On his first morning as prison chaplain at "the Walls" (i.e., the Huntsville Unit, the Texas prison famous for housing the state's death chamber), Jim Brazzil received a call from the warden, who casually said, "By the way, there's an execution tonight." Since then, Brazzil has witnessed the executions of 146 people. More than 400 others wait on death row.
Brazzil served several Baptist churches in Texas for 25 years before becoming a prison chaplain in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice seven years ago. Reading Henry Blackaby's Experiencing God while on tour of Ukrainian prisons in 1992, he came upon the author's teaching that God invites you to join him where he is already at work. He went home determined to go into prison work, though the move meant a 50 percent cut in salary. Though recently assigned to serve prisons in the state's northern region, Brazzil still accompanies every condemned prisoner at his death. Standing beside the gurney where the prisoner lies, Brazzil places a hand on his leg—the last human touch the person feels.
Do you feel that how you deal with an execution has changed over the years?
When I first started doing this, I wanted to know everything I could about every offender. His crime, his background, his past record, details about the victim. But the further I got into it, the more I learned most of that really didn't make any difference. Most of the time it got in the way. Now I try not to listen to their history. I just want to be with the person one-on-one, not with any kind of agenda—the way I would with anyone close to death, someone dying in a hospital or at home. I just want to bring them the peace of God.1