To Be Young And Know That Death Is Near

Dear Jeff:

My Letters To Tim's Death Row Friend, Jeffrey William Paul


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Recently, I began writing to another prisoner who resides on the US Penitentiary death row in Indiana. He knows David very well and was good buddies with Tim. I have enjoyed reading Jeff's heartfelt journal, reading his poetry and looking at his paintings---paintings which showcase the talent of one whose life could have been quite different. It's very sad, as Jeff is only twenty-five years old and is, as all the others, biding his time until his tragic date with the executioner. If you go to the Death Row Speaks website, you will be able to read the poignant journals of David and Jeff, get a good look at men who deeply regret what they have done and and at least one, Jeff Paul, who still contends that he played no part in the murder that led him to death row in the first place. I strongly urge you to stop by Death Row Speaks and open your minds. I have a link to it on page one but will post it here, just in case you might have missed it:


Death Row Speaks By Death Row Inmates
Stop By This Incredible Testament To the Human Spirit Of the Condemned Among Us

Here then, is the first letter I sent off today to Jeffrey William Paul, age 25:

Dear Jeff,

This is the first time I've written to you, although you have been in my thoughts since the Death Row Speaks site went up. I must tell you straight off that your writings and your paintings are nothing short of amazing and wonderful! And believe me, I don't speak false praise—as a writer myself, who's been fortunate enough to be published, I can appreciate good work and yours is exceptional. I'm going through my cartons of books (I moved recently) and looking for all the poetry books I've amassed over the years. Many are from courses I took in university, but some of them were just added to my collection because I really loved them. I have a special affinity for Sylvia Plath and some have likened my work to hers. When I told my mother that, she had a fit, because, as you likely know, Plath committed suicide at 31 years of age. When I get my hands on some poetry volumes, I will send some out to you to read. You mentioned on the site that poetry books are hard to come by in prison. As for your artwork, I simply adore the one with the lighthouse and the beautiful ocean. I grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia, right on the Atlantic Ocean and I miss it so very much since moving inland. I feel a sense of claustrophobia without the sea on my doorstep.

Jeff, it sounds to me as if you may not have been given a fair trial. You say you are innocent of any involvement in that man's death and I believe you. Tim McVeigh didn't get a fair defense either—24 million was spent on his defense, whereas the prosecution racked up a whopping bill of 84 million. About Tim, I am so very, very sorry that he was executed five months ago. Nobody should get the death penalty—nobody. I liked what I knew about the man—he had the strength of his convictions and honestly thought of the bombing as performing a military operation, where there is always a great deal of "collateral damage." I was happy to read that you and Tim were friends while he was on the row. He must have been like a big brother for you. I was touched when you asked him if he was okay on the Saturday before he died. I believe he then did an imitation of being hanged to death to lighten the mood. I know that Tim is in heaven with the grandfather he loved so much and not in hell as some have said with disgust. What really got to me was that getting a lethal injection didn't allow for him to "suffer enough." For God's sake, he was being killed—wasn't that enough??

It is my fervent hope, Jeff, that you be presumed innocent at some point and be liberated from death row. I look at your face and see no trace of any kind of killer in it. You have the aura of a kind, caring and insightful about you and the face of someone I might have met in school once and been attracted to.

I was away for several days and came back last night to find a harrowing message on the Death Row Speaks website. You and David Hammer had been severely reprimanded because you lost your tempers. From where I sit, you were justified in your reactions and should not have lost your privileges and had a misconduct strike against you. Then, this morning, after I'd finished a letter to Warden Keith Olson, imploring him to re-examine the situation and to realize that those rough prison guards were truly in the wrong. And best of all, David was eating again! I know that diabetics MUST eat regularly and take their insulin or they could die. I realize that, in the wake of Tim's death, he tried to kill himself with an overdose of insulin but thankfully, he was alright. Do you have your privileges back yet?

As I've told David in the letters I wrote him, I have a great deal of knowledge about being institutionalized in a less-than-ideal environment for lengthy periods of time. I suffer from a mental illness and at one time was hospitalized for three long and torturous years. The place was called the "Behaviour Modification Unit" and, just as the name suggests, the staff, a group of sadistic, unfeeling nursing assistants and a quack of a psychiatrist, meted out, along with mega-doses of drugs, sexual, physical and emotional abuse. When you're locked in a small room for weeks at a time with no privileges (no phone calls, stuck in the seclusion room, no freedom and no hope), you develop ways to cope, so that you don't completely and permanently lose your mind. I sang a lot of songs as I lay on the little, ratty mat that substituted for a bed and developed an imaginary friend to whom I poured out all my feelings of pain and fear. I still have emotional scars from that concentration camp, so when I read your and David's journals, I nod my head and think, "Yep, that's exactly how it is and how one feels who loses every little bit of freedom and dignity that had ever been a part of one.

