Anytime I think about prison, and what it must be like for those who have been sentenced to serve time, the film The Shawshank Redemption immediately comes to mind. When the lead character Andy Dufresne is sent to prison for the murder of his wife and her lover, he arrives at Shawshank with a slew of other criminals, chained together as they are paraded in front of the prison inmate population. Bets are placed on who will be the first person to break down during their initial night behind bars.
As I began to draft letters to inmates on Death Row for this particular project, I tried to put aside my own personal judgments with regard to their crimes so that I could objectively ask questions without injecting my own biases into the research. This project is not driven by my desire to sway the public either in favor of capital punishment or against it. I simply want to share information from various perspectives in the hope that something new is learned and an open dialogue occurs.
As a rule, I only exchange letters with one inmate at any given facility at a time, so as not to incite discord among the prison population. Of the individuals I am currently corresponding with, two of them have answered questions for me regarding their first day on Death Row.
My contact in Texas had this to say:
He later continued:
When I presented the same question to my contact in Ohio, his response struck me as much less emotional, and much more matter-of-fact:
Both contacts maintain their innocence and are currently working on various aspects of their individual appeals. I have not made any judgment one way or the other with regard to their actual guilt or innocence, which I have also made known to them in my letters. While I have been asked to help in ‘exposing injustices,’ I have stated on more than one occasion that I do not posses the political power, funds, or media exposure to assist them in this manner.
It will be interesting to see how things evolve as I continue to ask these individuals questions about their lives on the ‘inside.’
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.