takes serene outlook after 20 executions
Strangers still ask Grantt Culliver
if they have seen him on television.
tells them, yes, he
was on that MSNBC "Lockup" documentary series on the nation's toughest prisons.
He was the warden at Holman Correctional Facility when the camera crews came down in 2006 and 2007.
He usually does not volunteer other details - that he was Holman's warden 2002-09 and that he administered all 20 executions by lethal injection since the state started using the method in 2002.
knew each condemned inmate and gave him in advance a copy of the death warrant he
would read to him on the night of his
He usually answered a host of questions from the inmate's relatives, discussed funeral arrangements and coordinated family visits.
explained to the families that the task facing him and his
execution team was not something they relished.
Alabama's most recent execution was in October.
A month later, Culliver moved to the Department of Corrections central office in Montgomery to become institutional coordinator for the 15 state prisons in north and central Alabama.
Asked recently if there is anything about the execution process that he
would change, Culliver
said it might be better if the warden could push one syringe instead of seven.
"But overall, I think we have a very good policy."
"It's more serene to do lethal injections because, basically, you administer the drugs and the person goes to sleep," Culliver
witnessed several electrocutions as Holman's assistant warden.
would usually make a final visit on the night before execution day and lend an ear if the inmate had something he
wanted to say.
"I've had guys who, of course, (knew) that this was going to happen and felt like they had made amends and had changed their livesspiritually ... all the way to guys who were still saying, 'I was intoxicated, I don't know really what happened, I don't think I did it, I'm pretty sure I didn't do it,' da-da-da-da-da."
One inmate even asked Culliver
could die with his
cowboy boots on.
The warden told him no. "It's just policy," Culliver
"You're not allowed to have cowboy boots in the prison, and you're not going to be allowed to die in them."
Execution duty was only an occasional part of Culliver's job at the 1,000-inmate, maximum-security prison outside Atmore in south Alabama.
The "Lockup" documentary on Holman began with the narrative: "It requires a unique set of skills to run a violent prison like Holman, and warden Grantt Culliver embodies them.
authoritative, dynamic and tough."
One segment showed Culliver
telling a weeping inmate that his
performance was not going to win him an Academy Award.
Another segment showed him telling a reluctant prisoner he
would get him an ice cream cone if he
would take his
needed shot of medicine, then helping hold him for the injection when he
continued to balk.
Because of his
size - Culliver stands 6 feet 2 1/2 and weighs 270 pounds - he
brought a strong physical presence to Holman's cellblocks.
While physical strength was an asset he
sometimes needed as a correctional officer, he
did not rely on it much as a warden.
"Most of the time, there were more brains used than brawn," he