About those who were sentenced to death, but were left alive...
What would they choose now, if they were allowed: the death penalty or life imprisonment?
What is life like in the “zero time zone” where time does not have any duration…?
In 1996 the moratorium on executing death penalties was declared in Lithuania. The death penalty still remained in the articles of the Penal Code (PC), but it was not used in court rulings.
In 1998 the Constitutional Court ruled that the death penalty contradicts the state’s Constitution.
21st December 1998, when amendments to the PC were passed, there was no more death penalty in the Republic of Lithuania.
A majority of society does not approve of such changes. Public opinion polls during the period of 1996–2003 show that 75–80 percent of Lithuanian population are for the return of death penalty, and this percentage almost does not change from the very moratorium of death penalty and later abolishment. Around 45–60 percent of population thinks that death penalty is compatible with the principles of a democratic state and 40–60 percent believes that the death penalty would decrease general crime levels.
Presently (based on the data of October 2003) there are 85 persons in Lukiškių prison with life sentences, more than thirty of them were sentenced to death which was commuted to life imprisonment. The authors of this project met a group of those sentenced to death who agreed to answer the question: death penalty or life imprisonment? How did their lives change while waiting for the fatal day, and now – when death penalty does not exist any more? Five from those twelve who agreed to participate in the film claim that the change of punishment did not change their lives, they do not believe that they would ever leave the prison; only two out of twelve think that the door to freedom will really open to them; the other five of them would choose the death penalty now if they were allowed to choose… for it is more just… easier… more human… and smaller… than the life imprisonment. They would agree to die, only on one condition: if they did not have to wait… So that it happened the very moment when they pronounced “yes”!
Three or four people will be in front of us. Without their real names, of different ages, destinies and life experiences. However, one thing will be common to them: they were sentenced to death which was replaced by life imprisonment. We will not learn their stories, how and why they were given the highest penalty, how and why they have found themselves in cells. Everything will start from the moment when they arrived to this “zero time zone”, where time loses duration, when there is no point of reference to count anything, scratch days on a calendar, wait for a morning or evening, when it is not important how nature is changing behind the window and when Christmas is – all that becomes meaningful in time for us, and how everything loses any meaning… We will be together with them, next to them trying to answer the question: which penalty is greater – death or endless non-freedom? Where is more suffering and torture? Where is more truth and justice? Through a detail of existence or domestic environment, through a gaze, blink or accidental sound and continuous silence…
“Bear“ is in his forties. He has been living in prisons since he was sixteen. In Russia he was bound to be crowned with the highest title of the convicts’ caste: “the thief in law” (vor v zakone). National Revival and Independence prevented him from the title. He has the title kazyrnoj frajer“– “the right hand of the thief in law“. He was sentenced to death, which was changed to life imprisonment. There is no clock in the cell – all were thrown out so that he “would not count time”. He hopes that his sentence will be changed again to death. He is not afraid to die because he used to make decisions of the caste’s council himself − who would live and who would not… He has been christened, but does not believe in God because there are too much lies, injustice and no love in the world…
“Writer“ is in his fifties. From an orphanage where he moved when his father killed his mother. Sentenced to death which was replaced by life imprisonment. Now he is writing a book. Every day from morning till lunch, from lunch till the evening – until his eyes close. He writes by hand. Has written already 800 pages. An autobiographical novel. About a man who found himself in the world of convicts when he was a teenager and never left it… Why? If you get here once, there is no way back… Can imprisonment “rehabilitate”? Never! He answers at once. One should by no means take a young person’s freedom – this would destroy his life. Such is the main idea of the novel. He would want to publish his novel while still alive very much. Then he could die in peace. At least one good job would be done…
“Monk“ is of Christ’s age. He was sentenced to death; it was replaced by life imprisonment. If he could choose, he would go only to a monastery, would close himself in a cell and eat only bread and water. He would not want to see anything, would stay alone. He would repent and read the Bible. He is against death penalty. No, he is not afraid of it, but no one possessing a soul should be taken his or her life. And who has it? Everybody – who is able to think.
“Baby“ is twenty, has a childish, almost angelic face, also called the “cemetery vampire”. Sentenced to life imprisonment when he was nineteen. Happy that death penalty was abolished. Is afraid to die. Hopes to be free. Loves his mum very much. Is it difficult to kill a human being? No, not really… Would he agree to kill a human being if this was the condition to regain freedom? He would without a second’s doubt…
“The death penalty exists in many countries; the variety of its means is endless. Thousand year old traditions and rituals, an aspect of our civilization and culture whose attributes – judges, witnesses, priests and executioners – are still an inseparable part of the contemporary show. All of them are the righteous among the righteous. But there are other actors in this performance. How do they feel, those who have a rope around their necks for ever, from whom the right to justice is taken away? How do feel those for whom the highest penalty was replaced by life imprisonment?
It is almost ten years when Lithuania last carried out an execution. Eighty five “dead men walking” are guarded day and night in the safest part of Lukiškių prison. They dress differently, they have no watches, have no telephones, and nobody writes to them; time deleted itself and lost meaning. Tomorrow will be like yesterday; yesterday, like tomorrow… Life for them is only a dream in a grave; shadows of the living are falling into it. Is there any meaning? Most of them claim honestly that death is much more human than its alternative to “have a life holiday”.
In a cell in Lukiškės our crew is trapped in a blind cage. We have lost our sense of time, we talk, and we keep silence, drink tea together and share warmth still smouldering in a gaze.
This documentary film consists of confessions, naked up to being painful, a slap to the society of marionettes that is putting up fires of hatred and trumpeting Christian truths beyond the bars.“