He Used To Carry Out The Death Penalty; Now He’s Trying To Save Lives

There was a time when Semon Frank Thompson believed in the death penalty. In fact, it was his job.

As the superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary, filling up that syringe during a training session on lethal injection — Thompson found himself in charge of death.

Administering death sentences was part of his job description.

“I can remember this feeling,” Thompson explains to Upworthy. “Like, this just doesn’t make sense.”

As superintendent, Thompson was trained to carry out capital punishment at the facility. In his time there, he came across a number of heartless killers, mass murderers, child rapists–you name it.

“In 1994, during my interview for the superintendent job, I was asked if I would be willing to conduct an execution,” Thompson remembers. “I said yes. Oregon had not executed anyone in decades, but the death penalty was part of the criminal justice system, and I had to be prepared for all of the duties that a superintendent could be called upon to perform.”

Shortly after landing the job, two death row inmates were due to be executed by lethal injection, one for killing his half sister and her former husband, and another for killing three homeless men and a 10-year-old boy.


Knowing that he had to end the lives of these two killers, Mr Thompson started to think about death more and more.

Mr Thompson wrote: “After each execution, I had staff members who decided they did not want to serve in that capacity again.”

“A few told me they were having trouble sleeping, and I worried they would develop post-traumatic stress disorder if they had to go through it another time.”

“There’s a surreal feeling about sitting down and looking at a human being and talking to them about what I plan to do to them,” he said. “I realized that I — at my very, very core — felt that the death penalty was wrong.”

For Thompson, abolishing the death penalty isn’t just the moral thing to do — it will prevent further injustice from unfolding.

In the U.S., more than 150 people have been exonerated while on death row since 1976. In that time, a staggering 1,400 people have been executed. So it makes you wonder, how many others on death row were really innocent of their crimes?

Thompson, who now travels across the country speaking out against the death penalty from his unique perspective, reminds us that capital punishment fails to make our communities any safer.

In a 2014 report from the Washington Post, research has yet to find any substantial data suggesting the death penalty deters crime.

“Since I retired from corrections in 2010, my mission has been to persuade people that capital punishment is a failed policy…