting
with him, thinking if I seduce him, he will let me write a letter to my kids, or maybe get me a
blanket for my cold nights in my cell.
The doctor has me slip out of the dirty cotton prison gown and he fondles me as I shiver naked in
the cold air. It is more of a man with a woman, than a doctor with a patient. He runs his fingers
gently along my throat, telling me I have a beautiful neck. His touch and his words make me
shiver. He kneads and squeezes my breasts and pinches my nipples until I wince. While two
guards stand next to the door, watching us silently, the doctor has me sit up on his cold stainless
steel table and he pulls my knees apart. He boldly presses his finger inside me. All the while his
face is close to mine, his eyes looking directly into mine. I do not resist him. He has me bend over
and he probes me there. He is exploiting me. I do not care anymore. The doctor tells me he is
conducting a study and wants to compare my body while I am alive with my corpse. He takes
pictures of me and writes notes on my body and my reaction during these "examinations." He
says his work is important. As the days go by and my execution approaches, I am called out of my
cell more frequently for the doctor's "research."
It is all so humiliating. But I have no rights. Everyone has told me that. The judge who sentenced
me to die. The guards who push and slap me around. The other women inmates who grab me by
the hair and hit my head against the walls and spit in my face. I am a convicted felon and deserve
no better treatment than any convicted felon gets in this prison. Because I am an American, in
fact, everyone takes special pleasure out of making me suffer. So, if I expect any one to care that
this doctor is abusing me, too bad.
He kisses me. He says I am guilty and deserve my punishment for my crimes. He gets close to me.
I feel self conscious about the way I must smell. He laughs and says I smell like a woman. He
kisses me again. It is funny. I am grateful for his kisses. It means I am still a human, that I have
some worth to someone. It is better than being spit on.
I will not resist if the doctor wants sex with me. I am so desperate I will do anything for a
toothbrush or a drink of water. But he does not want me that way. I am not attractive any more.
That is even more humiliating.
I know the doctor's examinations serve no real medical purpose. He presses the cold
stethoscope to my chest and says I have a strong heartbeat. He says my pulse is slow because I
am a runner. He shakes his head and says it is such a waste, that I am a stupid woman for what I
have done. He said he wishes he could have my corpse immediately after the hanging. He would
"harvest" my kidneys and heart to give good people better lives. He would even take my eyeballs
and lungs. He says the government should come up with a more efficient form of execution to
preserve my organs. If the government let him sell my organs back to sick rich Americans, Dasala
could make the United States pay for my execution. He looks at me, and asks: Wouldn't that be
ironic? He whispers to me that if the president of Dasala needed my kidney, he bet they would
change their plans!
I mark my time by the doctor's schedule. When he does not see me for two days in a row I know
it is the weekend. On our Monday visits he always asks me how my weekend went. Of course my
weekends were just like every other day -- sitting in my dark cell dreaming of my life back home.
The doctor always enjoyed telling me about his weekends, the trips to the beach, the movies he
saw, the restaurants he ate at. He likes to add to my pain in his own way. He asks me to describe
my favorite meal, asking me what I would eat if I had my freedom. It is an overwhelming
question. He tells me to think about it, which makes me wonder if he knows something about my
The doctor tells me my case was big news all over Dasala. The scene of me breaking down and
crying as I was led out of the courtroom was on the television news for days. I had been shocked
when I was arrested at the airport. I was shocked by the way the police treated me and the jail
conditions and I was mortified when the judge found me guilty. I was certain the White House
would do something to save me, but the ambassador never returned my calls or came to the court
house. My lawyer had told me I would get twenty years in prison, and I thought that was horrible.
I had been totally unprepared for the death sentence. The prison doctor says many people want to
see me hang.
