Tuesday 31 January 2012

Death row revisited

A few weeks ago, I posted about Texas Death Row, and was pleased that at least two readers became interested in writing to Death Row inmates. One of the Texas Death Row inmates has a website (I've eno idea how he's managed it - probably through a third party) and here is what he says. Do please take the time to read it.

Have you ever had a life or death experience? If so, how close did you come to meeting your maker, and how long did it last? Do you even think about death? Well, think about this.

He goes on to describe how he lives in a small and filthy cage where you have no voice...a place where a desperate pleas is NEVER heard...where your humanity is no longer acknowleded and you are referred to as a number...I am a 27 year old guy who hast to "live" on Texas Death Row.

This man insists that he is innocent. There was no DNA, fingerpirnts or eye wintesses to connect him to the crime of which he is accused, and evidence used in his trial was tampered with. This is commonplace. One inmate, the now well-known Linda Carty (subject of a recent documentary), was given just five minutes with her attorney before her trial. A Texas inmate was executed last week, and several more executions are scheduled over the next months.

There are currently over 200 people on the waiting list for pen friends. It doesn't take up mmuch time. Do please think about it. The organisation through which I write is Lifelines, and Nichola Glasse is the membership secretary. Her email address is: nichola@glasse.org.uk


  1. You are so right about appealing to all of your readers here to follow your good example. For some (speaking for myself here, of course), it is probably not so much a question of not having enough time to do this (I certainly DO have enough time), but of cowardice. I admit to being a coward when it comes to the dark sides of life. Like a child that covers their eyes with their hands, I am trying to avoid the harsh reality, and I am scared of getting involved in something I may find too hard to cope with. Ridiculous, I know.

  2. Thanks, Frances, for all you are doing in giving these people a voice. It is a frightening thing to get involved in, potentially heartbreaking and depressing. But one can always pull back if the emotions are too much. We can't not try.

  3. @Yvonne: see, the pulling back is what scares me - I would have myself for having let someone down because of my weakness and inability to handle this. How must it make someone on Death Row feel when, after they have had a glimmer of kindness in their lives through letters from people like us, that is suddenly withdrawn from them.

  4. I would hate myself, I mean. Typo. Stupid that we can't edit our own comments.

  5. Librarian, don't let 'cowardice' put you off. There really is nothing to fear, and there's an excellent support network (internal email, conferences twice a year, an in-house magazine, counsellors on the end of a phone). AS for sudden withdrawal, you are asked to let your co-ordinator know if you can no longer write, and they will try to find someone else. I find that it takes just 20 mins a fortnight (although you can write mroe often if you want to).

    Thanks, Yvonne. Did you get anwhere with it?

  6. I feel the same as Librarian. Not so much that I don't want to get involved but that, if I do, I might find I can't handle it. And what do you write about? The contrast between our lives and theirs is so stark that I'd be worrying that, far from cheering them up, I might be making them feel even worse.

  7. This is an amazing initiative and the sort that I would certainly be interested in. But I must give some thought and ask myself whether I could sustain any input I start up. Like us all, I have many fingers in many pies.
    I am reminded of an occasion when my wife met an elderly gentleman on the train who wasn't quite sure at which station he had to change. She mentioned that she recognised him and he smiled. He was Lord Longford and when they got into conversation it emerged that he had been on one of his visits to Myra Hindley. I wish I had one hundredth of his grace and compassion.

  8. Totally interesting post. Thanks Frances. I'm seriously considering becoming a pen friend. Need to weigh up the pros and cons first I think.

  9. I am so grateful Canada doesn't have the death penalty, even though we've had some dreadful, dreadful serial killers in the past 30 years. But we have also had some people whose convictions have been overturned due to new methods of examining evidence.
    Such a difficult topic, Frances. You have my sincere admiration.

  10. Hi, Gail. I understand, but it's not nearly as daunting as it sounds. At worst, it's a bit of a chore, especially if your "penfriend" doesn't reply (they often can't afford stamps, so it can be like writing into a vacuum). But for many, it's the only outside contact they have. As for subject matter, I agree - that can be difficult. My co-ordinator says they don't need to be protected from our relatively cosy lives, but I tend to dwell on
    the things that go wrong! But once you have a relationship, you write about what you're both interested in. My curent one writes poetry (tho it's early days, and I have yet to her from him).

    Author Doc, I was a great admirer of Lord Longford, too. As I said, writing to a prisoner only takes me 20 mins a fortnight (plus the queue in the post office!), so it's not a huge commitment. These people are pretty well always poor and very lonely. A letter can make all the difference.

    Diane, I'm sure you won't regret it!

    Thanks, Kay.

    I am more than happy to chat to anyone thinking about this. Just email me (address on this blog) and I'll give you my phone number.

  11. Very interesting and thought-provoking post, Frances. I detest the whole idea of Death Row, not least because of the possibility of someone's innocence.

    Could I do this? I really doubt it, no matter how much I think I should. I'm such an escapist yet tend to get easily over involved in people's stories (gave up Adult Literacy tutoring eventually). I think my husband and daughter might consider it though.

  12. Thanks, Rosemary. It would be great if your husband and daughter could join us!

  13. Great idea and I admire you for doing it but I'm not sure what puts me off joining you. Probably cowardice.