Psychologists have analysed the last words of inmates who were condemned to death in Texas.
In a new paper, published in Frontiers in Psychology, researchers Dr. Sarah Hirschmüller and Dr. Boris Egloff used a database of last statements of inmates on death row and found the majority of the statements to be positive.
The researchers theorise that the inmates, the average age of whom in the current dataset is just over 39, expressed positive sentiments, because their minds were working in overdrive to avert them from fearing their current situation.
This is called 'Terror-Management Theory' (TMT). The concept is that people search for meaning when confronted with terror in a bid to maintain self-esteem and that "individuals employ a wide range of cognitive and behavioural efforts to regulate the anxiety that mortality salience evokes."
Take, for example, the last statement of inmate number 459, George Jones:
Yes, I do, uh at this time I would like to thank my parents who have been my pillar of strength throughout this. To my brothers and sisters and all my family members who have supported me and who have loved me despite my faults and imperfections. I would like to thank Pastor Williams for counselling me and guiding me. As I look to my right and I see the family of Forest Hall [victim]. I hope this brings you closure or some type of peace. I hope it helps his family, son and loved ones. This has been a long journey, one of enlightenment. It's not the end, it's only the beginning.
Sending me to a better place. I am alright with this, you have to live and die by the choices that we make. I have made mine. I love you Renee, I am gonna carry your heart and always carry my heart in your heart. I am ready.
Yes, to my family, I love you. Please do not mourn my death or my life. Continue to live as I want you to live. I hold no bitterness toward no one. Just remember the light. I’m gonna let this light shine. Let it shine. Let the light shine.
I would like to thank everybody for coming out tonight and celebrating life. This is a celebration of life, not death. Through Jesus Christ, we have victory over death. I would like to thank the Holy Father and Pope John Paul for their angelic blessings and all the prayers and support. And thanks to Father (name unknown) and Guido Todeschini for your love and support. I want to thank everybody around the world and Father, let your will be done. I am going to keep this statement short. I love you all. I am ready, Warden.
The authors of the study wrote:
In sum, the final statements of Texas death row inmates conveyed extremely positive expressions that reflected the emotional processes of coping with mortality.
You can take a look, if you wish to, at the last statements yourself on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s website.