Letters to Death Row


Letter #1

Even now July has begun to take on a different character then June. This year it seems as if June was highly predictable, but the shift into high summer seems to have brought a new sense of restlessness. One thing that I noted in particular is that less people seem to be on the streets at various times. Tonight I went out to eat with a friend and found out what sliders were since I had a beef, chicken and shrimp slider. While they were enough to ward off any hunger for the evening ahead, they were rather unremarkable: More or less bare bones food. As I have gotten older, I think that I have begun a search to experience new interests across the spectrum of my life. The only problem here is that there is not really much new in this world. Just new presentations of the same old stuff: It is all highly predictable.
Now in terms of actual living experiences there seems to be a personal joy to waking up each day to a new set of experiences. In that respect my life is not always predictable, rather it is often challenging. Recently I have done some emotional housekeeping, discarding memberships in several organizations which offered me little in the way of value or friendship. Sometimes it is hard to throw away things that have been with us for a good long while. But there has been a freedom and a lightening of my responsibilities by taking these actions. In turn I now seem to have more time available to write and expand the outreach of this ministry. I have a few awkward issues which will need to be addressed this month, but they are not crisis issues. Bouncing between Louisiana and New Mexico has opened up a brand new set of challenges.
What are the challenges that you face each day and how do you manage to get through them? I imagine that it takes considerable effort to try to establish a zone of comfort for yourselves. As life goes further along it seems that I am less troubled by the intrusions and unexpected explosive encounters with others. It seems to be getting easier to see the humanity and suffering in the lives of those who come into my life. Are there things that you notice now, that might not have caught your attention before? Things have a way of flowing together, in spite of our individual efforts. Do you have access to TV or radio? I understand that you are limited to three books. Do you pass them on to others when you have read them? I attended a meeting recently where a friend passed a book onto me and when I told him I would return it, he told me to pass it on to someone else.
If I might ask a question, could you share with me the single most difficult aspect of your daily lives? When I was incarcerated, it was knowing that my children had been placed in foster care in a hostile environment. You can’t fight much from behind bars. It has been since 1977 and I am still working on healing family relationships. That is a long and painful process that few outsiders will ever share in terms of personal knowledge or experience. Here in Slidell it is supposed to be a wet weekend that is a useful opportunity to attend to my personal needs and to stay focused upon the tasks which lay before me. At this point in time there has been no response to my letter to the Iranian Ambassador and perhaps there never will be a response. But I am glad that I took the time to stand up for what I believe in and then to write it. It must seem crazy to you that someone living free would volunteer to serve out someone else prison sentence.
It is only difficult to understand if you have no way to relate to my life experiences. Those experiences are the basis for my life journey. While many of them were hard to go through at the time, I would not change them at all now. You may have gotten the impression that my focus is based upon religion. NOT! Religion led me into a long period of confusion about God. It was only during my incarceration that I started to focus upon some very simple concepts that seemed to have developed into what I call my five spiritual lifelines. I do not allow myself to get involved with doctrinal distractions or dogmatic arguments. Essentially what has developed is an aware of the meaning of the words mercy; grace, forgiveness, faith and hope. Out of that understanding I have come to realize that spirituality has little to do with religion.
I would like to take time in future letters to explain how each of these concepts has impacted my life. I do not make this offer as a condition of writing to you, but just as a way to encourage you as you might consider the way each of these elements brings about a new way of looking at everything. I would only ask that you keep an open mind and after looking at what I share, if you feel this will not work for you, I will move onto something else. Dialogue between individuals only works if there is a gentlemen’s understanding between us that I have no intention of showing you disrespect. I would welcome your shared thoughts about these concepts and what you think of the ideas I am proposing. Personal respect goes a long way toward building bonds of friendship and dialogue. Most of us had little respect shown us as we grew up.
In fact most of us have a certain amount of WOUNDEDNESS which we have carried with us throughout our lives. It has shaped and influenced how we act and respond to others in all of our interactions. I am just like you, many of my behaviors were focused upon treating others like I had been treated. It is a remarkable realization that we are affected by our wounds but, rarely speak to others about these private and painful encounters. Usually we hold them deep inside of ourselves and keep them hidden as though they were some kind of shameful failings in our character. These are NOT personal failings they are the result of deep personal wounds that we have all suffered. It would have little effect to tell you about the concepts of mercy grace, forgiveness, faith and hope without placing these experiences in a framework of personal understanding.
It is because I have become aware of my own woundedness and vulnerabilities, that I have finally recognized the value of my spiritual lifelines. By myself I cannot do anything meaningful to change my outlook or my behaviors. As I come into a deeper understanding of how these painful encounters have shaped my life I then become aware of the value of these lifelines in my life. It is not important to discuss your individual offenses against others. Those offenses are nothing more than the evidence of woundedness in your own lives. What I am suggesting is that perhaps you are willing to explore how your own wounds became the foundation for the events which have occurred in your own life. In sharing we develop bonds of recovery and direction in our future encounters with others. That knowledge helps us to finally move beyond the ugly wounds that others have inflicted upon us and to see a way toward healing these past injuries by dialoging with someone invested in our future.
Your future is not bleak, rather it has just shifted into a new dimension of understanding as you start to grasp the roots of your personal difficulties. I am not here to judge, I am merely here to offer encouragement, acceptance and understanding as a light in the darkest parts of your lives. Some will roll this letter up and throw it away, refusing to believe that it is possible to build a new bridge in your lives, in light of your current circumstances. I do not believe that you are beyond the hope of recovery and new purpose in your lives. It would do no good to just merely pour out what I have discovered if you had no understanding of its applications to the most personal encounters of your lives.
