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Jack, Seigen, and a Federal Execution

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Alex Chambers: Hey there, Alex here. I wanted to let you know we have a new podcast out from WFIU. It's about what happened at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute from July 2020 to January 2021. Those were the final months of the Trump presidency, when his administration decided not only to resume executions, but to get through as many as possible. The show is called Rush to Kill, and you can listen wherever you get your podcasts. In conjunction with the show's release, I wanted to go back to a classic Inner States episode, Jack and Seigen. Jack was a grad student in vocal performance when his friend Seigen asked Jack to drive him to witeness the execution of Wesley Purkey. That was one of the executions in Trump's rush to kill. Our episode is mainly about Jack's friendship with Seigen.

Alex Chambers:  We're going to just jump in but I do want to mention, this story is in part about a federal execution, it's all experienced secondhand but if that's a topic you or someone you're listening with might be sensitive to, you should just keep that in mind. Okay, here's Jack.

Jack Canfield:  Basically what happened is one day, Jenny, who's my girlfriend, was on a trip out west and she got a call from Seigen. It was early in the morning and that's unusual. Keep in mind, Seigen and neither of us have smart phones, we both have flip phones, we would set up our appointment via email. So there wasn't a whole lot of need to communicate over the phone and I think he didn't actually have my phone number but he had Jenny's phone number somehow because I had called him from Jenny's phone number at one point. He called Jenny and Jenny's on the west coast on a trip and she's like, "Seigen?" And he's like, "is Jack there?" And she was like, "well, I'll have Jack give you a call." I called him and he basically said, "well, they've actually set a date for this execution, would you give me a ride to Terre Haute? I would really appreciate that."

I was like, "yeah, of course. I would be happy to help." He was like, "I've never done this before and I don't if I will be in a condition to drive back."

Alex Chambers:  Do you want to just tell me about coming to Bloomington and how you met Seigen?

Jack Canfield:  Well, I took a couple of years off of singing. For many people, what they do is they start school, they do their undergrad and then they go right into their Masters and for many reasons that was not my path. After my undergrad, I went on this year long trip, entered a Watson Fellowship, which was not classical singing related at all. I was interested specifically in communities where singing was something that everybody did and it was something that was around everyday. Basically, I would say that year is well encapsulated in the two or three months I spent in the Congo. I spent 40 days living with hunter gatherers and the Indigenous folks of the rainforest. They yodel actually, they do forest yodeling and it's really, really, truly amazing. I was lucky enough to be there when it was very much still a living tradition, the three-year-olds were doing polyrhythms and yodeling and just really, really, truly amazing.

 They're dealing with all sorts of other problems, like deforestation is a real issue for them because if there's not a forest there's no yodeling, there's no culture. It was very interesting to go because I was way in over my head. I'm not an ethnomusicologist, I'm outdoorsy but I have never been a hunter gatherer. So that was an interesting experience because basically, the way that I tell it, is I end up sitting on a log for about 40 days picking worm larvae out of my feet. It was a lesson in suffering and it was also really amazing because I was able to experience the world without so many of the pressures that we live with and don't even know that we're living with them. Like materialism and consumerism and also the sense of me and identity and to some extent, those things didn't really exist there.

 After I had that experience that year, I came back home and I was like, "okay well I think I do want to do the classical music track" which just seems so at odds with what that year was. I've lived in Chicago in this nasty apartment with my buddy, Robert, for a year and auditioned. Those auditions didn't go very well, I wasn't singing all that well, so I was like "okay, I'm done with classical singing." I moved back home to Atlanta for a couple of years. I was working in a restaurant. I saved up some money and was also really unhappy and, because I had a professor in undergrad that had such a big impact on my life. He happened to be a Zen Buddhism professor and when I was 18 and also really unhappy coming to college, I think I was starved for like, I wanted to find a way.

 For whatever reason he represented that to me and when I was in a similar position years later, after college and after my traveling experience, I was unhappy. I thought "well, let me give the hardcore Zen thing a try." I went up to a tiny monastery up in Wisconsin that I don't know how I found but Wisconsin's where I did my undergrad, I found this new Zen monastery that was running on a traditional Japanese schedule. I'd had some meditation experience but I had never done the traditional Sesshin. I don't know if you're familiar with Sesshin but I wasn't but I decided I was going to go and I emailed the Roshi, I was like, "can I come and do this thing?" and he was like, "yeah." He asked me how much experience I had and I was kind of worried he wasn't going to say yes, but I went and did that and that was a really rude awakening.

