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Death Row Welcomes You

Visiting Hours in the Shadow of the Execution Chamber

A bold new look at justice and ethics in America, told through interwoven lives of condemned prisoners and the men and women who come to visit them

In 2018, after a decade’s hiatus, the state of Tennessee began executing death row inmates. In two years, six men have been executed and more await. While nationally executions are at historic lows, Tennessee is executing more prisoners than any other except Texas, a state six times larger.

Award-winning Nashville Scene journalist Steven Hale has been the leading reporter in on these executions, covering it both in state and nationally for The Appeal.

Death Row Welcomes You traces the interwoven lives of condemned prisoners and the men and women who come to Riverbend Maximum Security Institution on a near-weekly basis to visit them. With their Monday night gatherings at the heart of the story, the book will trace the paths that brought the characters — visitors and convicted murderers alike — to death row. These visitors are, for the most part, not activists — or at least they did not start out that way. Nor are they the sort of killer-obsessed death row groupies who one occasionally finds in such settings. In fact, in most cases they are average people whose lives, not to mention their views on the death penalty, were turned upside down by a face-to-face meeting with a death row prisoner.

Through his reporting, Hale was introduced to many of the people that make up the community at the center of Death Row Welcomes You. It has afforded him access that no other journalist has been granted, largely because Tennessee’s Department of Correction has all but shut off official media access. Combining topics that have long fascinated readers–crime, death, and life inside prison–Hale writes with humanity, empathy, and insight earned by befriending death row prisoners and standing witnessing to their final moments.

Steven Hale is a journalist based in Nashville, where he covers criminal justice and politics for the Nashville Scene. He has written extensively about Tennessee’s death row, for which he won an Association of Alternative Newsmedia “Best Reporting” Award in 2020. His work has also appeared at The AppealThe Daily Beast, and The Washington Post.