Amnesty International in London enthusiastically supported the idea of a letter-writing
organisation. My Quaker meeting organised a fundraising event, which led to an
article in the local newspaper. From that I learned that Clive Stafford Smith,
the English lawyer in the BBC film, came from a village half an hour's drive away.
We met in summer 1988. The journalist who wrote the article, Merrilyn Thomas,
was so inspired by the subject that she wrote a book on Edward Earl entitled Life
on Death Row.
An article in the Quaker weekly
The Friend in 1988 with excerpts from Sam Johnson's letters attracted 25 letter
writers. The article in the Cambridge Evening News produced a similar number of
volunteers. We now had a small organisation, and Clive suggested names of prisoners
for us to write to in Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama. We had found a marvellous
secretary in Tori Ross (then Burbridge), who started our newsletter, The Wing
In 1990 we held our first
conference, in Cambridge. The speaker was the producer and director of Fourteen
days in May, Paul Hamann. That led to an article in a national newspaper, in response
to which over 200 people volunteered to write.
organisation came into being through an extraordinary series of coincidences,
with the right people coming forward at the right time. There was a sense of rightness
and a remarkable flow of energy. Above all, however, LifeLines survived because
of what the prisoners brought to it. As in the film, we discovered that the discards
of US society were human beings who, precisely because they had been through so
much, had a great deal to offer and were longing to share.