Before my conviction, the newspapers all ran pictures of me from my high school year book and
my wedding pictures, which made the average person hate me all the more because I fit their
image of the spoiled American. And during the trial the newspapers got hold of my vacation
pictures and ran the photographs of me in my sundress at an expensive restaurant and in my bikini
at the beach, which made all the poor people seethe with resentment. I bought that bikini to look
sexy for my husband. Now that bikini was being used to make me look like a slut!
He tells me there is a billboard in the capital with my picture on it and a message saying that no
one is above the law in Dasala. The doctor told me there is probably not a person in the
country, including the American ambassador, who does not want me to die. Once I am executed,
the American government can begin negotiating with Dasala, but if the United States forced the
government to spare me, Dasala would refuse to negotiate.
I itch all over all the time. One day I find tiny little white things in my pubic hair. Then I notice
tiny black bugs crawling down there. I am mortified. I have always taken such good care of
myself. Now I have lice! I scratch myself until I am bleeding, which makes the lice even happier.
The next day there are more lice. And they seem bigger.
When the guards come to hose my cell down, they wrinkle their noses in disgust and kick me
around so they can aim their spray directly between their legs. The guard who calls me his
girlfriend puts his boot on my chest and kicks me backwards. He is snarling. You are such a pig,
no one will touch you. He spits on my face. I wipe his saliva off with my hand and lick it off my
palm. The woman guard says they will not be making many more trips to my cell.
In his office during one of our visits the doctor tells me he plans to leave the country after my
execution. He has kept a collection of the newspaper articles about my case. He shows them to
me, but does not allow me to touch them. They are his. I cannot read the language, but he is
proud that he is quoted in almost all the stories. No one is allowed to interview me, so he talks to
the newspaper reporters. He is very popular because of his access to me. I feel betrayed by the
doctor. All the personal details from our private conversations have been published in the Dasala
newspapers. I am embarrassed and ashamed.
One of the newspaper stories reports the United States government revoked my passport after my
conviction. The ambassador said the action was to show American support for law and order.
Another newspaper quoted my husband saying I had too much credit card debt, which was why I
would sell drugs. What a horrible lie! I am not allowed to tell my side. No one is interested.
One day the doctor tells me my hair was retrieved from the trash by the guards and distributed as
souvenirs of the doomed American woman. He opens an envelope and holds up a handful of
what I recognize as my hair. He is proud because he has a bigger hunk of my hair than any of the
guards. He smirks at my expression and says he will keep it with the newspaper clippings and the
notes he has taken. He shows me his collection of pictures of me. The photographs are terrifying.
I look absolutely horrid, so stark and gaunt. I do not recognize myself. He says he is thinking of
writing a book about my hanging. He thinks it will be a best seller in America and make him a rich
I repeat my request to write a letter to my family. Thoughts of my children have been too painful
for me to endure and I have tried hard not to think of them. But I do want so badly to write to
them. I beg the doctor. He waves me away.
In my cell the next morning while I pick at the lice and rub my throbbing toe, I notice a tiny speck
of nail polish left on my toes. It reminds me of the woman I used to be and puts into perspective
the pathetic creature I am now. I sob.
The doctor tells me the authorities are preparing for my execution. There are so many people who
want to see me hang, that they have to make special preparations to handle the crowd. The
warden has asked for extra money to pay for my execution. There is even talk of shutting the
schools and businesses so the whole nation can focus on my trip to the gallows. The plan is to
have me executed in front of a small crowd of special guests, then leave my corpse twisting and
turning slowly at the end of the rope so that everyone can see what happens to arrogant
Americans who do not obey Dasala laws! The public display of my corpse is the government's
way of making a statement, he explains. The picture of my body hanging from the gallows will be
on the television news and on the front pages of all the newspapers. It is especially newsworthy
because I am the first American to be executed in this country. Three other drug traffickers were
scheduled to hang with me, but they were pardoned by the president so the focus can be totally on
The doctor likes to describe in detail how I will die.
