I have been touched recently by two letters I have received from prisoners; one from a prisoner in Indiana and the other from a prisoner in Arizona.
I was co-ordinator for Indiana many years ago and this particular prisoner was in my care. His letter begins with a quote from Revd. Dr. Martin Luther King – ‘What affects one of us directly, affects us all indirectly.’ He writes that he realises it has been some time since I last heard from him, that he is feeling well and strong and that he continues to stand firm and resolute. He has 32 months left before he is able to go home, unless he receives relief from the courts before then. At present he is at a work release holding centre in Michigan City, Indiana, where he has received some college schooling and earned an Associate of Science degree in management. He is currently working at the Intake Clothing Department and helps to process new arrivals to the so called minimum security facility.
This prisoner spent over 27 tortuous years on death row and was released into general prison population in 2009. He says that many people, including ‘you’ – meaning Lifelines – have helped him over the years and he thanks God for people like us. He finishes by asking me to take good care and signs off ‘thanks a million!’
The second letter I received just today. It is from a prisoner on death row in Arizona and he writes of his joy on receiving a new pen friend very close to his birthday. The letter is written on the inside of a brightly-coloured thank you card and it begins ‘Thank you for the birthday wishes and most of all for granting me one of them in finding me a new pen friend; that’s the best present I could get!’ He continues by saying he has already heard from his new pen friend and has written straight back to her. It seems they have much in common and he is greatly looking forward to their friendship by letter over the coming years. There is more good news from him too because he has been given a little job cleaning up the pod, which gets him out of his cell and which has been a real blessing. He finishes by thanking me for all I do and especially for his new pen friend.
It was a real joy to read both letters, which came completely out of the blue. Very few prisoners get in touch with me once they have found a pen friend, simply because they cannot afford the stamps to write to me; generally I hear news via their pen friends. One of the real perks about being a LifeLines co-ordinator is receiving letters like this. If such letters make me smile and lift my day, imagine what it must be like for the prisoners when they receive a letter from their pen friend.
You may be reading this prior to joining LifeLines, and if that is the case I can say with all honesty that I have never looked back since I joined in 1992. My life has been so much richer for getting to know the prisoners, their lawyers, chaplains and the LifeLines personnel in my role as co-ordinator. More particularly I have received so much more than I ever thought was possible from my friendships with three particular prisoners, two of whom very sadly had their sentences carried out by the state of Oklahoma. This blog might be just the thing that will make you decide to join us and write to someone on death row. If the friendship works out, I can assure you that you will not regret it.