Saturday, March 7, 2015

WriteAPrisoner.com... where you too can find a prison pen pal.

I first became aware of WriteAPrisoner.com about twelve years ago.  Convicted child murderer Susan Smith had set up a profile.  She was looking for friends in the free world to send her letters in prison.  Many people were outraged that she was seeking pen pals.  Her profile made the news.

It was 2003 and I had only recently left South Carolina, which is where Smith committed her crime and is now doing time for deliberately drowning 3 year old Michael and 14 month old Alex.  Even though I moved to South Carolina several years after Smith had committed and been tried for her crime, she was still in the news.  I seem to remember her getting into trouble for having sex behind bars with prison guards.  Apparently now, she has female lovers who appear to be very masculine.  Actually, I wasn't surprised by the news about her sex life in prison.  Back in the spring of 2000, when I was in grad school, I took a psychology class.  One day, a man who worked at one of South Carolina's prisons came in to talk to our class.  He told us about Susan Smith's alleged sexual escapades.  It was rather unprofessional for that guy to speak so freely about Susan Smith and her prison fuckery, but I'd be lying if I said his stories weren't interesting.


Smith's profile was innocent enough.  She asked for understanding and forgiveness.  She said she liked rainbows and Mickey Mouse.   When the profile got to be too controversial, she requested that it be taken down.  If you read her open letter, Smith comes across as sincere and perhaps even sweet. But looks can be deceiving.  Susan Smith has been reported to have Borderline Personality Disorder and, in fact, I even remember my psychology text book displaying a photo of her next to the description of BPD.

In any case, after I read about Susan Smith, I started reading other profiles on WriteAPrisoner.com.  They were pretty fascinating; it was like a cornucopia of psychological disorders.  Only a few people whose profiles were featured seemed like relatively normal people who had somehow had a momentary lapse of good sense and had done something uncharacteristic to their usual behavior to put them behind bars.  Many of the other profiles seemed to come from people who were convinced that they were innocent and had been framed somehow.

Looking around some more, I found a profile belonging to a woman who was from my hometown.  I remember when Jennifer Kszepka committed her crime back in the summer of 1992.  At the time, she was just a teenager whose parents didn't approve of her boyfriend.  She killed her father and her sister and gave her mother a fractured skull.  Then she, her boyfriend, and another friend took off from Virginia.  They were trying to get to California and got as far as Nevada before they were finally captured on a routine traffic stop.

Kelly Gissendaner, who was been in the news recently for being Georgia's only female death row inmate and for having her execution postponed twice, also has a profile on WriteAPrisoner.com.  Her profile is interesting if only for the apparently old photo that appears with it.  It looks like a Glamour Shot gone awry.  She's wearing makeup, jewelry, and what looks like a jacket made of an American flag pulled off her shoulders so that it almost looks like a drape one might wear in a yearbook or composite photo.  I wonder what the circumstances were that led to the creation of this photo.  I notice that tomorrow is Kelly's birthday.  Seems strange that a week ago, people were anticipating her execution and tomorrow, she will turn 47.  

Gissendaner's crime has been well-publicized.  It was terrible and grisly.  At the same time, I've read about how she's turned to Christianity and supposedly become a completely different person than she was in the late 1990s.  I'd like to believe it's possible for people to change so completely, but the cynic in me kind of thinks it's not so likely for most people.  I think it would be very difficult to ever really trust someone in prison for killing another person, especially if they only did it for monetary gain.

Of course there are also men on WriteAPrisoner.com.  I don't tend to find them as interesting as the women because a lot of them are obviously looking for romantic partners.  I do kind of wonder how successful these folks are in finding people to write to them.  I also wonder what would motivate people to write.  I'm sure some do it because they are lonely and/or curious.  I wonder how many people develop meaningful friendships with the prisoners who write and how many end up being scammed for money.

I doubt I'll ever write to a prisoner, but I have to admit that looking at the Web site is one of my favorite voyeuristic activities.  

    





2 comments:

  1. i very briefly had a prison pen pal. I'm inspired and have to blog about it now.

    I wonder how long the Kelly Gissendaner thing is going to drag out. I really think they should off her or not do it, but not drag out the decision-making process. to me, that truly is cruel and unusual punishment. I know that some of the dragging-out process is through the work of her own attorneys and their appeals, but not all of it.

    I'm generally sskeptical of jailhouse conversions, but if she truly is doing good behind the walls of the prison, I say let her live her life out in prison. The guards and the other inmates seem to agree that she is a force for good in that prison. i don't think her conversion should give her any chance at parole, but if she's accomplishing positive things for just the cost of her room and board that taxpayers otherwise would have to fund, and arguably doing it better than many paid employees would be doing it, i do not see the harm in sparing her life.

    I feel for the victim's family, but I truly wonder, though never having been in such a position, just how much consolation it could bring to the family of a victim to know that the perpetrator of a loved one's killing to know that the killer had, too been killed. my suspicion is that it would seem at first to be a great feeling, but that the grief and emptiness would return in full force just as strong as it ever was.
    again, I can only guess at this. certainly, one would want the perpetrator of a crime against oneself or one's loved one to be apprehanded and off the street permanently, and "liffe in prison" needs to truly be just that in virtually every case in which the sentence is handed down in absence of new and mitigating evidence, but i'm skeptical as to how much closure execution can truly bring to victims in mst cases. I suppose if the convicted killer is continually finding ways from behind bars to torment the survivors of a victim, or if an inmate has demonstrated power from behind bars to continue to make crime happen, in such cases captial punishment should remain on the table as an option.

    Still, fo rthe most part .being somewhat anti-capital punishment, I'm inclined to say the state is making a huge mistake in choosing this particular woman -- Kelly Gissendaner -- of whom to make an example. When all is said and done and the appeals process has been exhausted, we would have spent so much more money on the legal and technical aspects leading up to her execution than we would spend just feeding and housing her for the rest of her life. Her case should be reviewed periodically in the event that her jailhouse conversion doesn't hold, and she's soon stabbing guards and causing mayhem instead of ministering to the prison population, but in absence of that, if she's an effective chaplain and counselor to her peers, what is the point of choosing this woman as Georgia's first female execution victim in seventy years, particularly in light of how well Georgia did in choosing its last execution candidate seventy years ago.

    I'm not suggesting that I'd like to besties or even pen pals with Kelly Gissendaner, and what she admittedly did is horrifying, but she seems to have a chance to redeem herself in some small way inside the walls of the prison. i just don't see the harm in letting her continue to do what she has, from all accounts, done quite effectively

    As for me personally, if i were to learn that i had to spend a significant sentence in prison, I would want to be dead and would do everything in my power to ensure that such was the case. I'd never allow myself to last long enough for all the appeals processes to go through. i don't care if suicide is a sin or not. I'd end it all very quickly rather than either spend a long life in prison or wait out the appeals process for execution.

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    1. I remember when Karla Faye Tucker was executed in 1998. Her case is kind of what made me decide the death penalty is not just in most situations. She was on death row for 15 years and had a chance to become a different person after murdering with a pick axe. I read a book about her about three years before she was executed and it helped me change my mind.

      I also agree that stringing inmates along, anticipating their executions, is cruel. Yes, it's true that they have committed heinous crimes that call for severe punishment, but I don't think governments serve anyone by dilly dallying around executions. It's time to shit or get off the pot.

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