Jack Canfield:  Sesshin depends on the tradition that you're working with. It's a week long intensive, where you're spending the vast majority of the day in seated meditation. I was thinking "okay, Zen is a philosophy, it's a mental practice and it's about becoming enlightened" and what I found very quickly was that it was just going to be a practice in physical pain. I just remember I've never been in such physical pain for a week and it was the wildest thing. It was just horrible the whole time and it was like, "can I make it through?" Which I did and at the end it was the wildest thing. It kind of reminded me of my trip. I think in some ways I wanted to go on this trip around the world because I think I needed to suffer some.

 I was looking for some kind of suffering and the great thing about Sesshin is that you'll find it. I made it through the week and what I found at the end of the week was this renewed interest in singing. I think for so long trying to sing classically was like an exercise and bumping up against just feeling like a failure all the time. It feels like a very tight conservatory setting and it's all about what you sound like and you can't make any mistake. It feels like very high stakes, and so what was nice about staring at a wall for a week and being in physical pain, somehow that made it clear to me that I actually really love singing. After taking a long time off, I started singing again and it just felt different, it was fun. I mean I was still bumping up against the old things but in a way I was more equipped to deal with those challenges and those obstructions that I had and so yeah, after several more Sesshin and starting to sing again.

 In Atlanta I re-auditioned and the auditions went much better. I auditioned for IU and for me it felt like I was on the periphery of the classical world and for whatever reason, I represented very much the mainstream. It was a very well connected place, I could see how I stacked up against my peers. When I showed up to Bloomington, I was also just interested in seeing what the Zen community was like there if there was one and I was surprised to find that the community there is one of great repute actually. Nationally, even in the Zen community, so that was kind of cool. I decided I was going to go once a week, I think they had a book club and that's where I met Seigen

Jack Canfield:  I always look forward to sitting next to Seigen. He was just a very pleasant person to sit next to even though we weren't really talking. What cracks me up is that he's been a practitioner for a long time, so he's quite familiar with how to sit and sitting for long periods. They do day long sits at their temple in Bloomington and what cracked me up about Seigen is that the one time I did a Sesshin there or a partial Sesshin or the full day sits is he'll just, you think of an expert as this perfect person who sits perfectly and doesn't struggle but Seigen will fall asleep. He's just falling asleep on his cushion and just totally bobbing which cracked me up. I don't know why I thought that was so funny.

 There he was and he would sit through it and he was just a great person to sit next to. He wasn't trying to out sit anybody, he was just there. I remember one time, I don't know at what point it was but I said, "hey Seigen, do you want to go and get coffee some time?". It was so funny because he was like, "yeah" and the way he responded almost felt like it had occurred to him too to want to go and get coffee, which was really cool. This was before pandemic, so we were able to go inside and sit at Hopscotch, which was great and I think we sat there and chatted for a couple of hours which was really lovely. I think forming relations with people across age differences is really important and I feel really fortunate that in my life I had people that I've really learned so much from that didn't see me as a kid. I mean they knew I was a kid but they were willing to have a real relationship.

Jack Canfield:  For all the time I've spent with Seigen, I don't know a whole lot about Seigen. I don't want to offend Seigen. I don't think I'll offend Seigen but I would bet, I don't know, 70. That would be my best guess. Old enough to not give a crap, you know what I mean, he doesn't care. When you're in a conservatory bubble, you know like IU or whatever, it can become such a toxic loud space. I mean in your own mind and so it's really nice to perspective from people who aren't in the bubble but also not in that point in life.

 Once the pandemic started, what was nice was we started doing walks around Bloomington. He knows a lot about birds, he's a bird watcher, he knows the tree species around Bloomington. He's quite interested in sort of things like that, so it was really great because I remember one time explicitly, I was like, "I would really like to know more about that sort of thing. Could we go on some walks? I would like to learn about the tree species around here, etc." That sort of became a weekly, bi-weekly thing where we would just go on these long walks, and a walk with Seigen is funny because it's generally very slow, we went very slowly. I got good at identifying the trees because Seigen would say, "okay this is a Sassafras tree and you can tell because the leaves are very interesting because they have three different kinds of leaves."

