Yes, I Do

Updated: Jun 25, 2020


| This is the 443rd story of Our Life Logs |

My dear,

If you are set free,

Then I’ll grab the moon

And we’ll split it.

But if the earth continues its grand pirouette

And the stars do not align,

I will smile and know that

in those letters

I was the center of your universe.


I was born in 1981 in Southwest France. I would say that my childhood was relatively normal. My dad provided for the family while my two younger siblings and I were cared for by our stay-at-home mom. Growing up, I was a shy girl who found reality uninteresting compared to the worlds within the pages of my books and scenes from my favorite films. These means of escape kept me entertained, but they also showed me the harsh reality of life and death. Knowing that one day we’d be here and the next we’d not always terrified me.

My concern of death heightened when I was in primary school and we learned about historical executions like the beheadings in France. I was shocked by what appeared to me like meaningless killing. Not long after that, when I was about 13, my mom mentioned a documentary she’d recently watched about the death penalty in the United States. I hadn’t known about the practice, but when she explained it, it all seemed unfathomable. Why were we killing people for their crimes to show that killing was wrong? What if they regretted them and wanted to be better? They’d never get the chance!

I started watching documentaries and researching the death penalty, and each grim detail shattered me. I was so opposed to it that I wrote essays against it in junior high. Discovering this got me into social and criminal justice, and I began searching for ways that I could help death-row prisoners. I had the time and energy to give, so why not put it towards helping such an important cause?

When I was 18, I discovered a website that allowed you to become pen pals with prisoners in the US. I perused the website and began writing to a death row inmate. Most of the time it was just about my life or his life before prison. It felt good to brighten a part of an inmate’s day, to let them know that at least one person believed they were capable of redemption when the state determined they were beyond repair and meant to die.

In 2010, I joined the organization “Ensemble Contre la Peine de mort” (Together Against the Death Penalty) as a volunteer. Although France does not have the death penalty, the organization raised awareness of countries that do. I helped by running stalls at events, protesting and collecting signatures on petitions.

Later, I was studying in Denmark and started writing to prison pen pals. I had written to 16 in total; some for just a few months and others for years. It was in 2014 that I decided to begin writing to someone closer to my age that I could have more to talk about with (I had a 30-year age difference with my first death row pen pal). As I searched the prison pen pal website for someone between 25 and 35, a profile caught my attention. A death row inmate in Florida named Alan, age 26, had written that he was interested in ancient philosophy, theology and foreign languages, and he had also described himself as creative and sometimes even witty. His bio was a lot more original than some of the others I’d come across, and I loved how he concluded with, “I hope to find someone to share thoughts and life stories with; wherever the conversation might lead.”

This man was interesting and met my criteria. I didn’t want any religious talk, no talk about innocence or their need of legal help, and not looking for a romantic relationship (and not posting a shirtless picture). He checked all those boxes, so I sent him a letter introducing myself. And he responded.

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We clicked quickly in between those first few letter exchanges as we discussed all sorts of things—music, movies, news, what daily prison life was like. I wanted to know every detail of what living on death row was like for him. I began eagerly checking my mailbox every day for a new letter, and as we became closer, our letters got much deeper. When we’d begun communicating, I’d lost my dad to cancer, and I confided in him in my grief about my fears of death and illness. He confided in me about the somber conditions of death row. I knew that prisoners often feel very isolated, depressed and alone, so I gave him all the support I could.

Eventually, I found myself wanting to tell him all about my life, every little detail. I liked him more than I would have admitted to myself at the time, but I still remained grounded. I didn’t think that I would ever actually pursue a romantic relationship with him. I knew it wasn’t realistic. Still, as our letters got longer, I found myself falling for him without even meaning to.

After a few months, I received an extra-long letter—30 pages! In it, Alan poured his heart out, saying that I’d grown on him and he had deep feelings for me. He asked me to visit and enclosed a visitation form saying he was sending it out of wishful thinking but he understood if I wasn’t ready for that.

He asked me to see him in a way that was so moving that I started thinking about flying from Denmark to Florida. I knew it was a crazy idea, I had never met any of my prison pen pals before. Was I really going to fly halfway around the world to meet a man I’d only gotten to know through letters? Visiting could change our relationship from a friendship to romance. What if we didn’t get along face to face? Or what if we met and liked each other even more? While I was interested in meeting him, I wasn’t sure pursuing anything was a good idea. How could we possibly have a relationship with limited visiting times and the threat of him being killed hanging over us?

So, I told him no—at first. I kept an eye on the postman every day but weeks passed with no new letter. Losing contact with him had me in tears. It was then I realized that I had completely fallen in love with him.

Finally, a reply came with the first words being “I love you” and news that he was going through a state appeal. I knew then that I had to go see him. I told him I held similar feelings and began the application process to visit.

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The application process took about a month, so while I waited, I set a date, researched affordable flights, and got my affairs in order. At the time, I was a student with no job so I used all my savings to go. In December 2014, I was approved and that’s when it all became real. I was taking the plunge not knowing where I’d end up. By myself, two months later, I flew across the Atlantic to finally meet Alan.

I was filled with anxiety as I entered the prison for our first meeting. I was directed to a small, cafeteria-type room and given a table number where I sat down and waited. 300 men were on death row here yet there were only 25 tables. Most of the inmates never got visitors. One by one, the prisoners started to appear. They entered the room slowly, opening the door and looking around for their visitor. I waited for Alan to appear, feeling a sense of anticipation each time. The wait was agonizing; the minutes seemed to tick by slowly. I had only seen old, poor-quality photos of him, and I feared I wouldn’t recognize him. I feared he wouldn’t like me in person.

Finally, Alan opened the door, our eyes met, and he nodded