How are death row inmates selected

compass - Greetings from death row

At first glance, the letters could have been penned by anyone: The weather is discussed, people rave about their favorite food and sometimes even a joke is made. Ines Aubert's pen pals are anything but ordinary. She has been writing with convicted criminals on American death row for the past 19 years. She has had a total of 14 pen pals like this - from family murderers to kidnappers to rapists.

In the background program “Kompass” (above), the curative educator talks about her extraordinary “hobby”, which has already brought many violent encounters with it. At the same time, ethics researcher Dr. Anna Maria Riedl asked whether such pen pals are acceptable or not.

“Penpalships” for everyone

Ines Aubert

Founder of "connectdeathrow"

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Ines Aubert (59) works as a curative teacher. In her free time she devotes herself to pen pals with inmates on death row and the associated project “connectdeathrow”. Link opens in a new window that she has launched.

She was moved by her passion for writing. Because her “ordinary” pen pals always fail after a short period of time, Ines Aubert is on the lookout for long-term “penpalships”. She finds what she is looking for at “Lifespark”, the link opens in a new window, a Swiss organization that arranges correspondence with American death row inmates. Here she finds her first pen pal - a murderer who shot three people. At 82, he is her oldest pen pal and has been waiting for his execution for over three decades.

Any interested person who is over 18 years of age can contact «Lifespark», the link opens in a new window. First you clarify the motives in a preliminary telephone conversation, then documents with tips and important information (e.g. on possible “traps”) are sent out. If everything fits, you will then find the top address on the waiting list. It is quite long and so it happens that a prisoner has to wait up to two years before he has someone to write to.

For me, these letters make encounters with people more genuine and essential.
Author: Ines Aubert, founder of “connectdeathrow”

After many years on the board of «Lifespark», Link opens in a new window Ines Aubert starts her own project called «connectdeahrow», Link opens in a new window. It is also about arranging such pen pals, but to under 18-year-olds. Here the exchange always happens through Ines Aubert and the death row inmates are specifically selected and prepared. A total of three letters can be sent back and forth, then contact is over again.

A lesson about being human

Anyone who thinks that there are religious intentions behind Ines Aubert's commitment is mistaken. Basic Christian values ​​such as charity do play a role, but it is not about the salvation of lost souls. Rather, she would like to learn more about being human and still offer the prisoners a perspective.

The atrocities should by no means be excused and punishment is appropriate. However, the death penalty never finds her right. Not only because life ends because of a mistake, but also because there is no possibility of further development or insight.

I was at the execution of my second pen pal.
Author: Ines Aubert, founder of “connectdeathrow”

But it doesn't stop with the exchange of letters: every summer (with the exception of this year) Ines Aubert travels with her husband through the United States and visits her pen pals on death row. For them an enriching break from their everyday life - but at the same time the chance to feel the people behind the deed even more. If possible, she also meets victims or relatives of her pen pals. This is because both of you are dear to your heart and you don't want to talk to and about the prisoners.

Can you do that?

But is it really justifiable to develop a friendship with a criminal? Did he even deserve these letters? Ethics researcher Dr. Anna Maria Riedl, the link will open in a new window, finds already. Especially in an existential emergency it is important to show a person that he is still a person and has inviolable dignity - regardless of what happened before. In addition, the death penalty is a very problematic construct, since it ends everything and the perpetrator and his environment no longer allow anything.

We will not save humanity by becoming inhumane.
Author: Dr. Anna Maria Riedl ethics researcher

She only has reservations if the freelance writer uses pen and paper out of sheer greed for sensation or wants to excuse the crime. But getting to know the person behind it is not a problem - because even if it is a convicted murderer or rapist, there is nothing wrong with looking behind the facade and realizing that he can also be a loving family man or a great friend.

Pen pals with convicted death row inmates - useful or absolutely reprehensible? Send us your opinion via Whatsapp voice memo to 079 909 13 33 or join the discussion in the comment field below.


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Whether hentai, microdosing or casting out demons - host and producer Jan Gross lures you out of the comfort zone and illuminates topics beyond the mainstream. The focus is on people, their opinions and stories.

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