"You will be kicking wildly in the air. Your face will darken, turn red, then blue, then black. Your
mouth will be open, but you will not be able to breathe. It will be horrible for you. You will lose
control of your bladder. Your piss will be pouring down your leg. Your bowels will open when
your sphincters release. It will be very humiliating for you. Your tongue will swell, blacken and
hang several inches out of your mouth as you die. Thick saliva will pour out of your mouth,. The
whites of your eyes will be speckled with red pinpoints from the pressure in your brain."
"You will suffer terribly for at least four minutes, maybe two, if you are lucky. It will seem like
forever for you. It will be a good time for you to think about your crimes as you are hanging from
the rope. You will be in agony. You will be jerking like a hooked fish," he told me.
"I didn't depict you too ugly, did I?" He laughs in his broken English when he sees my stricken
expression. I am certain he will have an orgasm when I die. For him, my tormented death will be
a sexual event.
"It is what you deserve for your crimes, you arrogant American!" The doctor is smiling sweetly
when he says this.
The doctor will be checking me to determine the exact time of my death. The last woman
he saw executed was not pronounced officially dead for twenty-four minutes. He says it will take
longer for me to die if they use a short drop. A long drop will break my neck.
After dangling from the gallows for two hours, the doctor tells me my body will be cold and stiff
with rigor mortis by the time he puts me in my coffin. I try not to imagine what that will be like.
Despite all that, I look forward to the doctor's visits. He is all I have. No one else speaks much
English, and at least he will occasionally smile at me. Everyone else looks at me with pure hatred
in their eyes. I tell the doctor all about me. He knows all about my children and my marriage. He
knows how my family has called me SookieLou since I was a little girl and my baby sister could
not pronounce my name. He even calls me SookieLou sometimes as he examines me.
My sleep has been plagued by nightmares since my arrest at the airport. The doctor's description
of how I will die on the gallows makes my nightmares even more horrible. I dream I am a fish
jerking on a line and wake up screaming, gasping for breath, my sweat-soaked gown sticking to
my skin. No one comes in to assure me.
One day the doctor comes into my cell. The stink makes his eyes water. He grimaces and holds
his breath and keeps waving the buzzing flies from his face. His revulsion embarrasses me. He has
come on a day I am being punished for talking back to the guards. In addition to my ankle
shackles he finds my wrists shackled to the wall over my head. It is a typical punishment for
me. He takes several pictures of me. He has the guards release my arms and directs me to pose for
his camera, directing me to squat down over my little toilet bowl, to hold my chains, to stand by
the door. I do everything the doctor tells me. Why not?
He looks at the sores on my ankle. The wound seems to be getting worse even though I almost
never walk any more. My broken toe throbs. The infected spider bite on my thigh is blackened
and swollen. I have a sore on my mouth. A horrid rash has developed between my legs. He
watches as I bend over in a painful coughing frenzy, spitting up phlegm and blood in the corner
of my cell to keep from choking. My cough is so bad I have a broken rib and it hurts to breathe. I
ask for medicine, but the doctor says he has orders not to give me any. I realize that if I was not
going to be executed I could not survive long living like this.
I have started talking to myself. When I am not humming or singing, I am conversing with myself.
People ignore me when I speak. Everyone, except the doctor. I have no friends. My family and
my country have abandoned me.
One day my attorney visits me in my cell. I am shackled to the wall again and cannot move. I am
stiff and sore. I can tell he is shocked by the sight of me. During the trial he had said his
government would never execute "a pretty American" like me. I know I am not so pretty
anymore. During the trial I had always dressed nicely to impress the judge. Now in my stinking
dark cell with my ratty smock and sores covering my body, I do not look at all like the woman he
defended. I have a terrible vaginal infection and the discharge adds to the retched smell.
I sit on the floor in my filthy smock with a dirty rag between my legs to soak up the discharge.
The rag had been used by another woman before me, but I have no choice and no pride. I do not
blink as a fly crawls across my face while he tries to explain to me in broken English that my
appeal has been rejected. My execution is final. He is not even sorry. I hate the man. My
case made him a celebrity. My attorney shrugs and said he had no chance of winning since I was
so clearly guilty.
