Thirteen people attended the most recent LifeLines London regional group meeting, in the cosy private room of a central London pub on a grey and chilly Saturday afternoon. Conversation flowed, biscuits were passed around and it seemed that those present enjoyed the discussion and found it helpful and reassuring.
As always, the member hosting started off saying that we would begin with everyone introducing themselves, and saying a little about their connection to LifeLines. Everyone who wanted to speak was encouraged to do so, but there was no pressure on those who preferred to listen. Mutual respect, support given and received and similar values were prioritised by everyone.
Some people had been writing for just a few months, and others for decades, but it was clear that it often doesn’t take long to build a really strong friendship when both writers are committed.
The topics under discussion ranged from serious or potentially troubling ones – one member had inadvertently found out what her friend had been convicted of, and another asked for our advice and thoughts on a sensitive personal situation her pen friend was struggling with, and how best to support him – to more light-hearted stories or suggestions such as the pen friends conducting a game of chess by letter (the UK-based writer was beaten in five moves first time!), and whether or not our friends appreciate or definitely do not want to know about delicious food and recipes we’ve been enjoying.
There were lots of tips on how to make letters interesting and convey a sense of a real person leading a real life, including describing places visited, stories about family and friends and even pets, and someone described how her pen friend enjoys reading descriptions of even the most commonplace everyday sights and activities she tells him about.
We talked about the frequency of writing, with some members writing often, every ten days or so, and others about once a month, but everyone agreed the important thing was to be consistent, and not to give up if there was a silence, as the prisoner may have been moved, or be unwell, or depressed or similar, and at such times letters are even more important. If time is short, a postcard is a great way to show someone they are being thought about.
One member told us about her feelings when her friend was executed recently, and how amid her grief and loss she knew he would always be a strong presence in her life, and that being able to submit a statement to his clemency hearing had been some solace, as she could state publicly that he was a person who was deeply valued and who mattered.
Someone wanted to know if it was a good idea to contact their pen friend’s lawyer, and discussion covered points such as only doing so if the prisoner had given consent, and simply introducing oneself as their friend at first, rather than trying to get involved in the legal process.
Several members had attended a recent talk in London by [former LifeLines conference speaker] Professor Michael Radelet, in association with an organisation called the Death Penalty Project. The event had been excellent and some promotional materials from it were passed round.
One member recommended an audiobook of [former LifeLines conference speaker and prominent lawyer and campaigner] Bryan Stevenson reading from his newly published Just Mercy.
A longtime member had brought along a copy of Welcome To Hell, the first LifeLines book, published in 1991, and it was noted that contributions for a new book are now being sought from members and prisoners. Details will be in the next newsletter, and it was observed that even amongst the people in the room that afternoon, there were many moving and inspiring stories.
The next meeting will be on June 20th, and a reminder email will be sent out a few weeks before.