Why I am writing to an inmate on death row

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This is not something I would have ever imagined doing. Or would do.

But very soon – within the space of a couple of months, in fact – I will become the penpal to someone who is on death row. I will be required to write to him regularly (and I assume that he is a him just from the statistics), say every two to four weeks, for at least a year. I have  committed to writing to someone who has ended the life, or lives, of other people. Talk about a moral dilemma. I am completely and utterly against murder,  but oddly, it seems the right thing to do.

My sister (who is a nurse) was the one who suggested I do it. After reading Jodi Picoult’s Change of Heart, she decided to sign up to the Death Row Support Project, a link to which is at the end of the book.  She emailed me the info, and I admit I was hesitant until I visited the website. It seems that writing to someone on death row does not mean that you condone what they did. But it does mean that you have compassion, and you are prepared to offer someone something to look forward to, when I imagine there isn’t much. In a weird way, I perceive that my act of writing a letter gives someone hope in an environment where I perceive there is very little.

One of the best films to come out of the 1990s was Dead Man Walking. It was a film that I would show to my Year 12 Social Studies students without fail. And without fail, those students would come away from watching that movie changed just a little bit. They understood that the race we are, the environment we grow up in, the education we have access to, even the country we are born greatly impacts our choices and opportunities. Being poor and illiterate often means surviving the best way one know how. I can only begin to imagine what it must be like to grow up in households and neighbourhoods that are like war zones.

So my writing to a death row prisoner, is (I hope) an expression of my gratitude.  I am extremely lucky to be born where I was. Even though I had a difficult and often violent childhood, we were far from poverty stricken. I attended excellent schools, then universities, and always had work. The government supported me when I needed it, and I did not have to resort to criminal or anti-social behaviour to survive.

I was lucky. Other people are not.

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