“You’d lose your head if it wasn’t attached to your neck” said everyone ever to me.

I lost the last letter Garry sent me. I had it in my bag for weeks to and from work with every intention of finding time during the day, at lunch, on the train, to pull it out and write back. But I never did. And one day I told myself enough is enough and went to pull it out and it was gone.

It was pretty long, and I did read it before throwing it in my bag in the first place, but I guess I was feeling pretty ashamed of losing it that I didn’t even want to write him back and have to admit it. He has so little possessions, he probably doesn’t lose track of a thing, and here I go losing an important envelope where he wrote to a friend in privacy and trust. Someone probably kicked it out of their way on the train, or the janitor swept it up with the dust bunnies under my desk, not even thinking twice.

But I finally got over it. I know I’ve said that phrase a lot “I got over it.” There are tons of things I need to get over I guess. Whatever.

I received two emails last week about the Death Row Pen Pal program, and just starred them and wouldn’t answer. I told myself “I’ll get to it,” and I didn’t until today. Well, that’s 1/2 true. I saw the starred message on top of my email everyday, and consciously ignored it. It wasn’t until I decided to start getting back into Twitter (which I’ve tried to do like 3 times already and never stick with it) when the same woman who emailed me about the program also tweeted at me, saying she had an interesting opportunity that she emailed me about.

So obviously I was curious.

I read her email. She works for a national publication in the UK. She saw this blog and wants to ask me questions about my experience for their publication….uhh..what?! I was really honored that 1. someone read this, and 2. someone wanted to interview ME. It’s usually the other way around (thanks to my internships and undergrad degree).

I figured, hey, I’m on a roll. I might as well open the other message. It was from the woman in charge of the program. It was her annual check in. It’s been a year since I was paired with Garry. It seems like a lot longer than that. The things we’ve talked about is not what I’d typically talk about with a stranger, yet I always felt like I knew him forever, so it didn’t matter.

I told my coworker today about Garry. I thought I had mentioned it before, but I guess I didn’t. I really wanted to talk about the UK reporter, but had to backtrack and tell her the whole story. I sent her his full (real) name, and she googled him–something I still have yet to do. She just kept saying “OMG” and “He’s so brutal” and things like that and I got really nervous. I don’t want anyone to change how I see him, but I know as soon as I read the articles and see how the media portrays him, my image will forever be corrupted. For now, I’m just reading what he has to say, and taking that as truth. Why would he lie?

Okay so the point of this post: I wrote my letter back to Garry today. I admitted I lost his letter and apologized. (It’s still awkward to apologize to a murderer.) I told him about the job I finally got, told him about some things going on, and I told him about the reporter wanting to talk to me. I assured him I wouldn’t talk about anything personal, not even his name, but if he wanted me to mention anything to her, I would be sure to. Who knows how effective the interview will go without all the “juicy” stuff, but I guess it’ll be up to her whether or not she wants to run the piece after she hears what I have to say.

I also “gave him permission” (I can’t even bare to type that without the quotes. as if i could give a murderer permission to do something) to feel free (ha, free) to send me letters in between my responses if he wanted to. He doesn’t have to wait for me to answer before reaching out again. I know that’s how a typical conversation goes, everyone gets their turn, but there’s is nothing typical about this ongoing conversation. I always say I’ll get better and more punctual, but I never am. I don’t know what it is.



So it’s been a few weeks since my last post, at which time it was already a month since I got Garry’s last letter. I finally grew up and wrote him back today. And it felt weird and unnatural. I don’t know what’s going on with me. Whatever.

photoSo in his last letter he talked about my memoir and how he enjoyed reading it. There was a chapter about an abusive ex boyfriend of mine that he reacted poorly to, but everyone who read that chapter reacted the same way, so it wasn’t alarming or anything. He was quick to move on, which I was grateful for. He was undying support for me and my future, which seems really weird. He doesn’t even know me! We’ve never met. We don’t have a “deep” connection-we’re just two people who write letters to each other once a month. But in an odd way it’s comforting. I have support from my friends and family, sure, but for a more-or-less stranger to believe in me makes me feel like maybe I’m actually worth something. He said in his letter that he had been praying for me to get a job and have the future I deserve. I guess his prayers paid off! I was just given a job offer yesterday!

He also told me about different privileged groups they have in San Quentin: A and B. He’s in B, the shitty one. He’s on death row…. was he expecting to be given many privileges? He has pretty broken English, but I’m used to it by now, especially working where I work part time for so long (50% of the customers hardly speak english). But looking passed the broken english, I was still pretty lost in his explanation. Prisons have such interesting internal, unspoken systems. It’s fascinating to read about. I’m glad he openly tells me about it, as if I’d ever understand what he was going through.

From there, he told me about his work history. He did a lot of physical labor, including being a welder with his father. He said he “was a Baptist, driving his company truck.” I’m not sure if Baptist has another meaning apart from the religion? I always assumed he was Catholic because he is Hispanic and very deeply religious, which i have only ever encountered by devout Catholics. But I guess I was just being stereotypical and unfair. I  know he was telling me about his jobs because I had mentioned I was starting to look for one, but I was glad he was open enough to let me into his past even more so.

So I finally wrote him back.

