One day I received an envelope which contained a court notice that my penpal had an execution date. I freaked out! He was innocent, everyone told me. He would be exonerated. What was going on?
When the badman called me, I asked him about it. He said it was just a way to accelerate the case. My penpal's attorney was now ready to file appeals. I asked the badman to keep me informed.
Since I began writing, 2 inmates had been executed. The badman told me on the day of an execution, things were pretty somber, even though the inmate was moved a few days before to the holding cell. He said it was pretty hard to get to know someone, regardless if you liked them or not, only to know the exact moment he was being killed.
Everything on the row was business as usual. My penpal called me a few hours before one of the executions. I had thought they would be on lock down. The other inmates watched a movie during the actual execution. To take their minds off of what was happening, I guess. The badman told me they could hear the protesters outside.
My penpal was granted a stay, as expected, and was in court within a few months. His case was thrown out and the state decided not to re-charge him. By now I had a computer with internet so I was able to read the new articles and watch the news videos of him walking through the gates. The smile on his face spoke volumes!
He has been home now for a few years and is doing well. I speak to him a couple of times a year.
When I first came up with this idea, I truly thought everybody in prison was guilty. I thought he would be executed, my good deed would be done, and I would move on. While a better ending came, I still had intentions of leaving death row behind me, just as my penpal had done. But the badman had a whole different idea!
My husband didn't have too much to say about me going to visit my penpal on death row. If he knew one thing about me, it was this: I was hard headed, stubborn and when I got an idea there was no changing my mind. My plans were in place. So with tickets in hand, reservations in place, I made my way South.
I had never ventured this far from home on my own. I didn't know anybody that had ever been in prison. The closest I had gotten to a jail was when I drove by. And here I was going to death row, to meet a man I didn't really know, over 1,000 miles away from my home.
Once I got to the local town, checked into the motel, and I looked around at the emptiness, it really began to sink in. Was this something I could really do? Well, I had come this far. I wasn't one to back off on anything so I guess the answer was "Yes!" I got a good night's sleep, woke up early and after getting ready, made my way to the prison gates.
In no time, I had been checked in, driven to death row and was waiting in a room for my penpal to be brought in. Everyone I encountered during the process was very friendly and made small talk, asking if I was related to him, where I lived, and so on. I waited in a huge room that was in a corner, right inside the door that lead to death row. Inside the room was a table with an ashtray, and 4 metal chairs. The room had windows from ceiling to floor on both sides. I later learned this room was used for attorney visits. Why we were set up in that room, I don't know.
My penpal soon came. He had handcuffs with the belly chain around his waist and leg irons on. The guard removed the handcuffs, left the room and here we were-- face to face!
Our visit went well. I could tell from the beginning the poor man had some kind of mental illness. He talked of things I really couldn't understand. Plus, he had a southern accent which also made it difficult. But we (or should I say he?) had a good time. I left in the afternoon, telling him I would be back the next day.
Same routine the next day. At one point, a group of young adults came by. I later learned from the badman that they were college kids on a tour. I couldn't hear anything going on outside the room, but they all stopped outside the windows and stared in at us while someone (the professor?) spoke. It made me feel weird, as if we were on "display".
Both days, I saw lots of activity outside the room we were in. Many guards walking by. Trustees mopping and cleaning. Other inmates being led somewhere. I watched the inmates with the belly chains and leg irons, wondering if one of them was the badman. Except for a slight smile not one of them made an indication that he was.
After two days of visiting, I was in a rush to get home. Not to be home, necessarily, but to talk to the badman. I knew he would call me and he would fill in some blanks for me.