Pulling the Switch

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. ┬áToday, 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.