The Reverend Russ Ford, who served as the head chaplain on Virginia’s death row for eighteen years, raged against the inequities of the death penalty—now outlawed in Virginia—while ministering to the men condemned to die in the 1980s and 1990s. Ford stood watch with twenty-eight men, sitting with them in the squalid death house during the final days and hours of their lives. In July 1990 he accidentally almost became the 245th person killed by Virginia’s electric chair as he comforted Ricky Boggs in his last moments, a vivid episode that opens this haunting book.

Many chaplains get to know the condemned men only in these final moments. Ford, however, spent years working with the men of Virginia’s death row, forging close bonds with the condemned and developing a nuanced understanding of their crimes, their early struggles, and their challenges behind bars. His unusual ministry makes this memoir a unique and compelling read, a moving and unflinching portrait of Virginia’s death row inmates. Revealing the cruelties of the state-sanctioned violence that has until recently prevailed in our backyard, Crossing the River Styx serves as a cautionary tale for those who still support capital punishment.

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