He tels me I am getting what I deserve. He says I should think about my crimes when
they put the noose around my neck. This is MY attorney!
"You only have yourself to blame," he says, looking at me curiously before leaving my cell.
I was not prepared for my reaction to the news. I never believed the judge would be overruled. I
had always expected the President or the Embassy to cut a deal with the government. I cry
My dreams are very strange. I sleep even more fitfully. The doctor has told me one story that I
think of constantly. A woman sentenced to die for drug smuggling who, like me, insisted she was
absolutely innocent. She endured ten years in a horrid prison and was actually freed. She went to
Europe and wrote a book about her experience. Deep in my heart, I believe I will be released.
Somehow. There is no way they can really hang me. That is so barbaric! This prison is so
barbaric. When I get out of here I will write a book, too!
But I am beginning to think I may not get out. Days go by and I do not get out of my stinking
cell. My only contact with living things are the flies buzzing around my filth and the spiders, mice
and lice that feed off me. The doctor does not see me. The sore on my lip is more painful. Finally,
the doctor calls for me. He is solemn and watchful. He says I should prepare myself.
As the date of my execution approaches, there is growing excitement in the prison. I am not sure
when I will be hanged because I have lost track of the days and no one will tell me. The doctor
tells me that all American tourists have been ordered out of the country until after my hanging.
The doctor tells me the president of Dasala was on the cover of Newsweek, portrayed as a
strong leader fighting to rid his country of drugs and improve the standard of living for his people.
The doctor said he has heard that the Sixty Minutes television show wanted to send a crew to
interview me in the prison, but they were turned down.
I still cannot believe it will really happen. I am miserable, absolutely terrified. When my arms are
not shackled over my head I sleep on the concrete floor of my cell, hugging myself to keep warm,
drinking dirty water and eating stale bread and cold soup, knowing that everyone is excited about
my death. Yet, I cannot believe the President will allow this to happen to me. I voted for him! I
truly believe that the Marines will come at the last minute to rescue me. The doctor tells me to
stop hoping. Dasala's sovereignty and international politics are much bigger than the life of one
miserable, flea-infested woman.
I try to imagine what it will be like for me. I know what the doctor has told me. His descriptions
are vivid. But how will I react? For some reason I start thinking about how I used to watch the
Wizard of Oz with my mother. She always made popcorn for us. It was her favorite movie and we
always watched it together. I start singing the songs from The Wizard of Oz in my cell and try to
imagine I am Dorothy. When they take me to the gallows I will sing my songs from The Wizard
of Oz. That will give me comfort.
The nights and days go by. The doctor does not call for me. I sit there with the flies, the stink and
my rag. I wake up with my nose bleeding.
One night I am suddenly awakened by a vague sense of unease more than anything else. It is pitch
black in my cell, but I sense something strange.
When I hear the guards I know something is wrong. I have no sense of time, but I know it is too
early or too late for a visit to the doctor. There are too many guards for a routine excursion
outside me cell. My heart is racing. There are sounds of excitement. The men are dressed in their
finest military uniforms. A priest is with them, crossing himself and saying something to me in
Spanish. My God, he is giving me my last rites! NO!!! I scream in shock and terror and struggle
when the guards grab me.
My wrists are cuffed painfully behind my back with my palms outward this time. The shackles are
tightened around my ankles. The rag between my legs falls to the floor.
The big men are stony faced as they lead me out of my tiny cell. As much as I hate this dark,
dank place, I much prefer staying there than where they are taking me now! My legs have no
strength and I collapse onto the cold stone floor, bruising my knee. I cannot walk. I am trembling
and shivering. I feel sick to my stomach. The men grab me under my armpits and drag me along
the floor and up the stairs. I see the gallows illuminated in the night and I scream. There is a large
crowd outside the prison. I am aware of flashes of light as people take pictures of me every step
of the way. I hear familiar American voices and am vaguely aware of a television crew in front of
I remember my vow to sing my Wizard of Oz songs, but I cannot. My terror is too great.
