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Prison Pen Pals/Death Row Marriages
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Thread: Prison Pen Pals/Death Row Marriages

  1. #1
    Administrator Heidi's Avatar
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    Prison Pen Pals/Death Row Marriages

    In April 1999, convicted murderer Justin Wiley Dickens was sitting on Texas' death row when he received a letter from a stranger in Canada: "Hello Justin! I have never written to an inmate before so if I babble please forgive me," it began.

    The 22-year-old prisoner's new pen pal was Michelle Sauve, who lives more than 2,400 kilometres away in rural Lisle, Ont. Sauve, then 28, had come across Dickens' bio on a website and was moved by what she had read.

    Seven years — and hundreds of letters later — they married. This spring will be their fifth anniversary.

    "I love him dearly. He's grown so much as a man," she says.

    Sauve is a member of an obscure clique of Canadians who have forged unique — some say questionable — bonds with some of America's most violent criminals through old-fashioned letter writing.

    Some relationships are strictly platonic, initiated by staunch death-penalty foes who believe these inmates deserve some compassion. Other relationships have taken romantic turns.

    Those seeking death-row prisoner pen pals typically start by scrolling through websites that offer personal pages for inmates to post their writing, artwork, photos and contact information.

    Tracy Lamourie and Dave Parkinson, the Toronto-based co-founders of the Canadian Coalition Against the Death Penalty, started such a site more than a decade ago. Today, the site features web pages for hundreds of death-row inmates.

    "As a result of our website . . . prisoners on death row throughout the states have found contacts, legal help, friendships and even the odd marriage or two," Lamourie said.

    One death-row prisoner who signed up for the free service is serial killer Charles Ng, who was convicted in the late 1990s of the sex-torture killings of 11 people in California.

    On his web page, Ng refers to his conviction as a "miscarriage of justice."

    "Because of these and other reasons, I constantly feel misplaced, sad and lonely — like a dolphin caught inside a tuna net."

    He lists among his interests: origami, spirituality, self-study, writing, reading and drawing. He says he is seeking sincere, meaningful friendships "from this dark hole of humanity."

    Such postings have drawn outrage from victims' families, who don't believe these inmates deserve to have such a forum.

    Sharon Rocha — whose son-in-law Scott Peterson was sentenced to death after being convicted of murdering her pregnant daughter, Laci, in another high-profile case — told CNN's Larry King in a 2008 interview that she found it "outrageous" that Peterson had access to a web page.

    "It just does a great injustice to the victims and their families. They can no longer speak for themselves. And being on death row is supposed to eliminate an inmate's privileges," she said.

    But Lamourie points to the many instances where people condemned to death row were later exonerated of their crimes.

    And even those who have pleaded guilty deserve a chance to be heard because their stories help shine a light on the inhumanity of capital punishment, she says.

    "It is only education and allowing people to see behind the walls, that will make the people insist that the government stop the cycle of death and revenge perpetuated in their name," she said.

    Sauve says she initially supported the death penalty, but her attitude softened after she got to know Dickens.

    Sauve says she came across Dickens' story on the Internet in 1999. He had been on Texas' death row for four years after being convicted of fatally shooting a teacher during a botched jewelry store robbery.

    "It broke my heart," she said, to read about Dickens' troubled childhood, growing up in a trailer park to drug-addicted parents. She said it also upset her that he didn't have much support outside the prison's walls.

    So she wrote him.

    "I will tell you a little about me to help you decide if you are interested in exchanging letters with me," Sauve wrote. She told him that she was married ("my husband knows I am writing to you and it's fine"), described her body measurements ("34C, 24, 34, 5'5'', 110 lbs") and listed her hobbies ("horses, football, reading — but I don't think you want to know what kind of books — Internet exploring, animals, shopping, especially for shoes").

    She said she was open to talking about anything with one exception: "DON'T BIBLE THUMP ME. I think religion is personal and I don't care to discuss it."

    In his reply, Dickens explained how he wound up on death row. He was 17, drug addicted and owed a lot of money to a drug dealer. He went into a jewelry store to rob it but was jumped by a man in the store. The man was "killed accidentally" in the struggle for the gun. "I never meant to hurt anyone," he wrote. "I was just a scared despret 1/8sic 3/8 high stupid kid."

    He was now 22 but said he felt more like 32. He said he appreciated her offer of friendship — "a rare quality" — and said he was no Bible thumper.

    "I'm a sinner! So don't worry."

    After several more letters, Sauve started visiting Dickens in prison. On her first visit, she remembers lowering her eyes when he appeared from behind the glass-mesh wire partition. She said she didn't want to embarrass him as he was being unshackled.

