Death Row Hugger

Originally published at Boston Literary Magazine. Read original here:

Death Row Hugger

by Nancy Stohlman

            For some reason it’s always at night. It’s always in the same room, the light is always jaundiced. The room smells musty, like wet clothes were shoved and left to die in all the corners.

I guess I was destined for this job. My parents weren’t the hugging type, so I’ve always had a malnourished craving for arms around me. I started out as a professional baby cuddler for the preemie babies in the NICU; each night after visiting hours, I settled into the wooden rocking chair with these miniature babies and their ancient, sculpted faces and whispered of a future when they would be strong and full sized.

But nothing could prepare me for being a Volunteer Hugger on Death Row. You enter that holding room, and there they are, trying to enjoy their steaks or lobsters or Cuban cigars or whatever. My job is to hug them just before they take that long walk. It’s not a sexual hug, though I have felt a few erections, and a few have tried to kiss me, but I politely turn my cheek and squeeze them harder. Because there’s this moment in the hug, you see, where it goes from something awkward and obligatory to when they melt into my arms, weeping with their bodies if not with their eyes. Every now and then I hear one of them whisper in my ear, and once one called me Mama.