On Thursday, the state of Texas will kill Robert Pruett.
The 38-year-old has been behind bars since he was 15.
He was arrested in 1995 as an accomplice in his father’s murder of a neighbor; five years later, a prison guard who had given him a disciplinary infraction for eating a sandwich in a hallway was found stabbed to death. Although he continues to maintain that he is innocent, multiple witnesses claimed that Pruett was responsible, and he was sentenced to death for the crime.
For proponents of the death penalty, the events that define Pruett’s life serve as the case for killing him. He spent his pre-prison years in a vortex of violence — getting into fights, stealing, developing a drug addiction. Once he arrived in prison, he briefly flirted with neo-Nazi beliefs, reading “Mein Kampf” and getting a swastika tattoo to intimidate other inmates.
Wherever you fall on the question of Pruett’s guilt or innocence in the prison guard murder, a brief look at his life could make you think that he’s at least the sort of person who may do something like that.
But a person’s life is not defined just by their worst actions. People grow, and they change, and Pruett’s decades in prison gave him time to reflect on the life he had lived. He turned those reflections into an autobiography. It was reviewed in early October by Current Affairs’s Nathan Robinson.
The autobiography serves as a sort of sociological self-examination — an attempt by Pruett to understand why his life went the way it did. He writes not to absolve himself of the choices he has made, but to impart why he felt like his options were so limited.