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Views And Reviews

Death in Texas

BMJ 1994; 308 doi: (Published 22 January 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;308:278
  1. V Nathanson

    Holidays are a time of escape from the routine of home and workplace, a time to relax and recharge the batteries, to become enthused again for the nitty gritty of everyday life. So visiting a prisoner on Death Row in America is not everyone's idea of a perfect holiday.

    In 1987 a Panorama programme, Fourteen Days in May that followed the last 14 days in the life of an inmate in Parchman Penitentiary, Mississippi, aroused such sympathy in one viewer that he began to write to other inmates who had been interviewed and were awaiting execution. From simple beginnings, Lifelines has expanded so that today several thousand people write to penpals, mainly prisoners on Death Row in the United States, but also in the West Indies and some serving life sentences in British prisons.

    Lifelines does not campaign and seeks little publicity for its work. It provides a link to the normal world for prisoners and shows that they are valued as people by at least one other person. Those who become penpals do so for many reasons, but principally because they want to show that they do not reject anyone as unworthy of or unfit for human kindness and compassion. The exchange is not unequal; most penpals get an enormous amount out of the correspondence, often coming to care deeply for this friend.

    Sadly, all too many penpals are now sharing the reality that executions are becoming increasingly common in many American states. In Texas there was more than one execution every …

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