Lifelines is a network of penfriends who support prisoners on America’s Death Row. Last night I happened to see a note from them in the back of one of the magazines I read occasionally. They have a long list of prisoners waiting to receive penfriends and they need more people to join.
I’ve been aware of Lifelines ever since a very memorable religion and ethics class on capital punishment that my class was given when I was fourteen years old. The teacher showed us some material from them, and she also read aloud to us from Sister Helen Prejean’s remarkable book Dead Man Walking. The book chronicles Sr Helen’s time as a chaplain on Death Row and her fight to establish robust and total Catholic opposition to the death penalty. I couldn’t join Lifelines as a penfriend back then, as they only accept people who are over eighteen, but I ‘adopted’ a prisoner to pray for. This was the first political activism I ever did, pretty much.
Sr Helen has written that she was drawn towards this work by recognition of the link between the death penalty and poverty. “It didn’t take long to see that for poor people, especially poor black people, there was a greased track to prison and death row.” Her involvement was cemented by one more thing: “I began to understand that some life is valued and some life is not.” After being present at dozens of executions, she also saw that this disregard for life and dignity extends far beyond the person being killed: “When you witness an execution and watch the toll this process also takes on some of those who are charged with the actual execution—the 12 guards on the strap-down team and the warden—you recognize that part of the moral dilemma of the death penalty is also: who deserves to kill this man?”
All injustice seems to come down to the same idea, whether implied or explicit: some lives don’t matter enough. This is why I’m writing about Death Row on a blog about life in occupied Bethlehem. Perhaps some people reading may want to respond to Lifelines’s request and become a penfriend. Information and FAQ are on the website.