Media for a Just Society Award Finalist Explains Why He Writes
One reason for writing “I Spent 20 Years on Death Row” is to share my story with the world. It’s not a particularly extraordinary story nor is it one to spark sympathy.
I committed a crime that I’m still paying for, and there’s nothing heroic or awe-inspiring about taking someone’s life. For that I was given the ultimate penalty: a trip to death row. I eventually made it off after 20 years, and I felt that that alone was something worth sharing. The one thing we all like are stories of redemption—of getting back up once we have fallen. We often watch movies and cheer for the hero or the person who has overcome a certain challenge. The great thing about life is that the same thing we applaud in others is also found in us—and it doesn’t matter if you’re a housewife in suburban America or a criminal sitting on death row in Nevada. And that’s what I wanted to share.
When I write I always try to invoke a positive message because just maybe I can convince one person that no matter who you are and no matter what you’ve done, the best thing you can ever do is hold on to hope when all hope is lost. To never give up even in the face of impossible odds. Nothing is over until the minute you stop trying. Despite where I am, I still have a voice that I can use to instill change, positivity, and hope in this world.
Prison is often seen as a dead end. However, I felt that I needed to find a side street or an alley to help me get to where I need to go.
I read a book called Letters to an Incarcerated Brother. It’s a book that everyone behind bars should read. It was written by the amazing author and TV star, Hill Harper. In the book he had a quote by Milton Burrell. He said, “if opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” Good opportunities for prisoners who still want to succeed in life are very few. Writing is my way of building a door. It’s my very own magical door hidden in the wardrobe. Where it will lead, I don’t know, but I’m hoping something good will come from my venture.
Prison has a way of dehumanizing and emasculating you. Writing is my way of finding myself again, and in doing so I can remember not only what I am capable of achieving in this life, but also what it feels to be human.
Frederick Paine was a finalist in the 2020 Media for a Just Society Awards in the Media by a Person Who Is Incarcerated category. His essay, “I Spent 20 Years on Death Row,” was published by Prison Writers, which was launched in 2015 to give voice to people who are incarcerated. Learn more about Prison Writers here.