 But the thing about Seigen is that we would then stop at every Sassafras tree on a walk. It was great because it was like a lesson in appreciation which was that it's like, "oh, look at this Sassafras tree". Then we'd keep going and there would be another Sassafras tree and we'd stop and sort of look at its leaves. Then it would be the same thing with the different kind of Oak trees or the Maple tree, and then we would point out the same Red-winged Blackbird like a trillion times. Every time we would point something out it was like we were doing it for the first time, which was really nice. You know, it's like this is a different tree. So it was nice to go do this sort of thing whether I was in school or during the pandemic and it was like, "well let's just go look at this tree and then we'll look at this tree" and these very singular trees in this forest of trees.

 "Look at this Sassafras tree, it looks exactly the same as all the other Sassafras trees that we've seen today." It was always so easy to do and the thing is, no matter what sort of stuff I was carrying on my back, the weird personal stuff; whether it was stress at school, stress with whatever it is, just being 27 or 28. It became very apparent that I was bringing those things to the walks. You know what I'm saying? It's like, "oh okay" and I never felt like there was a problem with that but it sort of comes with that awareness that it was there, and it was nice too to be able to put those things down and just go on a walk. I remember on one of our walks, he would say, "oh, I have to go to Terre Haute today because I'm the spiritual advisor to this gentleman that is on Death Row."

Jack Canfield:  He's been a spiritual advisor to several different gentlemen in prison. One was like a white collar prisoner that was quite well written and they were pen pals essentially. The other one, who is the one who ended up being executed. Sometimes it's kind of foggy how things happened but what I do remember is that, especially when Trump decided to start doing executions again, I think Seigen mentioned something about the possibility of his involvement was about to become much greater in this circumstance. Basically what happened is, one day Jenny got a call from Seigen.

Alex Chambers:  If you've been listening, you know what happens next. If you're just tuning in, I'll catch you up after the break. This is Inner States. Be right back.

Alex Chambers:  Welcome back to Inner States, I'm Alex Chambers. We're listening to Jack Canfield tell the story of his friendship with Seigen. They became friends when Jack was in Bloomington, he was doing a Masters degree in vocal performance. They met at the local Zen Center, went on walks through the woods. Seigen was a spiritual advisor to a number of inmates in different prisons including one man on Death Row. One day Seigen called and said they'd set a date for the execution. "Would you give me a ride to Terre Haute", he said.

Jack Canfield:  I don't know if I will be in condition to drive back.

Jack Canfield:  I had a couple of days notice and it was during the pandemic, I was up to absolutely nothing. I understand that it's caused a lot of problems but personally and very selfishly, it was a really lovely time in my life where I had nothing to do except whatever it is that I wanted to do; which is really amazing, right? Like, "what do I actually want to spend my time doing?" I had a couple of days before that and I started to feel really sick which was bizarre, I wasn't seeing anybody. I was worried it was COVID, I was worried I was going to get Seigen sick, I was baffling about whether I wanted to drive him. I was like, "man I really feel ill" but I decided to. I wore a mask, I let Seigen know and it was a really classic Indiana summer day when we drove over there.

 The deal was I was supposed to drop Seigen off behind the courthouse in Terre Haute at 3pm. It was a pretty drive but definitely hot, very much like a Terre Haute, which you can imagine. We get to the courthouse and I think I'm realizing that I just feel terrible because, it wasn't COVID, the whole thing was really eerie. It was weird because it's not like I was involved, I had just been asked to be the get away driver kind of thing, but yeah, I just felt really ill. We get to the courthouse and what was going to happening is he would get picked up. It really felt strange, it's hard to explain, it wasn't like a crime but it felt like there was a crime happening. It was like, "okay you get dropped off here and then we'll pick you up" and there was like all sorts of very specific protocol.

 It was interesting, when you're driving Seigen to the execution and the execution I think was set for 7pm, 7.15pm. You can't help but think about time and the day through that person's perspective. It's like there's this time in mind and we're all coming to a point and you're thinking, "what would that be like", to be really truly looking at the clock and how you would experience time differently if your end was so imminent. I couldn't help but find that my own day and days up to that point were also framed a little bit from that perspective.

