“Tell me about an encounter with a squirrel.”
It seems like an odd request to make of a death row chaplain—a man whose job, as he describes it, is to hold the ankle of the condemned inmate until the very moment “death occurs.” But Werner Herzog—a filmmaker that consistently redefines the word “unconventional”—shows remarkable insight in steering the interview in this direction. The chaplain, unable to adequately answer the director’s previous question—“Why does God allow capital punishment?”—has just finished instead describing the comfort he finds on the golf course, surrounded by deer, cows, horses, squirrels, the natural beauty and majesty of God’s creation.
When pressed to elaborate, the chaplain recalls a particular pair of squirrels that darted into the path of his golf cart. Luckily, he managed to slam on the brakes, saving the poor creatures from meeting a rather messy demise. “But I cannot do that,” he says, fighting back tears, “for someone on the gurney. I cannot stop the process for them. But I wish I could.”
Behind him stretches a state cemetery—the final resting place for those inmates without any prior funeral arrangements. No names on the grave markers. Only numbers.