Most people don’t methodically prepare for the end of their lives. Richard Glossip, a likely innocent man who was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 1998, did exactly that earlier this year, when he spent 50 excruciating days in a windowless prison cell getting ready for Sept. 30, the date of his scheduled execution.
Thanks to a last-minute stay of execution ordered by Oklahoma’s governor, Glossip lived to describe that experience. In an extraordinary phone interview with journalist Gabrielle Canon, Glossip describes in detail what it was like to wait for death—not just in the months leading up to it but in the hours and minutes that ticked away as his 3 p.m. appointment with the state approached.
“It is real torture,” Glossip is quoted as saying in Canon’s article for the website Upvoted. “I think it is done to make you say, ‘Man, get me in that room and get this over with. Because it is hell. It really is.’ ”
Glossip—who was convicted of ordering the murder of a motel owner—told Canon that approximately 30 minutes before his lethal injection was supposed to take place he was transferred to a cell equipped with a mattress, a sheet, and a pillow. “You are just in that cell and it is just like a morgue,” Glossip said. “It was ice cold in there.”
Perhaps the most haunting detail in Canon’s piece, which you should read in its entirety along with her longer, more in-depth story about Glossip’s case, comes when Glossip describes sitting in his underwear 10 minutes before 3 p.m. and hearing his fellow death row inmates bang on their cells in his honor.
“Before an execution, [death row inmates] start kicking and beating on the doors,” Glossip told Canon. “It is a send-off—so you know people are thinking of you as you are going through what you are going through—letting you know that you aren’t alone. These guys hadn’t heard that I had gotten a stay. I didn’t even hear myself.”
The reason Glossip’s life was temporarily spared was that the Oklahoma Department of Corrections discovered they did not have the drugs needed for their lethal injection cocktail. About two weeks later, it was found that Oklahoma had earlier used the wrong drug to execute a different inmate, Charles Warner, and as a result Oklahoma has halted all executions until at least 2016.
For now, Richard Glossip is back to not knowing when he will die. While he waits, his lawyer, Don Knight, is fighting to get him a new trial.