Last week I came so close to death

The prison I toured in Jackson, Georgia.

What a day.

Thanks to Leadership Atlanta, I find myself striving to experience things that I never would have before. I want need my eyes to continue to be opened wide. And yesterday was the epitome of that. One of my new friends from my Leadership Atlanta class invited me to go on a tour of a prison in Georgia and I excitedly signed up.

But this wasn’t just any prison. This was the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, Georgia (about an hour outside of Atlanta). Every male going to prison will pass through this penitentiary and be reviewed for roughly two weeks before the appropriate prison is chosen for them and they are sent on their way. But what’s also unique about this prison is that its essentially the only prison in the state that has UDS and SMU inmates.

UDS = Under Death Sentence. SMU = Special Management Unit. The SMU inmates are essentially the most dangerous people in the state that haven’t been given the death penalty. And all state executions are handled at this prison.

The facility itself is incredible. Massive, clean, organized, extremely secure…all the things you’d want to see in a prison. The warden gave us the 2.5 hour tour and was just the type of man you’d want running a prison like this.

I won’t go into much detail, mostly because I’m not sure I’m allowed to, but there were two moments of the tour that I had to share. The first was walking down Death Row. There’s something incredibly unnerving to walk past man after man who each has maliciously killed at least one person in their lifetime. Of course they were behind bars, but only  bars. Like, regular cells that you’ve seen in movies, not the glass encased cell that Hannibal Lecter was in. We walked so close that any of them could have reached through and grabbed our arms. And because we were with the warden, they were all required to stand at attention and face us directly. Yes, that’s as eery as it sounds.

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I sat in the actual electric chair.

And all of these men were condemned to die in this prison. To my knowledge I’ve never walked right next to a person that has killed another person or a person that was going to die at a pre-determined time from a lethal injection. And dozens of these men. I don’t think I can describe what that was like.

The second thing that I was able to do on the tour was see the death chamber and sit in the electric chair. In the early 2000’s Georgia changed executions to lethal injection instead of using the electric chair, so we were able to see the setup for the lethal injection complete with bed and restraint straps. Then we were able to go into the back and see the electric chair that they used to use, where 23 men had been electrocuted to death. And a few of us sat in it which was something I couldn’t pass up but I’m still not entirely sure why. I won’t even try to describe it, but oddly we all thought it was kind of comfortable for a wooden chair that shocked people to death.

All in all this was an experience I will never forget. If you ever get a chance to tour a prison I think you should take it. If for nothing else I think it will help put things in perspective about how great your life really is.


  1. Stephanie on June 24, 2013 at 8:01 am

    There was a show on TLC a while back that profiled the people coming through here. Intense. Two things: 1) This is about 20-30 minutes south of where I live. I pass this on my way to some beautiful mountain trails in Jackson. 2) The grounds of this facility are unexpectedly beautiful from the road.

  2. Jeff Hilimire on June 25, 2013 at 8:25 am

    I know right, its a very weird experience to have that kind of place surrounded by the beautiful grounds. They use prisoners to keep up the grounds btw ;)

  3. Repeatedly Outraged on June 29, 2013 at 11:42 pm

    In the last 20 years, there have been hundreds of DNA exonerations of Death Row inmates amongst the over 1030 total exonerations. The false conviction rate is absolutely unacceptable BUT executions still go on!

    The main causes of wrongful conviction are:
    1. Eyewitness Misidentification
    2. False or Coerced Confession
    3. Prosecutorial Misconduct – especially withholding of exculpatory evidence.
    4. Poor or Refused Forensics
    5. Police Misconduct

    Executing innocent people is a crime against humanity and makes a travesty of the legal system.

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