One of the things I hope to do with this project is to show the world that the men and women in America's death rows are people. They are people just like you or I. One of these men has graciously agreed to help and has written an essay about his life in death row. His essay follows:
It was another monotonous Tuesday. I called home and my mother told me of the idea of writing something for a newsletter. The idea is to try and help people understand what it is like being alone and isolated from the world you grew up in. So, here I am. Sitting and thinking, not of myself, but of those that I live with who are less fortunate than I. Hard to imagine, but possible.
This is death row. This is where 80 people spend 153 hours out of 168 hours in every week, in a 6 by 12 concrete box. If the time by itself isn't enough to make you wish that every minute is a nightmare (a dream, not reality), the lousy thoughts that torments each and everyone of us are. I am one of those more lucky ones who has a family to call and ease my mind for the 15 minutes that the conversation is allowed to last. For that 15 minutes, I can feel like I have someone with me who understands. As I am writing a letter to a friend, I dread running out of things to say. Knowing that when I finish, I have to return to that miserable loneliness. Without those minutes of release, I don't know what I would do. I thank God for my family, friends, and all of the caring people of whom I've never had the opportunity to meet, yet they still take the time to write to me and show me that they care. Especially my friend Allison Clarke from Ireland. She knew nothing about me , except that I was convicted of murder on death row. Yet, she still opened her mind and looked past all of that, and offered her friendship and support. Also my family, who knows how important it is to me to know they still and will always love me. Nothing could replace them, without them I would be lost. Without them, I don't know what I would do. I feel for those who don't have that.
Now I wonder if those who read this will sit back and try to imagine what it would be like to be in this situation. If not yourself, then maybe your child or one of your siblings. Imagine yourself in a 6 by 12 room with plain beige walls, that you worked hard on, to clean off the left behind markings and history of those who suffered the same. You have already scrubbed your floor and cleaned your sink and toilet. You have already organized all of your odds and ends three times, and you just finished reading a letter that you received yesterday for the fifth time. No there is nothing left to do...nothing but to sit and to listen to hot air blow through the metal grated vent...nothing but to sit and think of your past and every mistake that you made in your life. You break your dead gaze every few minutes, to look acrss the room at another man in his cell, doing exactly the same. But this makes me think even more. Because the man across from me has told
me of a life I don't think I could bear. He hasn't seen his family in 5 years. Everytime that I take the walk to the visiting room, I look over at him staring. He tells me of how he has not even called his family in the last few years. He told me of how they stopped writing after a year or so, and he just figures that they have moved on. He says that he doesn't blame them, nor does he hold anger, but it does hurt him. When the mail lady comes I get so happy and excited, I go to my door in hopes of getting a letter. But he doesn't even bother. Sometimes he just tells me that you can adapt to your worst nightmare, in a certain amount of time. It will still be your worst nightmare, it just won't be so scary anymore. So, he just sits... sits and waits for the same breakfast that we have 6 days a week...waits for 8:30 a.m. so he can go outside for 3 hours and see the exact same people that he has seen for the last 5 years. Nothing new. Often he wishes that he had someone to talk to. Someone to show an interest.Someone who will care. He thinks he's going crazy. Sometimes he reads and tries to learn a lot of new things and form new thoughts. In just the 5 months that I have been here he has been become more educated. He says he has learned so much about himself and he is proud of the things that he has done, but there is no one to tell, no one to be proud with him. Sometimes he says he shouldn't bother because no one notices and no one cares. I do what I can to keep him motivated and I tell him that I care.
Most of the people back here are just like him. My point in all this is, that it is so important to have a friend, to have support and caring. Can you imagine yourself in that situation and honestly say that you could deal with it...not for one day, but for years? I know, many of you will say that you didn't get convicted of murder, so you don't have to try to imagine this. But, I am also pretty sure that you have made a mistake that affected someone else, which you wish that you could take back. People do learn from their mistakes and people do change. Everybody needs somebody. Where would you be if no one ever forgave you for the mistakes that you made? Probably free from an institution, yet in a prison just the same. The pain would be deeper that being confined to a building.
Think of yourself free and what you would do with no one to care or show interest. It would be hard, no doubt. Then how much harder would it be to be in the same situation but confined to a small building, knowing that the day you leave, you are leaving to die...to be killed. Being confined only makes things harder.
Well, that's pretty much my life, except I have that one, very important, sanity saving thing. People who care. Many people across America are not so lucky and they need someone to care. I hope that this will inspire the people that do care to show it. Let "them" know you care!
I am sorry that I cannot speak for all, by saying that we have changed and will be grateful for the wonderful people that offer support. But I do know that I can speak for myself, and for many others. I can also say that it is worth the effort and regardless of the outcome, myself and many others will be very, very thankful for your efforts. Also, I want to say, that thoughts and words without actions serve no purpose. Be strong it what you believe in and let it show!
Wesley Aron Shafer