    Years later, in 2005, they celebrated a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found it unconstitutional to execute someone who committed a crime when they were under 18. Dickens and dozens of other death-row inmates had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.

    A year later, Sauve, who was divorced, and Dickens decided to get married.

    Because Dickens couldn't leave prison, his stepfather stood in for him in an appearance before a justice of the peace. Texas is one of only a handful of states that allow for marriages by proxy.

    When Sauve visited Dickens the next day in prison, they embraced for the first time. "He was real. He had skin. It was warm. I could feel him breathing," she recalled.

    Sauve readily admits that there are limitations to their relationship. "It is romantic, but not traditional romantic," she says. Texas does not allow for conjugal visits.

    Even though she is married to Dickens, she says she also has a boyfriend in Ontario.

    While she has ever only known the "institutional Justin," she is confident that he is a "good person."

    But Dickens' prosecutor maintains that he is a "dangerous, brutal animal," and that current and former death-row inmates should be denied privileges, such as having a web page.

    "Since we were deprived of the appropriate punishment, some discomfort for Dickens would be appreciated," Randall County District Attorney James Farren said in an email.

    Farren added that he believes Dickens is manipulating Sauve "to obtain something he wants" and predicts that she will "rue the day she made this decision (to marry him)."

    Experts say research into the attraction between strangers and criminal offenders is basically non-existent, so it's difficult to comment on the health or wisdom of such relationships.

    Some inmates have been wrongfully convicted while others are hardened psychopaths. Most offenders are somewhere in between and harbour a variety of motives, said University of Waterloo psychology professors Chris Burris and John Rempel, in a joint email.

    Similarly, while some outsiders may find sexual gratification in having a relationship with someone behind bars, others may be motivated purely by a religious injunction to "visit those sick and in prison."

    For almost a decade, Melissa Di Cicco, of Toronto, has been exchanging letters with Jimmy Dennis, a high-profile death-row inmate convicted in 1992 of murdering a 17-year-old girl in Philadelphia.

    Di Cicco says she reached out to him initially because she was "appalled" he was on death row with so little evidence against him. As she came to learn more facts of his case — he sent her massive court files and transcripts — she became convinced he was innocent. Even Amnesty International has taken up his cause.

    Over time, Dennis has also become a close friend, Di Cicco says. She says he knows many intimate details of her life and offers her "God-centred" advice.

    She still struggles with her feelings about the death penalty. She's told Dennis that child-killers deserve to rot. At the same time, she believes that prisoners deserve some form of "grace" and someone in their lives to keep their spirits up.

    Di Cicco says while she has spoken to Dennis over the phone, she has not yet visited him but would like to. One concern she has, however, is how she will cope when it comes time to leave. "I can't imagine having to walk away," she said.

    Di Cicco said all of her friends are supportive of her friendship with Dennis, though she admits she hasn't really brought it up with her family.

    "I don't think they would get it."

    http://www.canada.com/news/Prison+pa...#ixzz1EXSDSbCF

  2. #2
    Administrator Heidi's Avatar
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    Convict connection: US pen pals found in jail

    Two years ago, Verena Habicht was looking for a pen pal who could help her improve her English.

    But the Mönchengladbach native ended up finding a best friend on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. The only problem? The 28-year-old man is in prison in Texas.

    He’s doing 20 years for robbing a convenience store for cash and lottery tickets, but Habicht says that doesn’t matter. In fact, she’s even falling for him.

    “I could imagine something more when he gets out,” she told The Local recently. “We’re best friends now. We write to each other about everything possible.”

    No one tracks exactly how many Germans are in contact with American prisoners, but it’s clear that Habicht is far from alone.

    Thousands of Europeans develop pen pal relationships with convicts each year, often through websites advertising prisoners’ names, addresses and details about their offences. Some of the most popular inmates are those American society considers the worst of the worst – robbers, sex offenders or prisoners on death row in places like Texas.

    Writers’ motivations vary. Some feel a religious calling to comfort those behind bars. Others are deeply opposed to the American justice system, especially its use of the death penalty. Yet others, like 26-year-old Habicht, say they are just searching for friends. Occasionally, these relationships blossom into something more.

    Connecting pen pals

    All the interest from abroad has been a boon to websites like writeaprisoner.com, which connects tens of thousands of prisoners and potential pen pals each year.

    The company’s president, Adam Lovell told The Local that prisoners who develop friendships with outsiders are more likely to maintain their sanity in prison and be successful when they get out. Though fellow Americans are the biggest group seeking US prisoner pen pals, Europeans are a close second, he said.