And so I feel a kinship for you, David and everyone else on the federal death row and death rows all over the United States. Here in Canada, we abolished capital punishment many years ago and i will always fight to make certain it is never re-instated. That would be such a giant step back for our country and our humanity. God I wish you guys all lived here. You wouldn't have to live in the "shadow of the valley of death."

It was interesting to learn, through your well-written journal, that Tim worked hard to achieve the emaciated body of a prisoner of war. You said that he only ate vegetables for a long time and lost a great deal of weight. Tim was a skinny guy to begin with, so I can just imagine what he must have looked like in those final days. What saddened me was when he got that stay on May 11th, he gained some new hope that perhaps he had more time to live. He went back on regular trays and seemed to be getting a new lease on his life. Then on June 6th, when I saw on CNN that Judge Masch refused Tim another stay, I cried for hours, getting so upset that they put me in the hospital for three weeks. And those people who cheered and had parties in the wake of Tim's death turned my stomach. Can't they see that killing is wrong and that by wanting and cheering Tim's execution, they were no better than he was, even less so. I miss writing to Tim but I'm keeping up my website that's dedicated to him. I get a lot of thoughtful letters from people who feel as I do: That Tim was a worthwhile person and that there were always two sides to a story. It's a large site, growing everyday and it gets a lot of traffic. I know you and David really miss Tim, with his easy smile and compassion for all of you on the row. Just take comfort in knowing that he's in a better place now, right up there with his beloved grandfather. He's not suffering anymore, he's not hearing about how hated he is and most of all, he's finally at peace.

Sorry for going on and on about Tim like this, but he is always in my thoughts. I just mailed a letter to his father, Bill, since this will be the first Christmas without his son. It will be pure hell for the man, as will the anniversaries of Tim's birthday and his execution. I sent it to Warden Olson and I hope he forwards it to Mr. McVeigh. I want him to know that there are a lot of us out here who saw the good in Tim, not the bad things he did.

I will send you some of my poetry from time to time. Some of it has been published and my last book was as well. The one I am currently working on is a fictionalized account of Tim and his life. I am not going to disguise it much and will write a screenplay for it too. It's time people saw the real Tim, not the Timothy McVeigh of "American Terrorist."

Please continue to submit your writings and paintings to the site. I love looking at them all. Jeff, I'll say it again: You don't look at all like someone capable of murder. I look at your picture and I know in my heart that you are innocent.

I'm on a disability pension, so money is scarce, but I put some away every month so I can send David some money orders for treats. I want to send you some too, so as soon as my cheque comes in at the end of this month, you will get some cash to spend on "comfort treats." We got those in the hospital too, although since I lost my privileges so many times, I didn't get to partake in very many.

Life is precious and I'm sure you know that well, Jeff. I picture you in that tiny, dismal cell and my heart goes out to you. Your writing is so poignant and charged with honest emotion. I look forward to reading more of your journal as you get them written and I promise you that as long as I have breath in my body, I will fight to get rid of the death penalty. Don't people realize we're in a new millennium?

Take care, Jeff. You are not obligated to write back to me. I just enjoy communicating with you and David as it is. You are always in my prayers. God bless, Jeff.

Sincerely,

jane

November 28th, 2001.

Here's my Christmas letter to Jeff. Christmas must be a dismal affair on death row, but I discovered that the prison staff did all they could to provide a pleasant and festive day for the guys:

Dear Jeff,

I hope that you make the most of your situation this year and have somewhat of a happy Christmas season. I really wish that the prison cooks could come up with some kind of Christmas dinner for those of you on the row. It wouldn't cost much and you could all pretend you were having Christmas with your loved ones. I'm thinking of writing back to Warden Olson to try to persuade the powers that be to be kind and considerate, particularly at this special time of year. r. I've put in a number of poems I wrote over the period of four months before Tim died and I have them all posted on my website. I love your work—it's stark and haunting and powerful and I just know in my heart that everything will work out and you will be vindicated, get out of prison and become a well-known writer. Just keep having faith—and if it doesn't work out that way (as I know only too well how screwy the law can be), you can still keep writing and publish your work.

I've had this stupid pneumonia for weeks now and cannot seem to shake it. The pills my doctor gives me make me sick as a dog but I won't let that ruin my Christmas. I've spent so many of them in awful institutions over the years that I never take it for granted when I'm outside and with my mom.