Jack Canfield:  We get to the parking lot, it's 3 o'clock, the lawyers are saying, "Well, we don't know what's going to happen, we're going to go down to the prison." Have you ever been to that prison? It's really, really, really eerie. It's very close to the mall strip, the suburban America strip malls, and you just go up some flat fields and it's right on the river and it's a very bizarre kind of place. We were down the river, behind the courthouse and were just sitting in the car. They're like, "okay, well you wait here" and so we pull into a parking spot and we wait and we wait. It's getting later and later and closer to seven and nothing's happening and I think we were talking a little bit and it becomes clear it's not going to happen at seven.

Jack Canfield:  We get to the parking lot, it's 3 o'clock, the lawyers are saying, "Well, we don't know what's going to happen, we're going to go down to the prison." Have you ever been to that prison? It's really, really, really eerie. It's very close to the mall strip, the suburban America strip malls, and you just go up some flat fields and it's right on the river and it's a very bizarre kind of place. We were down the river, behind the courthouse and were just sitting in the car. They're like, "okay, well you wait here" and so we pull into a parking spot and we wait and we wait. It's getting later and later and closer to seven and nothing's happening and I think we were talking a little bit and it becomes clear it's not going to happen at seven.

 Every hour and a half we get a call from the lawyers giving us an update as to what's happening and what's going to go on. Eventually, the prison chaplain comes and hangs out in the parking lot with us but he's in a separate truck and he sits across the parking lot. What's going to happen is that he's going to take Seigen to the prison. What's really bizarre about it is that he's truly a character out of a book. He's very serious. What I remember about him talking is he would almost shout but it was a very clinical shouting, it was like a shouting, clinical, "this is what's going to happen". Very like military. I couldn't help but notice that on the back of his car there was like a big old machine gun bumper sticker. This is the chaplain of the prison so I was like, "man", then trying to put it in his perspective, it's like I can't imagine what that guys daily life is like.

 So he's sitting in the parking lot with us and it's getting darker and there's nobody at the courthouse on this weird week day in Terre Haute in the summer. We're just sitting in a parking lot looking at nothing and now it's 8 o'clock. We're waiting on the Supreme Court to make a decision. They've sent a request to the Supreme Court to grant a stay. Nothing's happening, we've been there since 3pm. We then watch this crazy summer Indiana storm roll through at 9pm. We're sitting in the car, wild storm. I remember at one point we were sitting there, maybe when the sun was setting and Seigen mentioned, "have you ever seen that play Waiting For Godot?" I hadn't, I still haven't but he was like, "this kind of feels like Waiting For Godot."

Jack Canfield:  We didn't really have any food either, Seigen gave me his one power bar, he insisted that I eat it. Then it's like 10 o'clock, then it's 11 o'clock, then it's midnight and still the chaplain's sitting in his car, his big old truck and it's just us, there's nobody around. Eventually I lean back, I'm going to go to sleep and we do, we both fall asleep and we wake up at like three in the morning to the chaplain banging on my car door, which totally seemed unnecessary, but he shocked us both awake and what's creepier about it is that he's wearing full protective personal equipment. This whole other thing is it's in the pandemic, so everyone's still taking COVID really seriously. It feels incredibly apocalyptic and he's wearing this mask on top of the face guard on top of this gown that he's wearing.

 He's a shaved headed, bald guy but I remember I rolled down my window a little bit and, again, he's shouting. Let me just say that I felt like it was not a particularly sensitive way of communicating but if you're going to execute somebody I think that makes sense. 3am, Seigen and I both get startled awake and he's like, "okay, it's time to go" and Seigen's still asleep and very shaky. Both of us are kind of shaken up and he's like "you're going to follow me down to this gas station, we're going to stop at the gas station where you'll stop. Then the gentleman will get out of the car, he will wear his personal protective equipment, you will stay at the gas station while I continue and I take the gentleman into the prison" etc., etc.

 We follow him to the gas station, poor Seigen throws on this really wimpy lame PPE, and then he gets in the car and he's whisked away. I can see in the distance it's really dark except for the prison, which is lit up in a really eerie way. It's 3am, what do I do? I fell asleep in the parking lot at a gas station and then I think Seigen comes back at eight in the morning. Somehow I basically slept that time. He got in the car and then we started to drive back and it was really fascinating. He was quite open about what had happened and his experience, and on the way back to Bloomington he got a call from the lawyers, which was really emotional.

