According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 2,414 death row inmates awaited death in 2022. Eighteen of them were executed. Looking at the statistics makes it easier to overlook these individuals as just numbers. But Kevin Johnson left a journal behind, humanizing the heart-wrenching experience awaiting an inescapable death, per the Kansas City Star.
“The state of Missouri just made your worst fears reality. They’re going to literally kill you. Put you on display like a monkey in the zoo then run poison through your veins until your heart stops,” read one of Johnson’s notes.
Johnson was only 37 when he was executed by lethal injection. He was convicted in the murder of a white police officer when he was 19 years old. The 97 days between him learning of his execution warrant and Nov. 28, his execution date, consisted of him pouring his thoughts into the blank pages of a notebook. His entries were shared with the Kansas City Star by his former elementary school principal Pam Stanfield who helped him publish two books on his life and agreed to publish the recent entries posthumously.
In one note, he said how demeaning it was to be strip searched over and over again. In another, he questioned why he was picked to die over the other 18 people sitting on Missouri’s death row. Then, he questioned why it was important for him to be “preserved” for execution.
“[A] psych doctor [who] was tasked with making sure that I wasn’t having ideas of harming myself or anyone else. Something that I thought was ridiculous. I was condemned to die in three months and they saw necessarily fit to preserve me until that date. Why?” he wrote.
Read about some of his journal entries from the Kansas City Star:
Johnson’s death warrant went into effect at 6 p.m. Days before, he had been moved to Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center, in Bonne Terre, where executions are carried out.
Hours before, he wrote, “I have been afraid a lot of times in my life but I think that this moment takes the cake. My entire day has been flooded with thoughts of what that poison will feel like once it enters my body. I do not want to die.”
He wrote about being baptized on Nov. 8. “It was surreal as my head went under the water and when I came up, I literally felt like a new man ... Who would have thought that with all that I had gone through in life I would give my life to the Lord. Now look at me!”
According to the DPIC’s report, 2022 had fewer executions but also the most botched executions, judging by the failed lethal injection attempts in Tennessee and Alabama. The report also noted that racism and criminal injustice are at the root of many warrants for execution - an argument Johnson tried to make in his appeal.
Even after the families of the victims object or the prosecutors withdraw the execution warrants, the state still authorizes this government-ordered murder. In addition, mentally ill and disabled people were overwhelmingly represented in the population of death row inmates.
Johnson wasn’t just looking for a second chance at life. He was actively trying to fight for the abolishment of this cruel and unusual punishment because he knew the system is flawed.
“Although my fight is over, the fight for this cause is never dying. Continue to stand up to racism. Continue to change the narrative,” read his last entry.
This story was edited to correct 2,414 executions to 2,414 death row inmates.