Here are five standout pieces we read this week. You can visit our editors’ picks or our Twitter feed to see what other recommendations you may have missed.
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1. Dead Man Living
Elizabeth Bruenig | The Atlantic | October 2, 2022 | 4,221 words
When it comes to ensuring humane treatment of those set to die by lethal injection, the Alabama Department of Corrections would like you to keep your seat and remain quiet. The signs in the witness room of the Holman Correctional Facility execution chamber say as much. Elizabeth Bruenig, a staff reporter at The Atlantic, has found that department officials are as impervious to important questions about the safety and dignity of the lethal injection process as the witness room’s cinderblock walls. This is a hard but necessary read about the lack of communication and transparency in Alabama’s capital punishment process and the egregious and completely unnecessary harms the state can cause to those condemned and the loved ones who endure the needless suffering of delayed or botched executions. “Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, an educational nonprofit organization, told me that Alabama’s latest failure to carry out an uncomplicated execution represented an endemic problem. ‘This is the third execution in the last five years that Alabama has botched by virtue of their own incompetence in setting IV lines,’ offering Joe Nathan James and Doyle Hamm, who survived a 2018 lethal injection attempt in the state, as the two prior examples. ‘Each time, ADOC has denied the obvious and claimed nothing went wrong. They say they’ve followed their protocol. One of these things must be true: Either they’re unreliable, or their protocol is unreliable. Neither one is acceptable when a person’s life is on the line.’” —KS
2. Mike Conner v. The Pain
Joshua St.Clair | Esquire | October 5, 2022 | 4,377 words
Esquire, the magazine that first made me fall in love with longform journalism, is at its platonic best when it gets inside someone’s head. I don’t mean the reader’s head, though that’s often a result; I mean it gets inside the head of the people at the heart of its features. And here, that person is Mike Connor, who nine years ago fell five stories onto concrete, feet first. This is the story of his survival. Of his refusal to accept his shattered bones and pulverized body as a forever state. There’s little dialog here, because while Mike Connor has children and a family, his journey started within. It’s sparely written, though it finds beauty in that austerity. It doesn’t linger on descriptions of the outside world. Instead, it sits patiently ringside to the fight of Mike Connor’s life: his battle with an agony so ever-present that, as St. Clair writes, it’s like “an emotion … like rage, like afternoon sadness.” I can’t lie: it’s been a while since I read something like this in Esquire. But it feels like coming home. —PR
Tan Tuck Ming | Kenyon Review | October 3, 2022 | 5,407 words
In this essay, Tan Tuck Ming reflects on what’s gained and what’s lost for the hundreds of thousands of Filipina workers who come to cities like Hong Kong for work as domestic helpers, leaving their loved ones and entire lives at home to become embedded in new families abroad. Tang writes from the perspective of an employee who conducts intake interviews with workers seeking new jobs, but also as someone who grew up in a household with maids. (His Auntie Mel is the maid he remembers the most, and the woman he associates with love.) Tang tells the heartbreaking story of one woman, Daisy, who’s given up so much. “What is the Filipina brand of love?” asks Tang. “It is to love your family to the degree that to provide for it you would become contracted to another. It is to love a child by leaving and loving other children with the same hardness, because while the intensity of love is undeniable, the value of its currency is what flickers and grows across a border.” Sadly, this is the story for so many. —CLR
4. The Storykeeper: A Conversation with Svetlana Alexievich
José Vergara | Los Angeles Review of Books | September 27, 2022 | 4,420 words
I was 15 when disaster struck the Chernobyl Nuclear Power plant in 1986. Over 35 years later, I still struggle to comprehend the accident’s human and environmental toll. For the original edition of Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexievich interviewed countless survivors to give voice to those affected, attempting to create “a kind of temple made of human lives and human voices.” In this deeply personal interview at the Los Angeles Review of Books, Alexievich talks about the revised edition of her book, an account made deeper by subjects who “found new memories, new bravery,” and added to their original stories, feeling less vulnerable about revealing their full experiences in a post-Soviet era. “People start talking in the style of what they read. I try to get at what is real and understand what people experienced and really felt in the moment. The most amazing thing was when somebody told me, ‘I didn’t even know what I knew and felt before [our conversation].’ We process the experience together, the interviewee and myself. We think about the world together.” —KS
5. Inside One Of The World’s First Human Composting Facilities
Eleanor Cummins | The Verge | October 3, 2022 | 2,457 words
We all die, though when someone you love passes and you’re mired in grief, reducing the environmental impact of your loved one’s body isn’t generally top of mind. Burial and cremation are standard options, but both pollute the environment. Embalming fluids can leach through a casket and contaminate the soil. Cremation requires a lot of fuel and releases carbon dioxide into the air. But, what if we could actually give back to the earth after we die to help trees, plants, and flowers to flourish? Enter natural organic reduction (NOR), or human composting, which is now legal in four states and counting. In this insightful piece at The Verge, Eleanor Cummins reports on how NOR started off as an idea in Katrina Spade’s 2013 graduate thesis and has since become a cost effective and environmentally friendly way for families to say goodbye to their loved ones. —KS