I have spent time investing in you because I see great worth in your lives. I am motivated to share that vision because of my growing knowledge of my own failings and offenses. By myself I can do little, but in the bonds of trust and relationship WE can broaden our commitment to the life which remains before each of us. If your spirit can catch this vision then there are remarkable events which lay before you and I am willing to engage in walking each step which lays beyond. This is not a reckless thought or a wild sense of spiritual aloofness. It is a well reasoned structure in which I hope to build relationship with you….continuing relationship. How you respond is okay with me, I am not here to impose my beliefs on you. I am merely offering to share the road ahead in the context of meaningful dialogue rather than endless chatter about events occurring in life. That chatter is distracting and meaningless.
I do not have the power to free you from your prison cells, but I do have connection power to share your life struggles and smooth what has been a rocky pathway. Perhaps my letters puzzle you or disturb your notions of what others think of you. Some have written to me with concerns about having a game run on them. I have no other motivation than to reach out and offer comfort and support by developing a personal understanding about your life and the way events in your past led to your current situation. I am not interested in your crimes or the specifics of the events which brought you to this place. My sole interest is in forging a link between us based upon compassion and understanding. I see you as an individual who has worth and dignity and my intention is to affirm those personal qualities in every letter I write to you.
I had a close friend who died in prison in California after he had received a death penalty reprieve. You see he took the time to reach out to a new “fish” who wound up in prison and to help me to understand how to survive in that environment. His name was Zack and he blessed me, I am merely passing on that act of blessing to others. I have another friend in Salono prison who is currently doing his 40th year of incarceration for a rape murder in California. Our journey over the years since my incarceration and release has been a shared expedition of meaning that few “free” people could ever understand. It is only in this context that I write my letters to you. While you are alive and capable of making individual choices I see considerable value in developing a respectful dialogue between us.
If your response to my suggestions is one of respectful, but silent distance, that is okay with me. I understand those dynamics well and I accept your decision to watch and wait. I recognize that response as an honest personal response and I am content to offer a monthly outreach. It would do little good to offer you a range of events occurring in my current life without also offering you a frame work for understanding how past events have played themselves out in developing this connection to you. Therefore I have no interest in providing a religious viewpoint my only interest is in connecting with you as a human being with needs, wants and interests. I clearly can recall those individuals in my life who treated me with kindness and acceptance. I hope to mirror that experience in your life. That is the good soil of future relationship between us.
Writing this letter to you has been a happy event for me since it is a solid move beyond event based communications. Rather for me it represents a happy turn in relationship with you beyond the coldness and indifference the world shows toward those who have become outcasts. Please remember that my actions are merely a reflection of the words and actions which Jesus Christ showed toward the rejected of His day. That is what I meant by focusing upon spiritual matters, not religious traditions. In your current life, this day, this moment you have great value. I recognize that value and delight to reaching out to you to affirm your worth and dignity. For most of us there are many others who are willing to kick us or constantly remind us of our failings. I have family members who have done the same thing in my life. I choose to see you as a visible expression of God’s love for us and His willingness to die for the least of us. Forgiveness is hard won, not by any of our actions, but by what has been already done for us. If my life has value, than it is equally true that your life has value.
This letter represents a positive turn in my outreach to each of you. I am different from many others that you will meet in the course of my life. I truly believe that if I express a commitment to your individual dignity and worth than I must also be willing to take steps forward in making that commitment shine openly before others. My life has become such a rich harvest, that I would willing take your place if it were possible to do so. I have been blessed in so many ways that I am satisfied with the quality and quantity of my life. I do not hold my life to be such a precious thing that I would clutch it or refuse to surrender it in a loving act of service for another. That is what spirituality has taught me about the central purpose of my life. Given our circumstances, I cannot physically replace you in your cell, but I can offer you friendship, support and encouragement as you live out the challenges of life.
My hope is that this letter will provide you with a new way of seeing your situation and a deeper understanding of what it means to have others care about your life. No life is wasted or without worth. Your purpose is inspired by God’s love for you as an individual. My purpose is expressed by sharing with you on a regular basis. Religion can never reach into those very private places in our lives, but love can and does open up doors of discovery which make our futures more meaningful and richer. Please continue to take care of yourself and stay strong in the knowledge that you have individual worth and dignity. Please be patient with me in responding to your letters since I will not return to Louisiana until mid-August, but know that you are in my thoughts and prayers.
Be blessed,

P.S. I know from the letters I have received that living on death row is an isolating experience since you never know who to trust or what you can reveal to others. It seems to me that you are always on guard about what you can share since it can be used against you later. My letters are not meant to draw our personal information about your individual case. Please do not feel that you should expose yourself to a great level of vulnerability. My purpose is to establish an ongoing communications like which respects your privacy but forges a bond of friendship based upon your individual worth and my desire to be a regular source of comfort. Please do not take risks because of your desire to respond. I would rather that you spoke out in a way which shielded you from any additional scrutiny or potential problems. An additional concern seems to be the potential which exists to have your personal correspondence used in any public fashion. Your shared thoughts are private and will always remain so in the future. I know what it feels like to have someone betray your confidences. I can also imagine the risk you must feel in responding to someone who write to you without knowing me personally. That is why I have kept my letters light and non-threatening in terms of content. WE all need our private places, even if those are merely the inner space we create in our minds. Our words are merely tools that we share with each other as a way of recognizing of each other’s humanity. None of us is totally evil or totally good. We are merely human, doing the best we can to make it through another day of life.
In other writings I have explained my belief that sins are crimes against a loving God Since everyone has sinned we have ALL committed crimes and are in need of His love,

 
 

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