Living Next Door to the Death House
Virginia Stem Owens and David Clinton Owens
232 pages, $28

Huntsville, Texas, has been the site of more executions since 1982 than any other place in the United States. For Virginia Stem Owens and four generations of her family, it's also home.

Stem Owens and her husband, David, explore the history of capital punishment and of Huntsville's prison system. The result is both even-handed and chilling. They study the lives of prison officials, public defenders, parents of criminals, and an executioner.

The authors mix documentary-style interview transcripts with more literary language ("the gray twill unisex uniforms of prison guards thread like warp through our town's fabric, holding its economy together and providing the texture of its identity").

The Owenses do not whitewash brutality, and find that many offenders want to confess their crimes. They explore the victim-offender mediation program, which gives perpetrators a chance to acknowledge their guilt and shame and offers victims' families some sense of resolution. (Stem Owens covered similar themes in "Watchman on the Walls," CT, May 21, 2001.)

Readers on both sides of the death penalty debate will find Living Next Door to the Death House a valuable contribution.

Cindy Crosby is a frequent contributor to Publishers Weekly.

Related Elsewhere

Living Next Door to the Death House is available at

Christianity Today articles by or about Virginia Stem Owens include:

A Real Survivor | Behind Virginia Stem Owens' interview with death-row chaplain Jim Brazzil. (May 16, 2001)
Watchman on the Walls | Between heaven and earth, and victim and offender, stands Texas death-row chaplain Jim Brazzil. (May 16, 2001)
Thanksgiving at Fair Acres | A meal with my mother and other nursing-home residents opened a small crack in their stony detachment, and gave a brief glimpse of the kingdom of heaven. (CT, Nov. 17, 2000)
Death and Texas | How a self-styled "Community Conversation" turned into an anti-conversation carried on by an anti-community. (B&C, Nov/Dec. 2000)
What Shall We Do with Mother? | Poll your friends over fifty. Most of them are already wrestling with this question. (B&C, Jul/Aug 1999)
Grave Matters | I shouldn't have let my parents talk to those funeral salesmen unchaperoned. (B&C, Mar/Apr 1999)
Karla Faye's Final Stop | How my hometown deals with being the execution capital of the world. (CT, July 13, 1998)
Good Friday | Part two of "The Great Reversal" (CT, March 17, 1989)

For more book reviews, see Christianity Today's archives.

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