I am writing to you concerning the book Berserk by Ally Kennen (reviewed in BfK No 165) in which the hero writes to a prisoner on Death Row with dangerous consequences. I recently joined an organisation called Lifelines which provides inmates on Death Row with a pen friend. I now correspond with an inmate in a prison in North Carolina.
Death Row is not full of ‘monsters’ whose only desire is to get out and run amok. The men (which they mostly are) have very low self esteem. They are usually despised and shunned by society and they live with the threat of execution hanging over them every day of their lives. They are in desperate need of friendship which a pen friend can offer unconditionally. Sometimes it is the only outside contact they have. And sometimes, of course, they are innocent.
When I told friends and family I was corresponding with a murderer, I had, in part, the reaction of ‘You gave him your address? What if he comes after you? Or us?’ This is a popular view. And my point is, how do you get people, and in this case children, to view things differently if the usual prejudices and stereotypes are wheeled out in the cause of a ‘thriller’.
Lifelines find it hard to get people to be pen friends to prisoners on Death Row. There is a long waiting list. I wonder how many prospective pen friends will be put off by this book.
Dorf Mecklenburg, Germany