In the story A Lesson Before Dying, why does Grant say that Jefferson is already dead?

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In A Lesson Before Dying, Grant is a schoolteacher who is charged with visiting Jefferson, a man sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit, and helping him to turn into a man before he is executed.

Grant is hesitant to visit Jefferson because he doesn't believe he can help Grant in any meaningful way in the limited time left before he is put to death.  Grant says Jefferson is already dead because he literally almost is, and because he believes Jefferson's soul, conscience, being, etc. cannot be saved in that time.

It actually becomes a learning experience for Grant, who changes his mind later on in the story.

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