 The lawyers were really, really quite broken up. I remember that distinctly because you can hear over the phone. It was quite dramatic and then we got to Seigen's apartment, I dropped him off and I went home, and that was kind of that. That was my perspective.

Alex Chambers:  It's time for another break. This is Inner States from WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana. When we come back, Jack thinks about what the execution meant. Stay with us.

Alex Chambers:  Welcome back. It's Inner States, I'm Alex Chambers. We're listening to a story from Jack Canfield about the time he drove his friend, Seigen, to be a spiritual advisor for the execution of a man on Death Row. After the execution, Jack asked Seigen what the experience had been like.

Jack Canfield:  He talked about going in. I remember he had to sit for a long time with another chaplain-like character and we talked a lot about Wesley's crime. We talked about his experiences meeting with Wesley and Wesley's last words were he very much was remorseful and I think he apologized a lot to the family of the girl that he had murdered. He talked about the actual experience of watching somebody pass on and in such a strange way. I'm hesitant to say too much about it just because I really don't know, I don't know the details all that much; I did my research at the time.

 I think Wesley was dealing with some serious mental problems, not that that changes any of the things that he did. First it was a religious thing that they were trying to get the stay, then it was Wesley had mental issues that should prevent him from being murdered but the whole thing was it's very strange to connect these two independent actions together. We're going to strap him down on a bed and inject him with the stuff that's going to put him to sleep and then this horrible action that he had done 20 some years earlier, and it's interesting that the connection between these two actions was him, in theory. There's something so mathematical about Wesley's death. Action A plus action B equals action C, which, in theory, equals justice, or not justice, if you look at from the other end of the things.

 My personal belief is that it feels like a lot of acrobatics to connect those two things. It seems incredibly, in a way almost arbitrary. I found myself wondering a lot, "how do I feel about the death penalty". To tell you the truth, I'm not sure that I'm entirely opposed to it. Amidst all this, I reached out to my professor from undergrad, I consider him a friend now and I said, "what do you think about the death penalty." He was like, "yeah, I think some people do things so bad that they literally have forfeited the right to live." I remember reading some of those articles about stuff that people had done and I was like, "yeah, I don't disagree." It's an argument, it's a discussion, it's messy because it's like what makes Wesley different? Well, he had mental problems, he had been terribly abused growing up.

 It's very interesting. In a way I feel very fortunate to be a part of it. I also found it really fascinating to read the comments on the articles that I would read about Wesley and about how they were trying to get a stay. It was just interesting to then read the things that people would have to say and the vitriol towards Wesley, which, again, to some extent, I understand but it was different in a very, very small distant way to be a part of the whole experience. On the periphery of what was going on, it gave me a new perspective certainly and it's like, how do you connect these two actions separated by 20 years and then justify them? It seems like, I don't know, how old are you?

Jack Canfield:  On the periphery of what this thing was going on, it gave me a new perspective certainly and it's like, how do you connect these two actions separated by 20 years and then justify them. It seems like, I don't know, how old are you?

Alex Chambers:  42.

Jack Canfield:  42. Can you even remember something that you did when you were 18?

Alex Chambers:  I mean, I guess I can probably think of, let's see, when I was 18.

Jack Canfield:  It's interesting because when you turn memories, because what we're talking about here are memories. When we're talking about the past. What is the past, is kind of what this becomes a discussion about. What is the past and what does it mean? What is its effect on now is basically what this discussion is about. It seems like an incredible amount of effort is being made to make the past very present. It's not like he hadn't been thinking about it for a long time, I'm sure he had. He was dealing with dementia and all sorts of other stuff. It seems like a very odd thing to be like, "alright, you did this thing 20 some years ago and so now the consequences are, you have to die this very specific way at this point in time, and this is going to make it all better." I think when you're talking about the death penalty, in a lot of ways you're talking about words, you're arguing over what words mean and which ones hold more meaning, but that's true of any law, any politics, anything.

 It's like if you're going to say anything about something it's totally reliant on other words to say more things about it, which is a circular thing because then you just need more words, but in this case, the consequences are life and death.

