Dating penfriend to write to

Now 51, Paul has spent 21 years on death row in Florida for the rape and murder of an 80-year-old woman.

“I was warned that a lot of responsibility comes with writing to a prisoner because in many cases that’s all they have,” says Cullinane.

“I was driving past Magilligan prison [in Derry] and said to my mum, ‘would I ever be able to contact someone in there? “It was a beautiful day, and I remember feeling that I was so near these people, but they had a very different perception of the world.

It had hit him quite hard.” But the two found their groove via letter writing, and now they correspond regularly on everything from her family and studies to his ongoing appeal.

Cullinane quickly realised that, much as the title of the organisation that she approached suggests, the correspondence often becomes a lifeline for those who spend 23 hours a day in a 6ft by 8ft cell, without TV, internet or radio.

“I’m not there to judge him or to fight for him,” she adds.

“We talk about it and he sends me articles on how the system works. I’ve asked him what he wants to do when he gets out.

“He was convicted but he didn’t do the crime,” asserts Cullinane.

“He’s fighting to get three of the charges dropped.“She knows I want to do it so she’s standing back and not saying much. My dad thinks it’s great though, and my boyfriend is the same.Predictably, others have waded in unbidden with their opinions.“A lot of my friends on say things like, ‘he deserves to die’,” says Cullinane.“A mature student in my class warned me that a lot of women write to men in prison for dating purposes, that it can get very intense and serious and that a lot of men would take advantage of me for money.He is on his last appeal, and will represent himself in court.

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