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Within These Walls: Memoirs of a Death House Chaplain Hardcover – May 24, 2002


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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In 15 years, Pickett ministered to almost 100 condemned men in Texas. Because he was not allowed to hold their hands, he held the prisoners' ankles as they were administered lethal injections. This memoir, infused with the true crime style of coauthor Stowers, recalls the crimes of condemned men in horrifying detail, and then describes the equally upsetting state-sanctioned murder to which Reverend Pickett bore witness. Scenes outside of the death house show a chaplain of remarkable courage. Surviving divorce, a terrifying hostage crisis, and a frustrating morass of prison bureaucracy, Pickett persevered, bringing new life to the prison chapel and the prisoners who became his friends. Readers won't find theology here, or an analysis of how the awful things Pickett saw daily shaped his own spiritual path. Instead, this is a story of an extraordinary vocation, one for which being the chaplain sometimes meant sitting with a man, raped and bleeding, too terrified for his life to go to the hospital. A gripping look at America's prisons from a unique, and much needed, perspective. John Green
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Review

"A heartbreaking account...a dramatic story that is also a poignant--and compelling--brief against the death penalty." -- Stephen G. Michaud, author of Ted Bundy: Conversations with a Killer

"A must-read for anyone interested in getting past the generalities of capital punishment as an 'issue.' ...cogent and unflinching..." -- Ivan Solotaroff, author of The Last Face You'll Ever See

"A must-read for anyone interested in getting past the generalities of capital punishment as an 'issue.'...cogent and unflinching..." -- Ivan Solotaroff, the author of The Last Face You'll Ever See

"A profound, moving and fascinating book...shines a poignant light on the final hours in the lives of the condemned." -- Dave Isay NPR Producer, MacArthur Fellow, and Peabody Award Recipient
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1st edition (May 24, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312287178
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312287177
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #641,267 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By J. Gault on August 29, 2002
Format: Hardcover
If you had asked me 6 months ago how I felt about the death penalty, I would have said I was in favor of it. I still believe there are crimes which are so heinous that the death penalty should be used. However, I am troubled that there seems to be no uniform criteria which dictate when it is used. Also, I think we need to ask ourselves whether taking a life, to avenge a life, is truly the answer. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has ever been troubled with how violent crime is punished in America today.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Kyle Walker on December 2, 2002
Format: Hardcover
No one escapes this book without being confronted with the tragic realities of the death penalty. Rev. Pickett does not fluff this story with hype but tells it as he lived it. This is not just a testament about the death penalty but is also about the meaning of life, death, family systems, ministry, and, in the end of the book, loving one's enemies. You can argue that Pickett is wrong about the death penalty perhaps but you cannot argue with the fact that he did his job with integrity and love. You'll love it or hate it but will not escape the power of Carroll Pickett's experience.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Steve H. in Austin on June 14, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Carroll Pickett once supported the death penalty, and this book details a gradual transformation. Within These Walls gives readers a vivid look at the real cost of the death penalty; the impact it has on the people who must carry out society's ultimate punishment.
Anyone who wants a more accurate picture of the reality of capital punishment will benefit from this moving account.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Marilyn on January 27, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I guess it's true you either love it or hate it as I can't imagine being ambivalent about this book. I first read the book only because I had met the author, Rev. Carroll Pickett. I found it to be very interesting & thought provoking. I have recommended it to numerous people. I have since had the great fortune to get to know Carroll & his wife, Jane. He is a truly remarkable man & I feel priviledged to know him & to have read his book. He is definitely a man of intergrity. I'm glad he shared his experiences with all of us!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By James E. O'Leary on January 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Rev. Carroll Pickett speaks with the authority of a man who is tough in every way, tough enough to have the respect of prison authorities and tough enough to have the respect of inmates in the toughest prison system in the country, Huntsville, Texas. This tough man is also one of the kindest persons you will ever meet. His honesty makes this a compelling book. He started out as a prison chaplain in favor of the death penalty but after accompanying a hundred inmates to their deaths, he is now so vehemently opposed to the death penalty he no longer refers to it as execution but murder. He now works full time for its abolition. I don't see how anyone could read this book from the beginning and come out at the other end in favor of this barbarism.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kyle Jimenez on March 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Whether you agree or disagree with the way the death penalty is played out in TX or the US in general this book is a great read. The author has "lived" all sides of the issue from having friends who where murdered to ministering to those who killed them. It's a very well-written and well-rounded look at the issues.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By WannaBeCowboy on September 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I found this book compelling as it spoke more about Christianity than it did the death penalty. Crime and punishment have been debated throughout every society since man started living among one another. It is easy to turn away from a situation one finds morally or philosophically wrong, but for many it is unimaginable to put the benefit of others ahead of those views we hold. Reverend Pickett's book eloquently makes this point through its simplicity and sincerity.

What I found so compelling was Rev. Pickett's willingness to continue his ministry to the prison community after the commencement of capital punishment in Texas. Rev. Pickett could have quit, but he felt his calling was to minister to those who had no one, to those that felt there was no love and compassion available to them for the crimes they had committed. He was the only one who showed these condemned men the look and feel of grace.

Rev. Pickett removes the judgmentality that pervades our society in all corners of the social spectrum and ministers as a servant of God. How many people that society had deemed to be lost or of no use to mankind found social (and spiritual) redemption through his ministry? How many of those later went on to positively impact others?

This book is a call to move beyond the polarizing social debates that paralyze progress. Don't picket the problem, participate in mitigating it's damage.
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By Amazon Customer on November 10, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Certain stories can only be told from those people who actually experienced them. Rev. Pickett began his job as the chaplain to death row inmates who were hours away from execution with the mindset that capital punishment didn't really involve him. He didn't really take a part in it, and his job would be simple. He would talk to the inmates for several hours, and then the execution would take place. Piece of cake, right?

His memoir shows just how difficult his job turned out to be. Each man approached his impending death in a different way. Some were remorseful, some angry, some professed innocence, and others didn't comprehend what was about to happen (he talks about one man in particular who was so mentally disabled that he was playing with crayons and coloring books hours before he was supposed to die). Each inmate that passed through Rev. Pickett's life left an imprint on him.

The book chronicles the journey of a man's transition from death penalty support to complete opposition. One of the most moving parts about this book is how the deaths of men that were undoubtedly guilty affected him. Clearly, counseling a man who is about to be executed that you know or suspect is innocent will put anyone through the emotional meat-grinder. Spending time with a man who is severely mentally disabled that is about to be put to death will also wear a person down. However, counseling men he knew to be guilty still gnawed away at his conscience.

Whether or not you agree with his position on capital punishment, the book is informative and spell-binding. Although I warn you: read it with a box of tissues!
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