And I didn’t have much to say–which is why I suck as a pen pal. I explained that I had a really busy summer, which I know he will understand without a bad thought, but he shouldn’t. It’s been over a month since he sent his letter and there’s no excuse for being so tardy. It was my own effed up brain getting the best of me after my dad, brother, and fiance mocked me. I guess I was embarrassed and thought I was doing something wrong. Thank god I got over that! I told him I finally got a job and that I’d be a lot more available now to write, but who knows if that will actually be true. I thanked him for his kind wishes and his compliments on my writing, and I told him about this blog-emphasizing, of course, that none of his personal details have been revealed and that anonymity and personal life were kept out. I hope he doesn’t have a bad reaction to it, or think I am exploiting him or anything.

In between my last post and this one, a reader reached out to me from Tumblr to talk about how she and her mom are interested in the program and may want to look into writing to a death row prisoner. I was really excited to hear from her! Even if I only inspire one person in the almost year that I’ve been doing this, It’s pretty cool! if anyone else is interested you can always message/email me to chat and get more info. There’s a lot more that I feel about the experience that I just never put into words, and it’s easier to talk directly with people who are as passionate about something as you are. I honestly don’t even know if/how many people read this. It’s just something I do on the off chance that a person will Google “death row pen pals” and stumble across what it means to me to have one. I know I Googled it before I signed up for the program, so hopefully it gives you a chance to experience what it will be like, what to expect, etc. As corny and cliche as it sounds, it has changed the way I think of things and has been an enormous part of my past year. It’s even been a proven conversation starter! Yay!

Okay-I promise it won’t be another month before my next correspondence both to Garry and to this blog. I’ll try and be a better/worthier pen pal.

Home Sweet (Almost) Home

One more week until I’m back home in New Jersey! As exciting as it is, I’m going to miss being in the city; I’m sure it’ll only take a few hours until I’m so bored and craving Shake Shack! (PS: They’re opening a location in Paramus, yes!) The only good thing is that I’ll actually be able to get my mail in a normal amount of time–and that means faster and more lImageetters between Garry and me.

When I was home over the weekend, I got another letter from him. He said, as I expected he would think, that he didn’t think he’d hear from me again. It made me so upset, even if I anticipated it. I thought I was clear in my previous letter that I was honestly nonstop busy and hadn’t had the chance to write, which he did mention he understood, but I would never purposely not write to him.

When I started my new letter to him, I made sure to make it really clear that nothing he could tell me would make me not want to write to him. It’s crazy, but I have grown pretty close to him and have learned not to judge anyone. Everyone has a unique life, people may judge me and my path, but I couldn’t judge anyone. The only person who knows what it was like to grow up in Garry’s shoes is Garry himself. I made sure to tell him that he could trust me with anything he wanted to get off his chest, and that I would keep his privacy. He knows about the blog, and he has given me permission to write about his story however I want, but I still wouldn’t exploit his life in any way.

I also decided to give him my manuscript. It wasn’t fair that I mentioned I wrote something and asked if he wanted to read it, and then said “just kidding, I’m scared.” I’m still a little scared–I might be really really dumb giving him my memoir, but it’s most likely fine. He’s a million miles away in a maximum security prison. Who cares if he knows what my high school boyfriend’s name was? I only thought he may think it’s juvenile and ridiculous. I’m sure his childhood was anything but typical, and he might resent that I had such a “normal” life with a great family and friends in rural New Jersey, rather than running around with gangs in Cali.

It’s also pretty long, so I told him it was fine and to take his time. I’m not looking for anything or any comments/criticism from him- I just thought it would be a good way to spend some of his day behind bars. He mentioned in previous letters that he wasn’t a big reader, so rather than offering to send him a book, which I was considering, I figured he can start off reading mine, and also get to know me a little better.

He has been so open about his past and his current “situation,” it’s only fair that I begin to open myself up about my past. It’s obviously not as crazy as his, though. (PS- if anyone wants to read my memoir, just let me know).

Garry said something that confused me a little. He told me he appreciates my honesty and does not “want your boyfriend getting angry with you by him finding out you’ve been writing to me…as good friends.” I wonder why he thought I was keeping our friendship from Ryan and my family? Maybe he thinks I would be ashamed to be writing to a death row inmate, but I’m not. I’ve been very open with Ryan, my friends, and my family. It actually worked as a successful conversation starter at NYU. A classmate read my blog prior to the program, and she remembered me and we became really great friends since. I guess it is a really interesting thing to talk about, but even if it was a private thing between Garry and me, I would still enjoy our correspondence just as much. I told Garry that Ryan and my family knew about him, but that I have been keeping his privacy and never tell them about what he writes or confides in me, just that we write back and forth, and whatever they read from this blog.

I also told Garry about my engagement, and he had nothing but wonderful things to say. It’s crazy- he was just as excited as my closest friends! He told me he was engaged before, but never married. He also gave me a lot of advice, which I thought was sweet (and a little old-fashioned). He told me a husband depends on a wife, and that a wife is the most precious thing a man will ever have. It’s so gushy and romantic, it caught me a little off guard when I remembered he was an (alleged) murderer.

Is it weird that I want to hear more details about the alleged crime he committed to be locked up? I don’t know how to bring it up though. I keep hinting and telling him he can open up and tell me anything he wants, but nothing more has been said.