The men drag me to the foot of the gallows, then prod and poke me cruelly until they have forced
me to stand on my feet. They make me walk the rest of the way myself. I am trembling, terrified
as I slowly climb the steps up to the gallows. There are seven steps. I stumble. My feet hurt. I
hear one of the guards mention it is a short drop. I do not understand the mechanics of the
gallows and I try to remember what the doctor told me, but at this point I do not care. I just do
not want to die!
The crowd is excited. It is like a big party. They are yelling and chanting while the guards drag
me through the public yard outside the prison. I blink at the glare of the floodlights and feel the
cold night breeze against my face. It has been so long since I have been outside. I feel a numbness.
I hear voices shouting my name. Words like "bitch", "whore" and "slut" are chanted by the
crowd. Some people call out my nickname, the name my baby sister gave me when we were little.
My friend, the doctor had told the reporters the story of my nickname and the newspapers and
television reporters took to calling me "SookieLou" when they reported my case. Now the crowd
is calling me by my nickname as they call for my death.
I see the doctor standing off to the side of the gallows with his stethoscope around his neck. Our
eyes meet, but he does not give me a smile. He is watching the scene very carefully, taking in
every detail of my last moments. He shows no remorse for what is going to happen to me. I
am just a felon.
I see my coffin waiting for me off to the side. I panic.
I notice there is a beautiful full moon in the dark sky. It is huge.
The crowd s emotions have been whipped up into a frenzy by the anti-American sentiment in the
newspapers and on the television. The people want to see the spoiled rich American dance at the
end of the rope. They want to see me die a horrible death so they can believe their lives are better
than mine. Their politicians have portrayed my hanging as a major defiance of the United States.
By hanging me, the politicians say Dasala stood up to the big bully.
It is horrible to realize people want to see you die.
I lose my balance at the top of the gallows. I am sobbing and convulsing. Everything is a blur. I
find the X mark where they instruct me to stand. It is where the floor will drop away. I stand there
with my wrists cuffed behind my back, sobbing as the men place the noose around my neck,
tightening it around my throat. The crowd is dead quiet now. The rope is rough against my neck
and I worry it will leave terrible abrasions. My lower lip is quivering. Tears are streaming down
my face. I am shaking and crying, begging forgiveness. I am so sorry. No one is listening. I look
around at the faces, imploring the men with my eyes to have mercy on me. Let me live! There is
no mercy in those faces.
I cannot stop sobbing. I do not care about bravery or dignity. I want to go home. A calm,
stern voice reads in a language I cannot understand. I have never understood the language the
police used when they arrested me, or the judge in the courtroom, or even my own lawyer
assigned to my case. Cameras are clicking. I know the voice is reading the charges against me and
condemning me to die. The crowd shouts its approval as the men step away from me. One guard
approaches me with a black hood, but he is told I will not be allowed to wear it. The people must
see my death. This is Democracy in action. He steps away. I am left alone in my misery to stand
on the trap door and wait. My body is tense. My heart is pounding. The rope is rough against
I start singing about the yellow brick road and the wonderful wizard of oz.
I feel the door drop beneath me. My song is cut off. I fall, but not far and the choking begins. It is
like the doctor told me it would be. I am gripped by intense panic as I struggle against my chains
and cuffs, fighting the rope. My legs are kicking, much like I pedaled my bicycle when I was a
child. I am trying with all my strength to gain a breath of air. The image of the fish struggling
against the hook forms in my mind. I feel my tongue swelling and forcing its way out of my
mouth. I see flashes of the crowd. It grows darker and darker, I am only vaguely aware of what
is happening as my body slowly turns at the end of the rope, I can see the faces. They are silent,
mesmerized by the sight of my death. I feel my bladder release, then my bowels. It is like it is all
happening to someone else.