Human Writes is a non-profit, humanitarian organisation which  befriends people on death row in the USA
There are prisoners on Death Rows all over the States who are in need of help to live like a human being for the time they are here.
Prisoners' Art
Daniel Crispell
Articles By Human Writes Members

Thoughts on being a Human Writes penfriend.

In Memorium of Prisoners Executed in the United States
In memoriam of prisoners executed in the United States

Prisoners executed in the United States in 2016


Postcards For Sale

Postcards for sale

Prisoners' artwork postcards available for sale.

I Just Want To Stay

"The volunteers of Human Writes seek to hold out the hand of friendship to men and women facing the death penalty. I am pleased to encourage them in their writing"
Most Reverend and Rt Hon George L Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury

"No matter its circumstances, dying is one of the most important things we ever do. I applaud all who offer compassion and hope to those facing death, especially in the terrible circumstances of Death Row. May God bless your work."
His Eminence Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster

A Prisoner Testimonial : "Julian is the most wonderful person I have ever had as a penfriend and I am really grateful that you brought us together. He is trying to teach me your English cricket – what a bewildering game it is!"

Conference Report 2007

Pablo Stewart, a forensic psychiatristOur annual conference took place at the Royal National Hotel in London on 6 October 2007.  It was encouraging to see a full hall of attendees once again.  The day took the format of  talks in the morning, followed by state meetings and lunch, with our principal speaker addressing us in the afternoon, and concluding with various accounts of friendships and readings from some of our penfriends’ writings.

Katy Amberley opened the conference and this was followed by a talk from Brenda Gamlin on the history and background of Human Writes.  Brenda outlined the main activities of the organisation, briefly also covering the roles of the office holders.  She reminded members of the importance of keeping all information provided by their co-ordinators close at hand, particularly the rules and regulations laid down by the individual states. She concluded her talk by mentioning the newsletter and how contributions are welcomed for this. 

Brenda was followed by Caroline Dipple who spoke on developing good relationships with our penfriends.  She explained that all friendships are unique, but stressed the importance of trust on both sides and suggested that the most successful friendships are those which welcome the penfriend as a member of the family. 

Our third speaker was Susan Totterdell, a Human Writers member, who gave a lively, entertaining and moving talk about her experiences in California when she was asked by her penfriend’s defence attorney to speak on his behalf as a character reference in his appeal.  Susan stressed how truly remorseful he seemed to be and touched briefly on the help and encouragement he had given to his family by counselling younger members to get an education and to avoid gang culture. She spoke enthusiastically of their friendship, emphasising what a supportive friend he had been to her and the very positive effect he had on her family, friends and wider circle of acquaintances.  It was heartening to hear at the end of her talk that Susan's penfriend's death sentence has since been commuted to life.

Susan's talk was followed by State meetings, lunch and a chance to purchase notelets and artwork by prisoners in addition to catching up with old friends.

The afternoon session began with the introduction of Pablo Stewart, a forensic psychiatrist who contributes an objective account of a defendant’s mental health at the request of defence attorneys. 

Pablo opened with encouraging words to all of us, welcoming the opportunity to speak to us and expressing his belief in work of Human Writes.  He then moved into the main part of his talk, explaining how he can be called in at any part of the defence proceedings. 

In the US, although first degree murder may not be a death penalty case, there are clauses relating to aggravators and premeditation which stack the law against people in what he described as a capricious system.  A forensic psychiatrist can be a called in at any stage of the mitigation process, from pre-trial mitigation, through the guilt phase and finally in the four stages of the appeal process (which is where most of our friends are) to the State Court of Appeals, followed by the Federal Courts, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeal and finally the US Supreme Court proceedings. 

Pablo outlined the approaches open to him to defend clients, and further details can be found in his article in our Summer 2007 Newsletter.  He emphasised too that when our penfriends are having a bad time with their appeals, these are the times when our friendship and support are particularly valuable in helping them from losing heart.  He encouraged us not to give up on our penfriends at any stage, including when they were finding it difficult to write back. 

Not unexpectedly there was a great response to Pablo’s talk which provoked many questions and left most of us wanting more!  However, we had to move on into the final stages of the day, which began with the traditional lighting of candles and a minute's silence in memory of friends who are no longer with us, and also for victims of crime.  This was followed by a talk from Mary Vaughan who spoke briefly on the role of a state co-ordinator.  Five penfriends then spoke about the very different and moving effects of their penfriendships, including how a US penfriend was having an impact on a community in Northern Scotland, the positive effects of a prison visit to Pennsylvania, a friendship that had given a wonderful sense of 'shared fun' across the ocean, and how a prisoner had become a very special part of a family and home in Wales. 

The day ended with co-ordinators reading poems and writings from our US friends.  Sue Fenwick then closed the day with special thanks to Sonya Woodsend for once more organising an excellent conference and with words of appreciation to all those involved with Human Writes, especially our members for their continued encouragement, support and commitment.

Report by Sheila Michell


Human Writes Patrons

"The very essence of the death penalty is to tell people that they are somehow sub-human, not fit to live. Yet even those people I have represented who did what they were accused of - a surprisingly limited number - have always been much better people than their worst fifteen minutes, as are we all. Those who recognise this by reaching out to the men and women on death row are true heroes, though I suspect they gain as much as they give to the relationship."
Clive Stafford Smith OBE, Founder of Reprieve and Patron, Human Writes

"As a journalist who has lived and worked in the United States, the horror of death row is one of the issues that never leaves you. The thread of humanity that Human Writes manages to sustain with men and women on death row is a profound contribution to keep alive the hope of life. Capital punishment is now on the retreat in America, but the numbers awaiting their fate are still very considerable. I am very honoured to have become a Patron of Human Writes and will hope to do my best to put my shoulder to the wheel".
Jon Snow Broadcaster and journalist, Patron, Human Writes

"In such an inhuman system small moments of human contact make a big difference. That's why I support Human Writes and why I would encourage you to do the same."
Gary Younge, Author and US-based feature writer for the Guardian, Patron, Human Writes

"I know what it is like to live in a cell for decades and feel that the whole world hates you. I never expected to be able to live again as a contributing member of a community. Prison life was precarious and unpredictable but I met people who worked there who wanted to help me and people like me - and I'm lucky that I live in a society graceful enough to offer me a second chance. At least I had hope. Hope for many of the people supported by Human Writes has all but been extinguished. Letters to people on Death Row let them know that however low they may have fallen, they are still human beings. They still have value and are worth caring about and letters might just help to keep hope alive. That is why I am honoured to have been invited to be a patron."
Erwin James, author and Guardian columnist, Patron, Human Writes