Jack Canfield:  I drove Seigen there and I felt sick, I thought I had COVID, I was really, really sick. It's hard to express how eerie the whole thing was and also like the banging on the car. Seigen being swept away in this truck, and I could still see the look on Seigen's face. It was really horrifying in a lot of ways. I asked him, "is it okay if I like talk about it and talk about you?", and he's like, "please, this was equally your experience." I remember a year later, it was crazy, we were at lunch and I was like, "can you believe that was a year ago" and he was like, "yeah, it's hard to believe." I was like, "I just want you to know, I'm really glad I was a part of that experience", he was like, "well, you really needed to be a part of that, it was your experience, too. I'm really glad you were there too."

Jack Canfield:  So much of our culture and everything that we do is sort of about distracting from your death. That's like pretty much, almost all advertising, it's all about avoiding death and so it was really fascinating to enter into a world where that was not the case. It was very much about death and very much about this person who knew he was going to die, and there was very specific reasons why he was going to die, because he had caused death to someone else. It was really amazing to have that opportunity but then also to watch Seigen go through it, being a much older person, and that's, presumably, not necessarily, but presumably closer to death than I.

Jack Canfield:  Tying it back to those people in the Congo, death is a totally different element. It's like clay. Oh gosh, I've gotten myself into some territory here. It's much more present. It's not that it's not present now here, it is but it's much more physical. It's tangible, it's like a thing, and it's okay, it's just a thing, just like being alive is. There's a refreshing quality about talking about it and doing it.

Jack Canfield:  The thing about the Congo that was interesting is that there was one moment in particular when I was getting to the later part of my time there, which is very short, 40 days feels like a very short amount of time looking at it. I could tell you right now that it felt like two years being there, when you can't speak the language of anybody. We like to talk about how people are the same everywhere, which is really true, people aren't different anywhere but also we undersell the fact how different people are. People are really different and to have the common experience of purchasing something in the store that is made of plastic. That alone encompasses so many things that you and I have in common but to not even have that in common with these folks, not the language, it's hard to explain. I remember I got really sick at the end of my time and I was having to make a decision.

 Okay, I finally get to go out into the forest for a long period of time, stay out deep in the forest and I really get to hear this yodeling. They do the yodeling away from their neighbors and they have privacy out and it's their element, and I'd spent all this time trying to get to that point where I could be out in the forest for a period of time. It was finally time and I got really sick. I'd been warned by some folks, "if you get sick you should leave" because if you get malaria, you might fall asleep and not wake up, I'm days away from any kind of medical care. I remember having a decision to make where I was like "I'm either going to make this effort and go into the forest when I'm feeling really ill." I don't want to venerate myself for doing something which very easily could be painted in really terrible terms. Like here I am taking food away from people who actually need it.

 I'm exploiting people, whatever it is but in my own personal journey, I decided to go and I remember really being also quite emotional about it. I really felt like that could mean I would never walk out, and I remember having that moment where I was like, "I may not walk out". And I did, I went out there and I'm glad I did. I guess the reason why I'm talking about it is because part of the whole thing with Wesley is that it's really fascinating. We're all captivated by this idea of execution and dying and the finality of it and the not having the choice. Ultimately I actually think it's a really positive discussion and a really important discussion to have. Talking about things like life and death, talking about really considering these things, I think can open you up to what the stakes are.

Alex Chambers:  Tell me what happened next with your relationship with Seigen?

Jack Canfield:  I felt honored in a way that Seigen would ask me to help him. I was like, "oh, of course I want to help." He lives by himself in Bloomington and he doesn't have a car but he became my family in a way there, and recently he almost lost his vision. It was quite dramatic, he had to have emergency surgery on his eye, which was quite a big deal, and he's going to have to go back for more surgery. Basically, we've spent a lot of time together since then. Then we had one more really nice lunch before I took off for Idaho. I'm sure I'll see him again, he'll be one of those people that I want to go and visit when I'm in Bloomington. One of the emails I've gotten from him recently, he was like, "what are the tree species like out there? I'm not familiar with them. Are they native or are they not native?" I said, "I'm not sure to be honest." So in a way, nothings really changed. [LAUGHS]

Alex Chambers:  You've been listening to a recording Jack made during his time with the Bayaka people in the Republic of the Congo.

