From Daily Record Scotland - ANGEL OF DEATH ROW
America's most violent men are among Pamela Rodgers' friends

As she packs her bag in preparation for her two-week trip to America, Pamela Rodgers carefully checks that she has everything.

But instead of spending a relaxing break in the sun, Pamela, 59, will be travelling to a high- security prison to witness the execution of her pen pal, Richard Rossi.

Mum-of-three Pamela, from Dalgety Bay, Fife, spends many of her annual holidays in prison visiting rooms meeting some of America's most violent criminals, including Rossi, a drug addict who killed a man in a row over a typewriter.

Pamela has devoted the past three years to helping the murderers and rapists who are awaiting execution on Death Row.

She spent her first holiday abroad on Death Row at San Quentin jail in California two years ago. There, she met Michael Hamilton, who was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife Gwendolyn some 19 years ago.

During her 10-day stay in California, Pamela tirelessly visited Hamilton nearly every day. But her mission of mercy has since taken her to prisons the length and breadth of America.

Rossi's death will be the first execution she has witnessed.

Although Pamela has agreed to be there in Arizona when Rossi is given the fatal injection, she has mixed feelings about taking part in the event.

She said: "If I attend the execution, then I will be part of the killing process, as though I approve of this murder, but, on the other hand, if I don't go, then my friend will die alone."

Together with husband Tom, 46, she has waged a relentless campaign on behalf of some of America's most violent prisoners for the past three years.

Like other holidaymakers, Pamela treasures the snaps from her time abroad. But whereas most people's photo albums contain scenic views and sunsets over beaches, Pamela's pictures feature some of the most evil characters known to man.

Pamela is petite, but she is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to fighting for Death Row prisoners' human rights.

While the rest of her family are asleep, Pamela can be found at the desk in her study writing letters to US governors.

She also writes hundreds of letters to the men awaiting their fate on Death Row.

But Pamela stressed: "I'm not a do-gooder and I'm not looking for the guilty to be let out of prison to walk our streets.

"I've always said that if ever one of my children was raped or murdered, the first thing that would come out of my mouth is 'kill the bastard'.

"With all the anger and the rage inside me, I would want that person dead and if I could kill him myself, I probably would.

"But through all the rage and the anger, you have to think 'what purpose is killing that man going to serve?' It certainly wouldn't bring my son or daughter back.

"I want to see people punished for what they've done, but I don't see any point in taking another life. No one should kill for revenge."

Pamela's unusual pastime started when she picked up a copy of Execution Protocol by Stephen Trombley in a Dunfermline book shop more than a decade ago.

The book documents the cases of prisoners living under the death sentence and argues for the end of executions.

It also contains an interview with convicted killer Alan Bannister, who was then awaiting execution.

Pamela recalled: "I was fascinated by what Alan was saying. He sounded quite an intelligent person. His address was in the book, so I told Tom I was going to write."

The letter she penned marked a turning point in Pamela's life. Until then, she had been vehemently pro- capital punishment.

As a teenager, Pamela was taken with her dad to join the crowds who gathered outside Holloway prison on July 13, 1955, to await the execution of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain.

Even today, she still recalls the excitement she felt when the bell tolled to mark Ellis's death.

She said: "My dad was very pro the death penalty. He believed in an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, but the main reason we went was to see the hangman, Albert Pierrepoint.

"According to my dad, he was the best hangman in the world at that time.

"My dad didn't see anything wrong in taking me to Holloway that day, but I will never forget it. I remember standing outside the prison when the bell started ringing.

"It's still as clear as day. And I admit now, I got a buzz thinking 'they've done it, they've actually done it to this woman'.

"I was brought up with that way of thinking, so I honestly thought it was the right thing to do."

After contacting Bannister, letters flew between his cell and Pamela's home for five years and the pair quickly became friends.

But it was only towards the end of his life that Bannister brought up the issue of his case and began to convince Pamela that he was an innocent man.

She said: "When we wrote to each other, I told him about my family, my interests and my hobbies and he told me about himself and his family, what he was like when he was younger. Just the every day penpal stuff.

"But towards the last two years of his life, we talked more and more about his case. I asked him straight out if he was a killer and it was then that he started sending me details about the killing. I began to realise that it wasn't a contract killing."

ALTHOUGH Bannister admitted he had shot a man, he denied it was a contract killing, as was stated at his trial.

Pamela wrote to the State Governor, asking him to exercise his authority to commute the 39-year-old's death sentence to life imprisonment or order a new trial.

Although Bannister's case was supported by dozens of celebrities, he was executed in the Potosi Correctional Centre, Missouri, by lethal injection on October 22, 1997. He had served 15 years on Death Row.

But Pamela was determined his death wouldn't be in vain. Together with Tom - and with the backing of Bannister's family - she started the International Bannister Foundation to fight for Death Row inmates.

Her crusade has since brought her face to face with more than 20 killers on Death Row, but although she has stared into the eyes of some of the world's most evil men, Pamela is not easily shaken.

She said: "While it was scary the first time I went to visit Michael Hamilton, when you come face to face with these people, there's something within them that makes you realise they're not evil. They have feelings, too."

Pamela has grown close to the killers she calls her "boys". Although she denies being in love with her pen pals, she admits she can see why women fall for convicted killers.

She said: "You soon realise these people aren't the animals they're made out to be and a bond does grow."

On one visit to San Quentin, Pamela took an American woman to meet her daughter's killer.

Pamela said: "She was always anti-death penalty and although her daughter was brutally murdered, she didn't want this man to die.

"Execution doesn't bring the closure that many of the victims' families think it does. She wanted him to tell her why he did it, but she knew deep down that his death wouldn't bring her daughter back. Instead, she shook his hand and they spoke very quietly."

Although Pamela accepts that some of her penpals are guilty of the crimes of which they have been convicted, she still believes that all their lives should be spared, even Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh, whose execution, due this week, was postponed.

She said: "Timothy McVeigh wants to die. He wants to go out in glory and have his death televised, but the authorities shouldn't be allowing that.

"He should be put in a cell and be made to live with what he's done. The death penalty is the easy way out.

"But there is a percentage of people on Death Row who are innocent of the crimes they have been committed of.

"Either they have been in the wrong place at the wrong time or jailed because of their colour and this is why the death penalty should be stopped.

"They are killing innocent people, but I'm not saying everyone who is on Death Row is innocent. I'd be stupid to say that because there are guilty people out there.

"Two of my penpals are killers and are guilty of the crimes they committed, so they should be in prison for the rest of their lives, but, at the same time, these men are human beings and could be rehabilitated.

"I'm not saying they would get out of prison, but I firmly believe they could be made to be better human beings. A lot of the men have had horrendous up- bringings, so they grow up and don't know any better. I'm just trying to make sure they get the little bit of dignity, love and care that they've never had."

The Foundation, which has more than 500 members worldwide, is involved in 46 campaigns, including one for Scots killer Kenny Richey.

Tom is 100 per cent behind his wife, although it initially took him a bit longer to drop his pro-death penalty views.

He admitted: "Even when Alan Bannister was writing to Pamela, I was still a bit dubious. I was all in favour of Death Row, but Alan educated us a lot and my views have changed dramatically.

"Now we pump every spare penny we have in to the Foundation. The whole organisation is funded out of our pockets because we don't receive any grants.

"But we believe in what we are doing. We want to educate the public, to tell them what the system is doing in America. We are fighting for basic human rights."

The International Bannister Foundation can be contacted at www.ibf.brum.net/enter.htm

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