Death Row Welcomes You

Death Row Welcomes You by Steven Hale

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for Death Row Welcomes You:

See what you think.

Quick synopsis:

A look at the death penalty in Tennessee since 2018 and the people affected.   

Fact for Non-History People:

There were 489 executions in the U.S. from 2001 to 2011 (485 men and 4 women).

Fact for History Nerds:

There are currently 2,331 people on death row in the U.S.

My Take on Death Row Welcomes You:

I am whelmed. This book whelmed me.

Death Row Welcomes You by Steven Hale is the story of people who visit death row inmates and the inmates themselves. The death row in question is in Tennessee where Hale finds this unique group of people who meet with inmates and become long term friends. Many chapters contain the story of an inmate, his crimes, and, most importantly according to Hale and the other visitors, who the condemned man is now.

I think it’s important to know what this book is not trying to be. It is not a polemic against the death penalty. Hale is absolutely opposed to the ultimate punishment and does not see the utility of it, but this is not a book whose sole focus is converting non-believers. I tried to put myself in the shoes of an ardent death penalty supporter and I don’t know that this book would sway me at all. I don’t think Hale is trying to convert them, though. I think he is aiming for the middle.

Hale wants people undecided (or just not paying attention) to read about men who seem to have changed. Hale does not shy away from the crimes, either. Each man’s sins are laid out for the reader and more often than not, the inmate has confessed to the stated crimes. Hale himself even admits that if he were the father of one victim, he would want to seek vengeance. Importantly, Hale never faults the victim’s families regardless of whether they agree with his worldview.

As a short aside, this book has the most abrupt ending of any book I have read. It was like the ending of the Sopranos where I wondered if I somehow didn’t download the whole book to my kindle. (Note: I read an advanced copy so there may be some additions before publication.)

I started this review by saying I was whelmed. It sounds like a bad thing, but it’s not. This book is well-written, it kept my interest, and I think it achieved its purpose of creating awareness even if it may not change many minds. However, Hale had a lot to work with and I feel he could have put a finer point on many things. For instance, many of the inmate’s stories are told succinctly. Hale and his fellow visitors seem to have a lot more stories to tell. If you are interested in this topic at all, I do not think you will be disappointed and will quite like it. However, like me, I think you might also wish there was a bit more.

(This book was provided as an advance copy by Netgalley and Melville House Publishing.)


A thought-provoking read. Buy it here!

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