Sunday, November 13, 2011

Hope for Forgotten Prisoners

This year, there were at least two prisoners who caught our attention in the media: Troy Davis and Amanda Knox. Davis spent 20 years on death row for murder--a crime for which recent evidence strongly supported his innocence. Despite an Amnesty International petition signed by a million people worldwide to commute his sentence and other pleas by politicians, Davis was executed by lethal injection in September. "I know you're still convinced [of my guilt]... but I am innocent... I am so sorry for your loss. I really am," he said to the victim's family in his final words.

Then there was American student Amanda Knox from Seattle, held for four years in Italy on murder charges and finally found innocent and released on appeal last month. Knox, along with Raffaele Sollecito, was a victim of a miscarriage of justice by an Italian court. Despite their ordeal, compared to prisoners of conscience in corners of the world out of the spotlight, they were the lucky ones.

Today, hundreds of forgotten prisoners languish in detention, some in the most squalid conditions, for crimes they did not commit, and often for merely defending human rights. Because of the work of Amnesty International, there is hope for these prisoners. Next month, Amnesty is holding their Global Write for Rights initiative to get people involved to shine a light on these forgotten souls.
I helped organize two events last year and know from experience how effective they are. When you simply write a letter to a prisoner or a government official on behalf of a prisoner, a lost soul is encouraged, prison conditions improve, and sometimes the deluge of letters help to get people released. "I am alive today, after 34 arrests, because members of Amnesty International spoke out for me," said Jenni Williams, human rights defender in Zimbabwe. And there are many more successes.

I encourage you to get involved in a local write-a-thon (or just do it individually) and see how this small, strategic gesture--writing a handful of letters to several of the 14 cases highlighted this year--can help change the world and shine a light of hope to the oppressed. I'm helping to organize another event in Seattle with a local Amnesty chapter. Come join us.

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