JACKSON, GEORGIA – As family, friends and death penalty protesters mourned the execution of convicted murderer Troy Davis, prison executioner Rob Sterling was on a plane back to his home in southern California sipping a beer and reading Here’s the Story, a tell-all book by Maureen “Marcia Brady” McCormick. Prior to executing Troy Davis, Mr. Sterling had spent several days at the Georgia prison checking and rechecking his lethal injection equipment, ensuring that release valves properly functioned and injection tubes remained unrestricted. Fellow passengers on Mr. Sterling’s flight would never have guessed that the man chuckling as he read juicy nuggets of Brady Bunch gossip had just hours earlier ended a man’s life.
Rob Sterling is a member of a small elite team of freelance executioners, known in the business as Master Executioners, who work the vast consortium of penal institutions around the country. Implementing an entrepreneur-like presence in the executions department is just one example of the Federal Bureau of Prison’s endeavors to streamline the corrections industry. While in the past many considered the job of prison executioner to be a gloomy and unrewarding occupation, today’s executioner regularly travels to exotic prison locations, earns a competitive salary and enjoys a level of job security that is unparalleled in today’s grim economic climate.
Before he began executing death row prison inmates, Rob Sterling worked for eleven years as the assistant manager of a Chuck E Cheese franchise in Beaverton, Oregon. Mr. Sterling told the Daily Rash that being exposed to hundreds of screaming children six days a week for eleven years triggered in him a devastating eruption of psychological despair.
“After eleven-plus years of 60-hour work weeks at the Cheese I’d developed a loathing for children that had become unhealthy. I was terrified that I was losing my mind. When I wasn’t working I sat at home with the curtains drawn and aggressively drank alcohol, popped pills and chain smoked. Most people are not aware of the deep psychological impairment that transpires after wrangling with obstreperous and iniquitous children ten hours a day for eleven years.”
Two years ago after he’d quit Chuck E Cheese, Mr. Sterling’s brother-in-law, a guard at Chuckawalla Valley State Prison, pulled him aside at a family Christmas gathering and told him there was an opening in the penitentiary’s executions department.
“My brother-in-law gave me a number to call and said he’d put in a good word for me. A couple of days later I was sitting at home in my underwear drinking and smoking, feeling really down, trying to get loaded enough to black out. I saw the prison phone number sitting on the table and for some reason I picked up the phone and called. It was only nine in the morning but at that point I’d begun drinking before I even got out of bed. Surprisingly, they asked me if I could come in for an interview that afternoon. When I arrived I had no idea what to expect and was stunned that they hired me on the spot. Eight days later I executed my first prisoner.”
Because a Master Executioner stands behind a wall or curtain in the death chamber, the condemned prisoner and the witnesses never see him. And unless he takes a peek, the executioner doesn’t see the convict he’s about to extinguish. So one of the many perks afforded today’s prison executioners is the freedom to wear what he chooses on the job. Rob Sterling is partial to leather.
“Most days I wear my leather jumpsuit and mask. But every now and then I wear something that will infuse some lighthearted cheer into an otherwise gloomy atmosphere. Last year at an execution on Easter Sunday I wore a rabbit costume and gave the guards baskets filled with candy. When I’m able to bring just a minor amount of joy to another human being it helps make the memories of all those wretched years at Chuck E Cheese temporarily less poignant.”