Executions in 2018: min. 690 plus 'thousands' in China

Pen Friends

Our management of death row penpal ads

A few years ago the German Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty has made major changes to the way that penpal ads of death row prisoners are placed and forwarded. Whilst we do not want to allocate prisoners' addresses without any options to choose a future penpal, we would like to offer more support in the way we bring interested writers and prisoners together.

Our major goal is to provide a larger number of sustainable and lasting penpal friendships. We would also like to increase our support for you in writing to a prisoner, and are therefore making the following changes:

If you would like to write to a death row inmate listed on our website, we ask you to please send us an e-mail to sekretariat@initiative-gegen-die-todesstrafe.de requesting the address of the inmate you would like to write to. We will then send you the prisoner’s full penpal ad including his address and – if available – his photo via e-mail. ATTENTION: YOU HAVE TO BE AT LEAST 18 YEARS OLD!

A penpal friendship with a death row prisoner is a unique experience and we would like to assure you that our organisation will gladly assist you personally with any questions, advice and support throughout your friendship.

For this reason, we would appreciate personal contact with you initially at the beginning of your penpal friendship, and thereafter at any time that we can help.  In addition, we would like to contact you after a period of three months just to see if we can help with anything and whether your friendship is going well.

We do have records about how often the address of each death row inmate listed on our website has been requested. This will also help us to respond to inquiries about any death row inmates who have few contacts to the outside world.

Please read the following notes before starting a penpalship!
(Advice for juveniles: see below!)


"But what hope can be found by a condemned inmate, awaiting execution on Texas death row? For many, past memories are filled with pain, and the future is just as bleak… they have a date with the executioner! What then gives these men hope?
The answer is “Love”!
The love and kindness from wonderful pen friends who reach out and love these inmates who are just now experiencing this emotion for the very first time. Even for those who aren’t experiencing love for the first time, the love they are now enjoying has never been experienced to this degree and with such intensity." (Chuong Tong, TX death row, in "
Words are inadequate")

Please note:

Although we do take a stand against the death penalty and for people sentenced to death, this is not tantamount to excusing the crimes or trying to trivialize them or to us having the opinion that crimes should not be punished.

We can not validate any information given by an inmate about his individual case nor can we guarantee the correctness of this information.

Everyone who considers engaging himself against the death penalty and starting a pen friendship with an inmate should also keep in mind that the inmates are not only victims of a merciless judical system but also offenders, some of whom committed brutal crimes.

Nevertheless we believe that punishment should always include a chance of rehabilitation and that no human being is allowed to be barred from human society for good and that no country has the right to premeditated killing of human beings.

Inmates who are threatened by the death penalty need support and help. They need people who don’t only see the offender and the crime but also let them feel that – no matter how brutal their crime might have been – they are still members of the human society.

Anyone who starts a pen friendship with an inmate on death row should be aware that chances are that the inmate will get executed at some point in the future. That can be a big shock especially after a long pen friendship and perhaps even personal visits resulting in friendship and an emotional bond.

Anyone who starts a pen friendship with an inmate on death row should reframe from using this relationship for their own purposes.

The reasons for someone starting a pen friendship with a death row inmate and how this friendship develops are entirely personal. As an nonprofit organization which also engages in reputable care for prisoners, we would like to emphasize:

We believe the support for the inmate should always have priority.

In the light of recent events we would like to point out that starting a pen friendship with an inmate on death row also carries a responsibility – after a relatively short time lots of the inmates rely on their pen friends and especially for them it is extraordinary hard, if a contact like this comes to nothing after only a short time. Unfortunately we have noticed over and over again that people start pen friendships (with the best of intentions), but after only a short time realize that for some (sometimes very understandable) reasons that this becomes a burden and they then stop writing. So we ask everyone who is interested in writing to deliberate in detail BEFORE writing the first letter, if he is really able to sustain this pen friendship for a long time. Please also read this excerpt from a letter which we received a while ago which should serve as an example for other cases.

"Please allow this to inform you that I wish you to remove my name from your website. I have had no responses worth speaking of. I have had a few curiosity seekers who would write a letter or two and get me to commit to a pen-friend relationship and then never hear from them again. I don't need that. I would much rather simply be alone than constantly opening up to the possibility of communication, have my hopes raised and then crushed again and again. It's not worth it."

Also in the light of recent incidents we would like to point out that people on death row are so much different from each other as they are in the "free" world. Therefore it's not impossible an inmate might try to take advantage of you. In such a case you need to recognize this and to set boundaries - to make clear what you want and what you don't want to accept - that you might not be used by a prisoner for his own purposes.

Nevertheless our experiences show that many pen pal ships developed into very good and life-enhancing friendships. We'd say, it's worth a try!


Advice for juveniles:

Over and over again we receive enquiries by juveniles who would like to start a pen friendship with a death row inmate.

Since it’s one of our tasks to faciliate pen friendships with death row inmates, to reach out to these prisoners, to help stabilize them emotionally and to bring humanity into their inhumane everyday life, we basically welcome the interest in giving the subject of the death penalty a serious consideration and the readiness to engage on behalf of the people affected by it.

We can not recommend to minors to start a pen friendship with an inmate on death row for the following reasons:

  1. In some states the inmates are not allowed to write to minors who are not related to them if they don’t have the explicit and verifiable permission by their parents to do so. Violating this might even cause the inmate big problems (possibly even aggravation of conditions of dentention)
  2. Those who write to an inmate on death row should keep in mind that these men and women often have barely any contact to the outside world and so each contact they do have is much more valuable to them than to a person who is not detained. Please really consider well if you will sustain writing to these women/men for years even if other interests might come up, it might become inconvienient or your partner might be against it or …
  3. Death rows in the USA can not be compared to prisons in Germany and the things the inmates over there face on a daily basis are absolutely inhumane. If you befriend one of the prisoners, you’ll surely also get to read things which are very burdening. This is something you have to be able to cope with as well.
  4. Many of the inmates are honestly happy about every contact to the outside world and they treat their pen friends with respect and deference. But unfortunately there are also inmates who try to manipulate and exploit their pen friends. If someone is unlucky enough to run into a person like this, one has to be able to identify this and react in an appropriate manner.

We explicitly want to encourage juveniles who want to engage against the death penalty and for human rights, to do so. We listed some ideas of what could be done by a juvenile here.

Pending US-Executions

Unfortunately the United States of America still is one of the countries which regularly executes people.

You’ll find a list of the already scheduled executions here.