One of Myers' early letters told me, “On January 28th I will have been incarcerated for one full year.” The average time spent on death row is 15 years.
I sent him a colourful card with a simple geometric pattern “Happy Birthday” on the front, blank inside for my own message. Austin is 21, three months younger than my little brother. I wrote that I hoped he had a good day, and told him to take care. Sometimes it’s difficult to know what to say.
Whether Austin committed the crime he was convicted of isn’t my place to say. I don’t write because I think he’s innocent and I take no view on whether he’s guilty. I write because he’s a human being who endures a life I can’t imagine.
In our letters we’ve discussed the theory of infinite space and the multiverse hypothesis, the philosophical implications of fear. Sometimes we just write about our favourite bands.
Luke Templeman is public information officer for Human Writes. Over the phone he tells me that Human Writes is not a protest group. “We’re not political in any way,” he says. “It’s not our view to take a position on legality or morality. Our concern is for the psychological wellbeing of the inmates.”
Once a person decides to become a pen pal, Human Writes sends the address of a prisoner they have paired you with. You don’t get to pick your pen pal yourself, but if you want to, you’re probably entering into it for the wrong reasons.
I’ve thought a lot about my own motivations. When I discuss it with my friends, they are, for the most part, less than supportive.
I struggled to think of a crime that justified, to my mind, the punishment of death row, or a person who deserved to be sentenced to that kind of life.
I asked Luke about the motivations of the other 1,500 Human Writes members in the UK. “Almost all the reasons come back to simply seeing people in a place of great suffering. For me personally, I see a system where people feel dehumanised. All people deserve to be treated as people.”
I realised, in the end, that I can argue endlessly with my friends, and my boyfriend, but this is all it comes down to: I believe everyone should be treated as a human being.