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Jody Thomas Doesn't Want To Die | Arthur Meiselamn | Scene4 Magazine - October 2016  www.scene4.com

Arthur Meiselman

This screenplay is not a docudrama.

It is a story... of the madness of using violence as a solution to the problem of violence, and... the awakening of a perpetrator/victim
to his own sanity.

The story is set in the U.S. It turns on the fact that the central character is a product of the cultural majority. In the U.S. that makes Jody Thomas a White man. The ethnicity of the other characters is irrelevant. Which means the same principle applies if the story is set in other countries. There is also no provision, by design, for ethnic references or issues.

 

The rebel does not ask for life,

but for reasons for living,

if nothing lasts then nothing is justified

everything that dies is deprived of meaning.

To fight against death amounts to claiming

that life has a meaning... .

Albert Camus

 

The Time is... anytime.

The place is... anywhere

 

FADE IN

 

int. the gas chamber of a state prison

 

It looks like a deep-sea tank with circular ribs, large bolts on the outside and a series of waist-high windows.

 

Inside are two square-backed chairs with straps on the arms and legs. The base of each chair is fitted with a round container with holes and a connecting pipe. Everything is painted a light, passionless, mint green.

 

The chamber looks almost two-dimensional as if it were lifted out of an illustration or off the cover of a 19th-century magazine.

 

Two OFFICERS are at the chamber. They are methodically performing a dry run of the system. The sound of their voices and movements is soft, intimate.

 

FIRST OFFICER

Vent valve closed.

 

SECOND OFFICER

Check.

 

FIRST OFFICER

End clamps down.

 

SECOND OFFICER

Check.

 

FIRST OFFICER

Bath delivered.

 

SECOND OFFICER

Check.

 

FIRST OFFICER

Eggs laid.

 

SECOND OFFICER

Check.

 

FIRST OFFICER

Cooking time.

 

SECOND OFFICER

Six minutes, thirty seconds.

 

FIRST OFFICER

Vent valve open.

 

SECOND OFFICER

Check.

 

FIRST OFFICER

Clear.

 

SECOND OFFICER

Clear.

 

There is a harsh, clanging sound as the SECOND OFFICER yanks the lever on his last command.

 

Ext. The front gate of the prison - night

 

A police car with flashing lights makes its way through a loud melee of people, signs and bright tv lights.

 

The CAMERA MOVES with it, then over to the crowd to:

 

EXT. CLOSEUP OF A TV REPORTER

 

REPORTER

      This is the first execution in the state since the death penalty was reinstated. With the uproar over lethal injection, the state was left with only two options. And in a bizarre twist last week, the state supreme court banned one them, death by hanging, as cruel and unusual punishment. That left the gas chamber and it will be used tonight.

 

EXT. INTERVIEW

 

Signs and singing in the background

 

      REPORTER

      So how do you feel this close to the end with all the conflict and...

       

      PROTESTER

      I don't know. I don't know. He's a (bleep) cop-killer and he's gotta pay for that. But I don't know why they couldn't wait to do it right. I don't know. I don't know.

       

      OTHER PROTESTER

      (Jumping in front of the REPORTER.)

      They shoulda hung him, break up his (bleep) neck. Nothing cruel about that.

 

The PROTESTER yanks the OTHER away from the camera.

 

EXT. CLOSEUP OF REPORTER

 

      REPORTER

      And so the vigil continues. Even as the wind comes off the bay and brings a cold, wet fog with it, this huge crowd waits, bathed in candlelight, faces turned toward the North wing of the prison where Jody Thomas waits, and watches as the clock counts down the 30, now 29 minutes remaining before that midnight hour when this state will hold its first execution in 20 years.

 

PULL BACK TO the face of the REPORTER on a tv SCREEN.

 

REPORTER

This eerie, quiet scene is in stark contrast to the chaos and clamor that erupted throughout the day...

 

FURTHER PULL BACK to:

 

INT. THE CELLBLOCK

 

In one of two holding cells, next to the infamous chamber, JODY THOMAS, 31 years old, thin and muscular, is seated on a bench along with the CHAPLAIN, a Catholic priest in his 60’s. Next to them is a tray with drinks, candy bars and an open pizza box. The cover of the box reads: “On Time, Every Time!” A GUARD stands nearby.