I remember reading where you said you liked poetry books. When I phoned your prison awhile back, I was told I could only send Bibles. Is that true? If not, I'd be glad to send you some of mine. I've read and re-read them many times over anyway. As a matter of fact, I have taken a chance with the BOP and am sending you a brand new book that gives you all kinds of tips and examples to help you in your poetry-writing endeavors. I feel badly that I cannot send you and David money orders this Christmas, but money is scarce. However, once I've saved up some of it, then I'll send you one for certain.

I hate to think of you and David and all the rest in that place, but the two of you are marvels in that you never feel sorry for yourselves. That survival instinct will take you far, Jeff. As for that incident with the abusive guards awhile back, I wrote to Warden Olson about it and he responded, telling me that David was off his hunger strike and taking his insulin and that the matter is being looked into. I feel badly that you got so upset, but completely understand why. I hope you didn't lose your privileges, for they're one of the few things to look forward to on the row.

Anyway, please have as happy a Christmas as you can and I will light candles for you and David. Just because you're on death row, doesn't mean that the Lord isn't looking down at you and embracing you in His arms. Bless you, Jeff, now and always.

Fondly,

jane wanklin

December 15th, 2001.

Here's the third letter to Jeff. I just mailed it this morning, actually, complete with a photo of myself, right above, some poetry and haiku, as well as a copy of my letter to Tim's father and a ten-dollar money order. I'm very fond of Jeff and think it is terrible that he is on death row just for aiding and abetting in a deadly crime. The actual killer only received life without parole. How fair is that? Anyhow, here's my message of compassion and caring to this remarkably talented young man:

Dear Jeff,

Thank you very, very much for your nice long letter–it made my week; no, actually, it made my month. Your words were so kind and caring and you really appreciate gifts from someone "on the outside looking in."

I have enclosed a money order for $10.00 US. I know that you said you had few privileges, but since you didn't mention buying commissary treats as one of them, I will assume that you have at least that to look forward to.

For the record, I don't believe that you should be on death row. I wish I had the funds to help you with your case, but I hope that others have contributed to your fund. Even if you were really guilty, I am sure that you had a very good reason for doing what you did. As I said in my last letter, you do not have the face of a murderer. You could be any college kid wandering university campuses, or buying software for your computer. I wouldn't think any less of you, but I still hold onto the reality that you should not be condemned. You're only twenty-five years old! You have your whole life ahead of you. Damn that death penalty. When are people and politicians going to wake up to the fact that not only is putting someone to death cruel and unusual punishment, but it costs taxpayers eight million dollars to put someone to death. They could use that money for much more useful projects such as helping prisoners, both on death row and serving life sentences cope with their situation, give anger management classes to those who require them and making living conditions better for all of you.

I was wondering something, Jeff. Is it okay if I talk about you on my anti-death penalty site? I started out building the page to feature Tim McVeigh, but now I've branched out to include others on the Indiana death row and other similar places. The site gets a lot of hits and I'd very much like to talk about your struggles to exonerate yourself and your day-to-day existence on the row. The purpose for my site is to open peoples' eyes to the reality of what it is like to live from day to day, always aware that the end could come at any time. I don't think that it's the actual execution is the worst part, but rather, it's the terrible waiting—biding your time until they call you to make plans for the death house and receiving those three powerful drugs that will be the catalyst to ending your life. Please let me know if you want to be featured on my site. If you do not, well, that's your decision and I am fine with that. David Hammer has given me the green light, but perhaps you are a very private person who would just as soon stay off the Internet.

I sent David two pictures of myself recently. I wish I had a copy of the professional portrait of me that went on the cover of my autobiography. The other is a shot taken by my brother, with me and my little niece, Laura. I'll try to scrounge up one for you but, as I hate getting my picture taken—I always resemble a deer in the headlights—there aren't a lot to choose from.

Speaking of my book—sneaky aren't I? Ha Ha—I told David I would send him a copy, but first I have to get three more copies from my publisher. I gave one to Tim, but I doubt that he had enough time left to read it. So if I get one for David, is it possible for him to pass it to you through the bars? It will give you a nakedly candid commentary on just how bad conditions were for us patients prior to the Mental Health Act. I was on a ward called, the "Behaviour Modification Unit" and man, was it a nightmare. I spent three years in that hellhole, with no visitors, no privileges and a frightening experience involving one of the meaner male nurses' aids raping me as my hands were tied behind my back. I lost hope and was told by staff that I was on the "fifty year program" and would eventually, in twenty-seven years, end up on the geriatric wards with all the elderly patients who had conditions ranging from schizophrenia to Altzheimer's Disease. It's pretty grim there—everyone lies in recliners and drool, bob their heads up and down and scream because they are sure there are snakes writhing on the floor.

