Warden Don Cabana PhD
Warden Mississippi State Penitentiary 1984-91, 2004-5
Don Cabana has spent over 35
years in the US prison service. In the 1980s he served for 5 years
as Warden of Mississippi State Penitentiary, the maximum security
prison commonly known as Parchman. During this time he supervised
two executions, that of Edward Earl Johnson and Connie Ray Evans.
After leaving Parchman in 1989 he
spent twelve years teaching criminal justice and began openly
questioning the wisdom of the death penalty. At a hearing in
Minnesota Don told legislators "However we do it, in the name of
justice, in the name of law and order, in the name of retribution,
you . . . do not have the right to ask me, or any prison official,
to bloody my hands with an innocent person's blood. . . If we
wrongfully incarcerate somebody, we can correct that wrong. But if
we execute an innocent person by mistake, what is it we're supposed
to say — Oops?"
Don is currently Warden of the
Harrison County Adult Detention Center in Gulfport, which does not
have a death row.
The 1987 documentary film
in May, follows the two
weeks leading up to the execution of Edward Earl Johnson and gives
an insight into Don’s role as warden. Don has written a book,
Midnight, about his time at
Separated by a
vast paper-strewn desk, I was struck by the isolation and loneliness
of a man whose job involved the deliberate termination of another
man’s life. This large man with the laid back southern drawl was an
enigma. As a committed Catholic, he has struggled to come to terms
with his role as executioner, particularly as he believes Edward
Earl Johnson was innocent.
combination of social worker and executioner, his compassion for
inmates and their families contrasted sharply with the harsh reality
of guilt and responsibility. Even when he had doubts over the guilt
of the condemned, Don took the final responsibility for ending a
life. The job he loved for all the right reasons ultimately trapping
him in a struggle with conscience and faith.
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