Imagine knowing the exact day and time you were going to die. On 60 Minutes this week, Bill Whitaker talks to several condemned killers on Texas' death row, just weeks before their executions.
"It was surreal," Whitaker tells Overtime editor Ann Silvio in the video above. "It was different from anything I think I've ever done before."
Texas executes more prisoners than any other state, at a rate of one per month. All of the condemned men, about 250 total, are held in one prison in Livingston. 60 Minutes traveled there to find out what it feels like to face certain death.
The men were shackled when they arrived for their interviews. When the cuffs were removed from their wrists and ankles, they were locked in small cubicles, facing their visitors through glass. Ordinarily, the inmates would speak through phones mounted on the wall, but the prison allowed them to wear small microphones so 60 Minutes could film the interactions.
"We purposefully were pre-interviewing and then interviewing on-air people who had been given their execution dates, to see what that does to you, how that changes your view of life, your view of death," explains producer Bob Anderson.
Anderson was struck by the range of responses he heard from the men. Daniel Lee Lopez, for example, a former crack dealer who killed a police lieutenant during a high-speed chase, told 60 Minutes that he was ready to die for his crimes. "I want everybody to move on, that's it," he said.
Elvis Wesbrook, who was convicted of killing his wife and four other people at a party, was similarly resigned to his fate. "If you got a pill, I'll take it right here in front of you, and we'll get it over with right now," he told Whitaker.
"If you got a pill, I'll take it right here in front of you, and we'll get it over with right now."
But not everyone felt that way. Perry Williams, who killed a medical student in a robbery, said he had the shakes and cold sweats as his execution approached.
"Is it better or worse to have a certain date?" Whitaker asked him.
"It's worse," Williams said, "knowing when it's coming."
Anderson says many of the men contemplate religion in their final days. "They all had spent a lot of time thinking about what follows death," he says. "And they all said, 'We think that something does. And we hope to go to heaven. But I'm not sure of my chances.'"
Some, like Lopez, seemed to recognize the mistakes they made and the chances they wasted. When asked about the point of his life, Lopez wasn't sure. "I have six beautiful kids, you know what I'm saying? I guess that's the only positive point," he said. "Maybe this interview was the point of my life."
Silvio asks Whitaker what he hoped to accomplish with this story. "Was there an underlying question you were trying to answer?" she asks.
"I think the purpose of this was more to talk to us, the American people, having a dialogue with ourselves about a crucial issue," he says. "We are not setting out to say the death penalty is good, the death penalty is bad. We're setting out to say these are American citizens that we, the people, have decided to put to death. Look at them, talk to them, hear them."
The video above was produced by Ann Silvio and Lisa Orlando, and edited by Lisa Orlando.