 

      JODY

      Hey, could you turn that up. Father, how about it!

       

      CHAPLAIN

      Oh, yeah, sure!

       

      He turns up the sound.

       

      REPORTER

      ...a day full of last minute legal maneuvering, rancorous press conferences, and clashes between pro and con groups. Here was the scene a few hours ago.

 

TV screen shows pictures from earlier in the day.

       

      JODY

      Man, they're excited. I mean, I can't believe there's all those people out there.

       

      CHAPLAIN

      Yeah, a lot of people

       

      JODY

      You afraid to die, Father?

       

      CHAPLAIN

      I... sure, we all are. That's why it's important to make our peace with God.

       

      JODY

      Can you do that for me, Father?

       

      CHAPLAIN

      I can help you do that, Thomas. I can help you prepare for your salvation.

       

      JODY

      Nah... he's mad at me. I'll catch him later if I see him.

       

      GUARD

      Why don't you finish-up there, Jody.

       

      JODY

      Don't think so. Haven't really got a good reason to eat. You want some, you want a slice? It's real good, just the way I like it.

       

      CHAPLAIN

      I think we should get ready, Thomas.

       

      JODY

      Ready? Oh yeah I'm ready.

       

      CHAPLAIN

      You could prepare your mind, your spirit. We can pray together.

       

      JODY

      Nah, I'm ready. Pray? I never learned how.

       

      CHAPLAIN

      There's nothing to learn, all you have to do...

       

      JODY

      (sharply)

      I said I won't be any trouble. I said I'm ready.

       

      GUARD

      We know you are, Jody, we know you are.

 

A SECOND GUARD steps through the outside door in the cellblock. Stops, turns back, talks to someone outside.

 

      SECOND GUARD

      Yes sir. Right away.

 

Leans into the cell.

 

      You have a stay, Thomas, a stay!  The Appellate Court gave you a stay!

 

JODY turns away, presses his face into the wall.

 

int. the warden’s office

 

The FIRST OFFICER stands outside the door juggling two hot cups of coffee. He finally manages to open the door and enters. Inside, the WARDEN, a tall man in his early 50’s.

 

      first officer

      Here’s your coffee, sir. You want black or white?

       

      WARDEN

      Doesn’t matter.

       

      FIRST OFFICER

      Take the black, it’s sweeter.

 

WARDEN takes a cup, moves to the window, looks at the vigil outside the gate.

 

      WARDEN

      Drag it out, screw it around. The lawyers play their games and every one goes crazy.

       

      FIRST OFFICER

      Ain’t right to keep stalling like this. Don’t make no sense.

       

      WARDEN

      Makes sense to me. Nobody wants to pull the switch. God I wish they’d get this over with.

 

Phone rings. The WARDEN listens for a moment, nods, puts it down. His face tightens.

 

INT: The cellblock

       

      JODY

      I wish I had some chili powder. I like it hot, you know what I mean?

       

      CHAPLAIN

      It must be pretty cold by now.

       

      JODY

      No, I mean the taste. I like it spicy.

       

      GUARD

      So do I.

       

      CHAPLAIN

      I'm not really a pizza eater, myself.

       

      JODY

      No? Ahh, that's too bad. Nothing like a slice of pizza and a cold beer.

 

The outside door opens. MICHELLE steps in, late 20’s, casually dressed.

 

      JODY

      Hey, it's my lady... my lady-lawyer. Got to go back to court, huh?

       

      MICHELLE

      (quietly)

      No. They vacated the stay, overturned it.

       

      JODY

      Who?

       

      MICHELLE

      The Supreme Court.

       

      JODY

      The big guys?

       

      She nods.

      JODY (cont'd)

      I don't even know what they look like.

       

The outside door opens. The WARDEN steps through followed by two guards. He stops at the cell.

 

      WARDEN

      We have to go now.

       

      JODY

      Yeah, go.

 

 INT: stairwells

 

Armed guards hurry down the stairs, followed by civilians being escorted in single file. 

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October 2016

Volume 17 Issue 5

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