Alex Chambers:  I want to say a couple more words about the execution that Jack helped Seigen attend. The U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute houses the only federal execution chamber in the country. As Donald Trump was coming to the end of his time in office, his Administration started executing federal prisoners on Death Row. It was the first time in 17 years, the federal government had executed anyone. The Trump Administration killed 13 people between July of 2020 and January 15th, 2021, five days before Trump left office. The federal government had just executed more people than any time since 1896. The man Seigen was a spiritual advisor for was Wesley Purkey. Wesley's execution happened just after 8am on July 16th, he was the second of three people to be killed in that first week of executions. At the time he was executed, he still had an Appeal pending in the courts. When the court finally responded to the Appeal, after Purkey had died, they dismissed it as moot. It was too late to matter.

There's a lot more to be said about the Trump administration's rush of executions. One place to learn more is on a podcast that's forthcoming from the WFIU newsroom in collaboration with NPR's story lab. It's called Rush To Kill.

Alex Chambers:  The story you just listened to was told by Jack Canfield. Jack debuted as a soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at the Tanglewood Music Festival last summer. He’s now packing boxes in the Cotopaxi Warehouse in Salt Lake City out by the airport, and he says he's enjoying it.

I reached out to Jack's friend, Seigen, about this story. Seigen confirmed that he was okay with airing the story. He corrected a fact in my narration and he very politely declined to be interviewed himself.

Alex Chambers:  You've been listening to Inner States from WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana. If you have a story for us or you've got some sound we should hear, let us know at Speaking of found sound, we've got your quick moment of slow radio coming up but first the credits. Inner States is produced and edited by me, Alex Chambers, with support from Eoban Binder, Aaron Cain, Mark Chilla, Michael Paskash, Payton Whaley and Kayte Young. Our Executive Producer is John Bailey. Special thanks this week to Jack Canfield. Our theme song is by Amy Olsner and Justin Vollmar. I also want to thank Airport People and Rámon Monrás-Sender for generously sharing their music, which features in this story. We'll link to Airport People on our website. Additional music comes from the artists at Universal Production Music. I want to acknowledge and honor the Miami Delaware Potawatomi and Shawnee people on whose ancestral homelands and resources, Indiana University, Bloomington, home of WFIU, is built as well as the generations of workers who built it.

 Alright, time to sit back and listen to a place. This one's a bit longer, I think it's worth following it all the way through. I'll be back in about two minutes on the other side.

Alex Chambers:  That was going through the car wash with our eyes closed, recorded by my parents, Rob and Suzanne Chambers. Until next week, I'm their son, Alex Chambers. Thanks for listening. Actually, I think I'll just keep being their son.

Sycamore Leaves

Seigen taught Jack about the variety of sassafras leaves (Kit Boulding)

WFIU has a new podcast out, developed with NPR's Storylab. Rush to Kill is about what happened at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute from July 2020 to January 2021. Those were the final months of the Trump presidency, when his administration decided not only to resume executions, but to get through as many as possible. The show examines the legal arguments that made that possible, and specific cases of some of the inmates who were executed.

In conjunction with the show's release, I wanted to go back to a classic Inner States episode.

Jack was a grad student in music at IU when he met a man named Seigen at the local Zen center. Seigen was decades older, but in spite of the age gap, they became good friends. They took lots of walks. “This is a sassafras,” Seigen would say. They would look at that for a while. Once they’d seen one sassafras, it wasn’t as if they’d seen them all. They stopped to look at every tree.

Then, one day, Seigen asked Jack to drive him to an execution. The man being executed was Wesley Purkey, for whom Seigen was a spiritual advisor. Purkey was the second person to be killed in the Trump administration's "rush to kill."

This is mainly about Jack and Seigen's friendship.

It’s also, in part, about a secondhand experience of a federal execution. There’s nothing graphic, but if that’s something you or someone you’re listening with might be sensitive to, you might keep the topic in mind.


Inner States is produced and edited by me, Alex Chambers, with Violet Baron, Jillian Blackburn, and Avi Forrest.

Our theme song is from Amy Oelsner and Justin Vollmar. I continue to be deeply appreciate of airport people for sharing their music, which I’ve used to score a number of episodes. You can purchase their music here. The music in this episode is a version of “okay ohio part 1.” We also have music from Ramón Monrás-Sender.

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