Death Row Welcomes You: Visiting Hours in the Shadow of the Execution Chamber (Hardcover)

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Death Row Welcomes You: Visiting Hours in the Shadow of the Execution Chamber By Steven Hale Cover Image

Death Row Welcomes You: Visiting Hours in the Shadow of the Execution Chamber (Hardcover)

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"An eye-opening journey to a place that’s hard to access, rarely seen and shrouded by myths of monsters and abominations. ... Death Row Welcomes You demands that we not look away."- New York Times

In the vein of Waiting for an Echo and Dead Man Walking, a deeply immersive look at justice in America, told through the interwoven lives of condemned prisoners and the men and women who come to visit them . . .


In 2018, after nearly a decade’s hiatus, the state of Tennessee began executing death row inmates, bucking national trends that showed the death penalty in decline. In less than two years, the state put seven men to death, more than any other state but Texas in that time period. It was an execution spree unlike any seen in Tennessee since the 1940s, one only brought to a halt by a global pandemic.   

Award-winning journalist Steven Hale was the leading reporter on these executions, covering them both locally for the Nashville Scene alt-weekly and nationally for The Appeal.

In Death Row Welcomes You, Hale traces the lives of condemned prisoners at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution—and the people who come to visit them. What brought them—the visitors and convicted murderers alike—to death row?

The visitors are, for the most part, not activists—or at least they did not start out that way. Nor are they the sort of killer-obsessed death row groupies such settings sometimes attract. In fact, in most cases they are average people whose lives, not to mention their views on the death penalty, were turned upside down by a face-to-face meeting with a death row prisoner.

Hale’s access to the people that make up that community afforded him a perspective that no other journalist has been granted, largely because Tennessee’s Department of Correction has all but shut off official media access.

Combining topics that have long fascinated readers—crime, death, and life inside prison—Hale writes with humanity, empathy, and insight earned by befriending death row prisoners . . . and standing witness to their final moments.
Steven Hale is an award-winning writer who worked for ten years as a staff reporter covering criminal justice and politics for the Nashville Scene. He has written extensively about Tennessee's death row, for which he won an Association of Alternative Newsmedia "Best Reporting" Award in 2020. His work has also appeared at The Appeal, The Daily Beast, and The Washington Post. He is currently a criminal defense investigator in Nashville, Tennessee, where he lives with his wife and two daughters.
Product Details ISBN: 9781612199283
ISBN-10: 1612199283
Publisher: Melville House
Publication Date: March 26th, 2024
Pages: 288
Language: English
"An eye-opening journey to a place that’s hard to access, rarely seen and shrouded by myths of monsters and abominations. ... Death Row Welcomes You demands that we not look away." - New York Times

“A gutting journey into dark places that most people never see. Deeply researched, Steven Hale’s book weaves together years of immersive reporting into a narrative that stands as a testament to the value of dogged journalists who can document hidden worlds. The stories he tells will haunt you long after you’ve finished reading.” - LitHub

"In graceful prose, Hale brings that ethos to his reporting, offering unflinching portrayals of the executed men, including their crimes, to give a bone-deep sense of their humanity. This beautiful and spiritually uplifting account finds hope in a dark place." - Publishers Weekly STARRED REVIEW

"With vivid and deep reportage spanning several years, Death Row Welcomes You enlightens readers not only by conveying the "waking nightmare" that West and other death-row inmates suffered before they made the worst decisions of their lives, but also by revealing the arbitrary nature of the death penalty. Should be required reading for anyone interested in social justice, politics and the law." - Times Free Press

“Hale’s chronicle is an affecting and important contribution to discussions about the death penalty… There is crucial inside information here and a sense of urgency as execution dates are set and arrive.” - Booklist

“A haunting debut. Readers will reflect on this captivating, deeply reported story for years to come.” - BookPage, STARRED REVIEW

"A thoughtful, provocative contribution to the literature on the death penalty." - Kirkus

“With vivid and deep reportage spanning several years, Death Row Welcomes You enlightens readers … should be required reading for anyone interested in social justice, politics, and the law. Beyond humanizing the condemned and crediting the people who work tirelessly to help them, it exposes dark political truths about Tennessee’s most powerful men.” - Chapter 16

“An unflinching witness who dares us to see the full humanity of the condemned and interrogate the very premise of the death penalty.” - Sister Helen Prejean

"In a time of true crime and hot takes, Steven Hale is here with riveting portraits of people who use their privilege to care for the least among us. In the community that formed around death row, you catch a glance at a future with less rage and retribution. You see what it takes to understand violence, and how we might build a society with less of it." - Maurice Chammah, author of Let the Lord Sort Them: The Rise and Fall of the Death Penalty

"Like the finest of journalists, Steven Hale has managed to examine a complex and agonizing subject – capital punishment -- and humanize those marked for execution, visiting them for months before their final hour. He lets us in to his own life while illuminating that of men on death row – a prisoner who calls as Hale drives his young children to pre-school is grateful to hear something he never thought he would hear again: the sing-song of children in the background. This is an intimate journey every reader should take to understand what is being done in American prisons in our name." - Mary Jo McConahay, author of Playing God, American Catholic Bishops and the Far Right

“Death Row Welcomes You is a gutting journey into dark places that most people never see. Deeply researched, Steven Hale’s book weaves together years of immersive reporting into a narrative that stands as a testament to the value of dogged journalists who can document hidden worlds. The stories he tells will haunt you long after you've finished reading.” - Keri Blakinger, author of Corrections in Ink

"Death Row Welcomes You discovers how hope and humanity can blossom in the least likely of places: Tennessee’s death row, where capital punishment has become routine, bureaucratized, and unremarkably cruel. Through years of reporting, Steven Hale tells an extraordinary story of people marked by pain, trauma, and inescapable transgression, and what happens when they find friendship and unconditional love. A masterpiece of crime, punishment, and redemption." - Daniel J. Sharfstein, Dick and Martha Lansden Chair in Law and director of the George Barrett Social Justice Program at Vanderbilt Law School

"Steven Hale's prose is vivid, engaging, and often witty. More importantly, even as words describe unspeakably grim events, they spill over with a deeply affecting humanity. I'm not at all surprised that Steven would find an unlikely spring of fellowship, compassion, and empathy deep in the bowels of one of our most backward and barbaric institutions. He's a gifted, dogged, and empathetic journalist, and great journalists find great stories. The gift to readers is that the person most equipped to tell this story is also the person who found it." - Radley Balko, author of Rise of the Warrior Cop