LifeLines London Regional Group meeting

On a very hot June afternoon, eighteen LifeLines members gathered in a pub function room for the latest London regional meeting. We weren’t sure if it was the communal food that had tempted an unusually large group or the promise of a screening of the documentary Fourteen Days in May; it transpired it was neither of these, but instead a mixture of chance, a sense of community and the desire to share experiences with like-minded people.

Naturally the food added to the occasion though, with many members enjoying the chance to get to know each other over a home-made falafel or muffin. Unfortunately, due to a little too last-minute planning we weren’t able to show the film, but given the heat perhaps that was for the best. It will definitely be screened at the next meeting on 8th November, when we will probably be more grateful for spending an extra couple of hours in a cosy pub.

It was wonderful to see a lot of new group members (almost a third), including some very new writers. The conversation was wide ranging and interesting as always, with people sharing experiences, asking advice and talking of both the joys and difficulties their friendships bring them. I feel very privileged to be part of such a supportive group, and organisation, where people feel able to share very personal feelings.

Topics included curiosity and worries about the practicalities and daunting procedures of visiting a friend on the row, with longer standing members sharing their varied experience of a regular visit, a clemency hearing and, very sadly, providing company for their friend during their final moment. Also discussed were the pros and cons of googling your friend, and the unexpected, happy effect one person’s decision had on their friendship.

Members shared recommendations for books and TV documentaries on death row in the U.S., and advice on how to get information about the appeals process to understand better our friends’ journeys through an incomprehensible system (please contact Linda, whose contact details can be found in The Wing or on the LifeLines website).

As the tide gradually seems to be turning in more and more states, whether because of cost, botched executions or exonerations, Life Without Parole (LWP) naturally looms ever larger on the horizon. ‘How do we feel about LWP?’ we asked ourselves. More to the point, ‘how do our friends feel about it?’ These are complex questions when we all want to see an end to the death penalty, but we discussed our role in supporting friends with commuted death sentences as they adjust.

While the food naturally invited one-to-ones or smaller groups to form, fluidly changing as people mingled, we started and ended as one and throughout there was a real community spirit in the room. It is this that makes these meetings special, especially when, as spoken of by some members, the reactions received from friends/family about writing to someone on death row are not always as we would wish.

Indeed one member expressed that this was the first time they had been able to discuss their friendship properly with anyone as they felt no one in their usual circle understood, or even accepted, what they are doing: ‘it was so good to share with people who understand’.

The meeting was completed by a step back in time to 1989 via a GQ article discovered in a clear-out, featuring a very young Clive Stafford Smith talking about the late Edward Earl Johnson.

I look forward to the next meeting and hope to see both old and new members there.

Lindesay Mace

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