Letters From Death Row (Part 3)

May 24, 2011

I have become one of ‘those’ women… women who write to men behind bars. I don’t write to just your average inmate either; my pen pals are all condemned men living on Death Row in different states throughout the country. I am not gender-biased, but it would seem that women have far less interest in communicating with me than do men. I will admit that the women actually intimidate me quite a bit more, as the crimes for which they have been convicted are – at times – significantly more vicious. I will continue with my attempts to establish a connection with women on Death Row, but only time will tell whether or not I will be successful at it.

As it stands today, I have five individuals writing to me. They are incarcerated in Texas, North Carolina, Nevada, Georgia, and Ohio. Out of the five, three claim innocence. As recently as last week, I received two large parcels of legal paperwork from my contact in Ohio. He hopes that after I review his case that I will be sympathetic to his plight and somehow assist him in his fight for freedom. He has been on Death Row for the past 16 years, serving time for a crime he says he did not commit.

I made it a point to tell him, as well as all of the other inmates that I write to, that I am a freelance journalist. I am in no way affiliated with news organizations, and am truly not in a position of power to assist them with their cases. All I know is what my research unearths and what information they themselves are willing to provide to me. When I expressed to this man that I have also spent a majority of my life in support of the Death Penalty, he responded:

I have to admit that my thoughts on the Death Penalty have shifted some since first taking this project on. If it were a flawless system (which it most definitely is not) I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to throw 100% of my support behind it. However, it has been proven that several innocent people have already been executed in this country. If this man truly is innocent of the crime he was convicted of committing, there is an injustice there that I wish I had the power to correct.

My contact in North Carolina is fighting a somewhat different battle, as he spent a total of six years on Death Row before his sentence was vacated. He has yet to be re-sentenced, and is sitting in legal limbo until his case has the chance to move forward. What is interesting in his correspondence is that he fully admits to being involved in the death of the person he was convicted of murdering, but contends that it was not in the ‘first degree.’

In almost every letter, I stress the importance of honesty. Of course, I have no way of gauging whether or not the information they provide is truthful, though I do hope it is. Whether he truly lives by this or not, I did appreciate the comment:

It will be interesting to see how this project evolves, and what information these inmates will share with me as time goes on. Innocent or guilty, they all share a life of routine behind bars that I hope to gain more insight into.

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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