That's the title of a new book written by Susannah Sheffer, pulbished by Vanderbilt University Press. It's subtitled, Inside the Experience of Capital Defense Attorneys.
There will be an author event in Austin, Tuesday, March 19, at Book People, our great, independent bookseller at 6th & Lamar, in the heart of Austin. Book People will be happy to send you a signed copy.
Here's more about the book:
"Sheffer takes readers beyond the courtroom and execution chambers to explore how capital defense attorneys cope when they can’t save a client. ... The book is unexpectedly moving, as when an inmate consoles an attorney who has run out of options, and the author is especially adept at uncovering the ethical and professional nuances of these cases. ... sobering and intimate ... "
-- Publishers Weekly
"This is an important book. The death penalty's impact is so much broader than we realize, and these attorneys are affected in ways that even I had not imagined. I am grateful to Susannah Sheffer for bringing these stories to light."
-- Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking and The Death of Innocents
"One day the United States will outlaw capital punishment. One day Americans will look back on our time and wonder how people could ever have thought that executing other human beings was a good thing. Meanwhile, some of the most courageous men and women in our midst are lawyers who defend those convicted of capital crimes, attempting to save clients from being murdered by the state. Fighting for their Lives is the story of the heroic but ordinary bravery of these lawyers. Read it and be awed by their grace and intelligence. Read it and be furious at the needless miscarriages of justice. Read it and weep."
-- Thomas Cahill, author of A Saint on Death Row and How the Irish Saved Civilization
It's also available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and your local independent bookseller; also available, Kindle and Nook e-reader editions. I'll be posting the time and location of other author events as they are set up.
Here's our Q&A with Susannah:
Q. What led you to write this book?
A. I am always interested in people’s internal, emotional experience, and in terms of the death penalty, most of my work has involved looking at, and writing about, its impact on various affected people – particularly murder victims’ family members and family members of people who have been executed. Curiosity about the effect on defense attorneys was sort of a natural outgrowth of that work. I knew that this was a pretty unexplored area of the death penalty landscape, and in fact as I proceeded with the interviews for the book, I learned even more vividly and powerfully how reluctant defense attorneys have been to talk openly about the emotional impact of their work. I’m interested in how people cope with loss and specifically in how people in helping professions -- people who devote themselves to trying to help and even save other people -- manage internally when that effort fails.
Q. We usually only read a short quote from a death penalty lawyer in a news article. What would you tell people about this group of people.
A. I have to say first that I didn’t set out to interview a random cross-section of capital defense attorneys. I interviewed some of the most dedicated, passionate, committed attorneys out there (of course, there are many other equally dedicated and committed attorneys whom I didn’t interview, but my point is that I didn’t interview anyone for whom this was “just a job”). My interviewees also tended to place a high value on forming relationships, even attachments, with clients – placing themselves at greater emotional risk, in some ways, although you can see in the book that they make a strong case for why they practice in that particular way. In the short quotes in news articles that you’re talking about, an attorney will be talking about the client or the legal issues that the client’s case highlights. This book’s inquiry was about the attorneys’ own experience. Every time they told me a story of a setback in a case, or a last visit with a client, I would keep asking, “And what was that like for you? What was going on inside you when that happened?” So I had the privilege – and it did feel like a privilege – of seeing some of the raw pain and struggle that capital defense involves. I have an indescribable amount of respect for the attorneys I interviewed and all that they encounter.
Q.How did you research the book?
A. I interviewed 20 capital defense attorneys who had lost at least one client to execution. That’s a rather ghoulish criterion, but I was particularly interested in the experience of loss and the emotional impact of being vested with the responsibility of trying to save a life and then sometimes – or, sadly, often – not being able to. I conducted the interviews in person, transcribed the recording of each conversation, and spent a lot of time immersing myself in that material and seeing what themes emerged. In a few instances I asked follow-up questions over the phone. Because we were discussing such personal and emotional aspects of the work, and because there has not been a culture or a tradition among capital defense attorneys of having these kinds of conversations, I used pseudonyms and omitted identifying details. This meant sacrificing some narrative richness – I couldn’t give much biographical or even physical detail – in favor of an extraordinary emotional richness that I think would not have been possible if I hadn’t offered that confidentiality. It was a trade-off I was glad to make.
Q. How did you first come to work for the repeal of capital punishment?
A. I got involved in anti-death penalty work as part of working on other issues related to prisoners, when I was collaborating with a former prisoner to write his story (that book became In a Dark Time: A Prisoner’s Struggle for Healing and Change, published in 2005). That was in the mid 1990s. Then, as I mentioned earlier, I began working with family members of murder victims and family members of people who have been executed, first as a writer for Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation and, since the organization’s founding in 2005, as staff writer and project director for Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights.
Related posts are in the books index.