    “It’s very important for them,” said Lovell, who himself has had friends in prison. “For the people who write them, it’s often about empathy, it becomes more of a do-gooder type of thing.”

    But writing to prisoners can be risky too, said Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

    “While certainly some requests may be sincere, people should be aware that inmates can be extremely manipulative and people should use caution,” Lyons said.

    On occasion pen pal relationships develop beyond the paper and pen into actual visits. They have turned into full-fledged romances and even the occasional marriage.

    An entire industry of sorts has sprung up to support burgeoning relationships between pen pals and their prisoners. In addition to the websites facilitating communications, in places like Livingston, Texas – just five miles southwest of the state’s death row – a series of budget hotels happy to cater to foreign visitors has sprung up.

    So can relationships between inmates and pen pals be healthy or are they inherently pathological?

    It depends on whether pen pals have a strong sense of self and know what they’re getting themselves into, experts say.

    “These relationships can be extremely exciting, like romance novels in a way,” said Sheila Isenberg, who researched the topic extensively for her book “Women Who Love Men Who Kill.”

    “I don’t see these relationships as a positive or a negative – they are what they are," she said. "But I don’t think they’re necessarily very healthy.”

    Writing to help

    But Ulrike Benn, a 37-year-old single mother from the northern German city of Kiel, disagrees.

    She’s been writing prisoners on death rows across the United States since April and received about five letters back. Benn is not searching for excitement or love, but rather is looking to comfort people she suspects might be lonely.

    And she wonders why that could be considered unhealthy.

    “I just think these prisoners need contact, they need people to talk to,” Benn said. “I’ve told them they can tell me everything.”

    Habicht too said she’s not concerned about the future of her relationship with the 28-year-old armed robber.

    Though family members initially worried about her safety, one of her aunts has since decided she too wants to write prisoners.

    Last year Habicht visited her friend in Texas to see if there would be any sparks. There were. She hopes that if he gets out of prison on parole in a few years, he’ll come to Germany to visit and spend time with her.

    “We just stared into each others eyes for a long time,” she recounted of her prison visit. “It was wonderful. There’s definitely something there.”

    http://www.thelocal.de/national/20110801-36667.html

  3. #3
    Banned TheKindExecutioner's Avatar
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    These ladies are INSANE!! What the hell are they thinking??

  4. #4
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    I suppose that it is their choice to want to correspond with inmates, but they can be annoying.

    It would not be MY lifestyle choice, but then I believe I am not gullible and I have a good sense of my self-worth.

  5. #5
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    Interesting points of view in this thread...

    I'm a total new gurl to this website (luv it, by the way!) and I might be able to offer an interesting perspective....I'm a hardcore republican (I Reagan!), I'm college educated (Go ISU Cyclones!), I have a super crazy career that I love (most days! ), I'm in pretty good shape (I have a love/hate relationship with my spinning class instructor!), and I'm married to a man on Death Row. None of these things by itself defines me as a person, however, one of those random statistics usually interests people more than others! :anonymous:

    On the surface, becoming pen pals with convicted felons seems to be crazy to say the least ~ but it's much more common than I ever thought! There are numerous reasons why people (yep, it's not just the ladies that write...guys write as well!) are interested in this type of 'hobby'...

    • They're lonely
    • They want to do some 'good' in the world
    • They want to educate convicts on their religious preference
    • They're bored
    • They're depressed and misery certainly loves company so why not write to someone you're pretty sure is just as (if not more) depressed
    • They know the family of the convict and feel bad for them
    • They are lookin for love
    • They stumble on a prison pen pal website and see someone they're interested in


    There's a ton of reasons why this happens....it's not always what everyone thinks it is, and let's be honest....when you first hear about this, you think of some super fat, ugly, desperate chick trying to find a man for whatever kind of romance they can provide from behind the bars!

    Don't get me wrong....there are situations like that...it's just not exclusive to that!

    Have a great Friday, ya'll!
    ~Missy

  6. #6
    Administrator Heidi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by missymiss View Post
    I'm married to a man on Death Row.
    Oh, please do tell! Which death row inmate?

  7. #7
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    The innocent one of course, Heidi!!

  8. #8
    Administrator Heidi's Avatar
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    Of course!

  9. #9
    Administrator Michael's Avatar
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    Hi Missy!

    Welcome to the site!

    I have just one question - are you sure that you life the life you told as about or are you dreaming to be well educated, cute and republican?

  10. #10
    Administrator Heidi's Avatar
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    Michael,

    missymiss is actually pro-death penalty!

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