This undated photo provided by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections shows Bigler Jobe Stouffer II. The 79-year-old is scheduled to receive a lethal injection on Dec. 9. (Oklahoma Department of Corrections via AP)
Bigler Jobe Stouffer has less than 24 hours left to live. He's sure about this because his jailers have been slowly moving him, cell by cell, closer to Oklahoma's death chamber. Now he's sleeping literally next door, sharing a wall with the room where he will be executed on Thursday at 10 a.m. When asked what comes next, Stouffer, 79, was matter-of-fact about it. “They strap you to a bed, put your arms to your side, put needles in your veins,” he said by phone from the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. “And then when the execution comes, they just add the drugs that they want to kill you with.”
Stouffer is familiar with this process. He’s spent 36 years on death row and witnessed 133 executions. The last 12 years, he’s been in near-complete isolation.VICE News spoke to Stouffer in the lead-up to his execution, but soon the phone calls will end. Thirteen hours before his execution, he’ll get his last phone call.Stouffer was convicted in 1985 for the shooting of Doug Ivens and Linda Reaves, a Putnam City elementary school teacher. Ivens, who had been married to Stouffer’s girlfriend, survived. Reaves died instantly.Stouffer has maintained his innocence and told the pardon and parole board during his clemency hearing in November that he believes Ivens lured him to the scene of the crime, where a struggle over the gun led to the shooting. Stouffer is one of four men scheduled to be executed on the H Unit at Oklahoma State Penitentiary, after executions were temporarily halted after the botched execution of John Marion Grant in October. Grant convulsed about two dozen times and vomited following the injection of midazolam before passing away 12 minutes later. His execution was the first carried out by Oklahoma after a six-year moratorium on capital punishment due to a series of flawed executions. The state insists Grant’s execution was carried out correctly, but the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit alleging the state of Oklahoma is unable to conduct executions in a humane manner. Since then, the state has not been allowed to schedule execution dates for the men who joined this lawsuit—the condition being that they chose an alternative method of execution.
Stouffer says he was “deliberately excluded” from the federal lawsuit, and filed a last-ditch appeal. “I felt like the court would see that Mr. Stouffer is being treated differently than everyone else on death row,” wrote his attorney, Greg Laird. “They were all given an opportunity to be part of the lawsuit that’s going to trial in February on the issue regarding the execution protocol that’s currently in place.”Another death row inmate, Julius Jones, whose case caught the attention of celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Blake Griffin, would have been the first, but his sentence was commuted by Gov. Kevin Stitt, just hours before his scheduled execution last month.So far, Stouffer hasn’t been so lucky. While the parole board recommended clemency on the basis of the ineffectiveness of the lethal drugs, Stitt rejected that recommendation on Friday.On Nov. 4, Stouffer was moved to what’s called a “death cell,” an 8-foot-wide cell with a concrete bunk, a combined toilet-sink, and a mattress so hard inmates generally choose to sleep on a rolled-up towel. He’s watched 24/7, the lights remain on, and he’s not even permitted to leave to take a shower. “It’s concrete, upon concrete, upon concrete,” Stouffer said. Prior to 2009, inmates were allowed to congregate in groups of 10 during religious services and have recreation time outside. During these short periods, the inmates could comfort each other with a pat on the back or words of encouragement.
“We would lay hands on each other and pray and actually have fellowship. And that's what was dynamite about it,” Stouffer recalls.
But in 2009, that all came to an abrupt end when a prison guard came to Stouffer’s cell and informed him they would not be having those activities anymore. “They worked fine for years and years, until such time as one of the guards decided he was tired of running them, so he got them terminated, and that was in 2009,” Stouffer said. “And they refused to start them back up for H Unit.”The Oklahoma State Penitentiary did not respond to a VICE News request for comment on the services.Now, the inmates are housed in what the ACLU called “a concrete tomb” leaving them “effectively buried alive.” According to Oklahoma State Penitentiary protocol, inmates on the infamous H Unit, which houses most of the state’s death row prisoners, are allowed one hour of “exercise” a day, five days a week, in a 20-by-20-foot concrete square. “If the sun is up at a certain time, we can see the sun through the mesh,” Stouffer said, “Otherwise, no sun, no windows.”Anytime they’re out of the cell, inmates’ arms and legs are shackled by heavy chains.“You feel like an animal,” Stouffer said, “It's intended to be humiliating, and it is.”
Stouffer’s younger daughter Suzanne Reese had her second-to-last visit with her father last Friday. Communication is strained in the visiting area on H Unit. Where they used to speak through corded phones, now up to four visitors scream to their incarcerated loved one through holes punched in a clear plastic barrier. “Every sound was so loud and magnified, you could almost even hear your heartbeat in your chest,” she recalled.“I would've loved to have hugged Suzanne today, but I was not able to,” Stouffer said when describing how Reese had broken down during their visit. Stouffer says his strong faith is what has kept him sane throughout his 36 years in prison. Stouffer has fought a legal battle to have his spiritual advisor, Howard Potts, in the execution chamber with him and lay hands on him—a tradition that Christians believe invokes the Holy Spirit.Stouffer is trying to take a positive view of what’s happening Thursday, “one step closer to the Lord,” as he puts it. He has declined to choose a last meal but has prepared some final words: “Father, forgive them.”“I’m 79. If the Lord wants me to come home, I'll be ready.”