Oh dear, I hope I'm not depressing you with this. On a happier note, the ward was eventually closed down when allegations of abuse were made public via our newspaper. I had been released before that and let me tell you, Jeff, that I never, EVER take my freedom for granted anymore. I'm free of the physical, sexual and psychological abuse and, thanks to my then psychiatrist, a rather clueless individual, he finally found the right combination of drugs to help me.

I hope you don't mind my talking about Tim for a few paragraphs. In your journal, posted on the Death Row Speaks website, you spoke positively about him and had a great deal of insight into his complex and enigmatic mind. I got the feeling that you two communicated regularly, as you knew things about Tim that nobody else did. Your assessment regarding Tim's starvation diet was right on the mark—even if Cate McCauley vehemently opposed what both you and David did. I got a look at Tim's prison dossier, one that documented some of his characteristics and which cannot be disputed, Cate or no Cate. The concentration camp theory makes a great deal of sense, as he viewed himself as a political prisoner who was being killed for his beliefs and actions. Apparently, he also had most of his hair shaved off, which would fit with all this. I wish that the media had latched onto that, for perhaps more people would come to understand Tim's motivations and ensuing efforts to appear as if he were in a death camp like Auschwitz. After all, the words "death house" and "death camp" ring so very true.

I read in David's journal that you and Tim talked together fairly regularly, particularly about the Death Row Speaks site. Tim has stated that the information that David provided in his journal was "50-50" which means that half of it was accurate. How was he on his last day on the row? If I know Tim, he would have pretended to make light of it, although I know he must have been scared.

Okay, that's that–now onto other matters. I have enclosed some poems and haiku poetry with this letter and I was wondering if you could send me some of yours. To be honest with you, Jeff, I look at your picture and see a sensitive, kind artist, not a cold-blooded killer. I believe, as has been stated in the journal and on the websites about you that I found, since you only aided and abetted in the crime that took place, there is no way that you should be on death row. Why, in heaven's name, did the person or persons who actually did the robbing and murdering get off with just life imprisonment and you got condemned? This upsets me greatly. If I had the money, I'd help your defense and perhaps, after my manuscript is done and, hopefully, published, I'll have cash to spend on worthwhile endeavors, such as your case. I refuse to let them execute you: As a matter of fact, I am preparing a letter to the editor of the Tribune Star newspaper in Terre Haute which will address this issue. I had my letter about Tim published and hoped that it would make everyone think twice about giving him that lethal injection, but as Tim said, "It does no good to write letters—I have to move to the action stage." How many more of you will needlessly and unjustly be put to death before the American people push for a moratorium on the death penalty?

Jeff, I want you to tell me what I can get for you or do for you with regard to your case? Just because I'm short of funds doesn't mean that I cannot be useful in other aspects. My heart so goes out to you and as I look at your incredible paintings, tears come to my eyes. God how I despise capital punishment and I swear that I will see it abolished in my lifetime. When I read your wonderful letter, I smiled at the kindness and genuine sentiments contained within. Getting that letter made my month and will likely make my year too. I feel a closeness to you that I didn't even have with Tim or David. In Tim's case, I felt terrible that his post-traumatic stress disorder wasn't properly diagnosed and that he wasn't given medication and treatment, both of which he sorely required. On my website, which features Tim, along with David and much information, I have done my best to state my case and speak for people on death row. If you would like, I can dedicate a page to you. I found your picture while doing a lot of surfing last week and I would include that—I didn't swipe the photo from Death Row Speaks; this one came after four hours of hunting. Please let me know what you would like me to say, for I know that it is essential that people see you as you really are, not as pro-death penalty zealots view you and others like you.

My site gets a great deal of hits, so your page would be seen by many people. Oh and is there anything else I can send to you, Jeff? I need to dig out all my poetry books from my aunt's attic, but once I do, I'd be happy to send you some. What else are we allowed to send to the row? I've taken a very genuine liking to you and want you to have things to do in order to pass the time away in your cramped cell.

I am also enclosing a copy of a letter sent to Bill McVeigh–I hope that he reads it and doesn't send it back to me unopened. I really feel a lot of compassion and caring for Tim's broken father and just want him to know that there are a lot of us who were sympathizers of Tim and his situation. On the outside of the letter I wrote: "For someone who cared about your son." It was mailed nearly two weeks ago, so that's a good sign.

Well, I guess I should get to work on my novel—it won't write itself----but I want you to know, Jeff, that you have my full support, my friendship and my love. Aside from that, I truly believe in your case and that you were merely an accomplice to those crimes committed. If there is anyone you'd like me to write to in that regard, please let me know. Please take care. And again, thanks so much for that wonderful letter you sent me.

Sincerely,

jane

January 28th, 2002.

Here's a picture of Jeff----a real cutie, isn't he?

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