Letters From Death Row (Part 1)

May 25, 2011

As many of you know, I have been working on a capital punishment project for quite some time now. This particular project has lead me down a path I hadn’t quite expected to travel. In the beginning, my goal was to do what I always do – research and report. Now, things are quite different. Now I find myself wanting to dig deeper and deeper than I had initially planned.

I have spent hours pouring over capital punishment cases. I follow every news story of those who are newly convicted of a capital crime, those who await execution, those who are exonerated, and of course, those who are ultimately put to death in this country.

After compiling a great many resources for the project, I found I was lacking one. I needed to hear directly from the condemned men and women themselves. I’ve sent scores of letters to prisons all over the nation. Three individuals have answered me, and two of them have continually replied, offering me a bit more insight into how the system works. The first individual to respond (an inmate currently awaiting execution at California’s San Quentin facility) was not at all pleased with my inquiry, as the letter below clearly demonstrates.


Now, had I written to him under the guise of wanting to forge some sort of relationship, I suppose his response might have been quite a bit different. I have made it a point to be clear, concise, direct, and even shockingly blunt at times with these individuals. This inmate was no exception. My goal is to gather information, to review it as objectively as I can, and to produce honest and in-depth content to share with my readers.

Another individual (currently on death row here in the state of Texas) wrote to me, and responded to my questions regarding ‘use of force.’ This is when the prison system forces an inmate to comply with their demands when all other options have been exhausted. I had recently viewed video footage of this particular inmate on a news broadcast where they said he ‘loved to fight,’ and I asked him to provide me with an explanation. He did:

He later continued:

The line, “Violence is a form of communication in prison,” really stood out to me. I had always known prison was a violent place for both offenders and corrections officers, but to hear from a death row inmate – a person who seemingly has nothing left to lose – that violence is used as a form of communication, had never occurred to me before.

Please weigh in and let me know your thoughts. Are there questions you would have for a man or woman sitting on death row that you never thought you’d learn the answer to?

Please keep in mind that this is only a small portion of the research I am doing for the project. Upon its completion, there will be information provided to you from all sides of the capital punishment debate, not just from death row inmates.

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