For 17 years, Jerry Givens was the last man convicted criminals on death row would see. As Virginia’s state executioner, he pulled the switch for sixty-two men. He then served his own time in the penitentiary and experienced life inside bars. Today, Givens speaks out about his experiences as both the executioner and the convict. He spoke to a full audience at R.O.O.T.S.
For many years, Givens worked as a corrections officer before becoming a state executioner. Then, in 1976, he accepted the mayor’s invitation to join the execution team. “Imagine your job being to save the lives of others [inmates] one minute, and the next minute killing a person,” Givens said.
“When I look back on the sixty-two men that I executed, I can see a young child inside each one of them. I believe something happened in their lifetime that caused them to do what they did to be executed by me. I did not know any of these men as young children or teens,” Givens writes.
Among the men Givens executed were Linwood and James Briley, two brothers from Richmond, Virginia infamous for a former prison escape and a baptism on execution day. Frank Coppola and Willie Turner were also executed under Givens’ watch.
In 1999, Givens was forced to resign from his job and was charged and convicted of money laundering and making a false statement.
“A lot of us are the same way: we place God on the back burner and only turn to him when our back are to the wall,” Givens writes. Givens served time at the Lewisburg Federal Prison Camp.
Givens has completed his debt to society and he now spends his time speaking out against the death penalty and about his experiences both inside and outside the penal system.
Givens is the author of Another Day is NOT Promised; Make the Best of the One You Have and is available for speaking engagements. Read more about Givens in the Washington Post.
In this video, Ed Coleman talks to Sheriff C.T. Woody and B.E.L.I.E.F. program participants. They explain why they think the substance abuse and behavior modification program is so unique and effective in reducing recidivism. “Recovery and healing is what it’s all about,” Sheriff Woody said. “We are all recovering from something – whether we are inside the institution, or outside; locked in or locked out.” The program teaches participants to “educate themselves from the heart.”
The B.E.L.I.E.F. program is a voluntary therapy for inmates who wish to undergo treatment for alcohol and drug addiction. Once accepted into the program, participants must remain clean, sober, and willing to positively change their lives while living in a separate, structured setting. Individuals spend about 12 hours each day in class activities and group discussion. The program combines 12-step recovery principles with cognitive behavior therapy. Mentors guide newer participants using 12-step recovery principles and cognitive behavior therapy techniques. Members in later phases of this program may be eligible for work/study release.
One program participant described his experience: “I’ve been coming back in forth to jail since I was 13 years old. I realize that it’s time for a change. I have kids, you know, and I’m tired and I need help. I came to the program… I realized that drugs are only 10% of my problem. I have to work on my behavior also.”
Another BELIEF participant, and now a ROOTS leader, said, “I’ve been in programs before but none as intense as the BELIEF program. It deals with attitudes and behaviors, and drug education. It has taught me that I don’t always have to respond by using drugs or getting upset and wanting to fight. I have matured so that I can listen to myself, calm down and find a peaceful way to resolve my problems.”
“The BELIEF program has given me a lot. As far as wanting to live, it’s given me a vision,” another BELIEF participant revealed. “At some point, you have to move forward.”