Personal Insights: Why I am campaigning to save my pen pal from the executioner's chair

Aoibhinn O'Sullivan is a 24-year-old University of Limerick graduate from Laois. In this 'Personal Insights' submission she reveals how she has joined a campaign to save a federal death row inmate - and her pen pal - from the executioner's chair.
Personal Insights: Why I am campaigning to save my pen pal from the executioner's chair

24-year-old Aoibhinn O'Sullivan who is campaigning to save Brandon Bernard from executioner's chair. Source: Aoibhin O'Sullivan

Aoibhinn O'Sullivan is a 24-year-old University of Limerick graduate from Laois. In this 'Personal Insights' submission she reveals how she has joined a campaign to save a federal death row inmate - and her pen pal - from the executioner's chair.

BRANDON Bernard is a 40-year-old man who is living on death row and is currently set to be executed on December 10th. Ironically, International Human Right’s Day.

There had been no federal executions in the US since 2003. That changed this year, under Donald Trump’s presidency where executions started up again in July. Brandon unfortunately received his execution date last month and his defence team have been trying to fight it.

Before I begin, I’d like to address the fact that although Brandon is not innocent, his crime did not warrant the death penalty. There are so many facts in this case that can be dismissed so easily by news outlets and headlines that are unfair to Brandon and his case.

I’ve seen so many misinformed comments under articles that claim he’s a murderer or that he deserves to die. This case was not black and white, and when you read the facts and learn about the trial and its misgivings, you will understand just how unfair and unjust Brandon’s sentence was.

Brandon is a good person, he was just a young, naïve 18-year-old kid who was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

If you would like to read and judge for yourself, you can visit the savebrandon.com
for more information on his case. His trial is also available to read on caselaw.findlaw.com. It’s better to educate yourself on the facts before judging.

Many of the surviving jurors on Brandon’s case strongly regret their sentencing and wish they had known more facts and had been more informed before making their decision. Brandon’s trial was full of racial prejudices, horrific misinformation and “leading expert” opinions that have since been debunked.

Brandon was barely 18 when he was sentenced. 18 years old. He was one of the youngest people ever to receive the death penalty. He has been imprisoned ever since.

Brandon has been living on death row for the last 20 years. For more than half of his life, he has spent his time in a 6x8ft cell for up to 22 to 23 hours a day. All he has in his room is a metal bed, a toilet and a shower. Anytime he leaves this small room, he is shackled and escorted by guards.

The only time he goes outside is when (and if) he is permitted to exercise for one hour of the day. He is bought to a cage outside where he plays basketball by himself.

He hasn’t hugged or touched his family in over 20 years.

As they live so far away from where he is imprisoned, they only get to see him once a year, on his birthday. They are separated by a glass partition. They didn’t get to see him this year because of Covid.

I got to know Brandon through a website called Write A Prisoner, where you can write a letter to prisoners all over the United States. I came across Brandon as his bio was so endearing.

He said he was an avid reader and loved books, so I wrote him a letter, introducing myself. I wrote about 500 words, I’d say, not even half a page. A month passed and I got a letter back from him in the post. He had written 8 pages. Front and back.

For someone who has spent most of their life cooped up in a tiny metal room, Brandon has the most positive outlook on life. One time, he wrote to me and said how happy he was because the film on his window had peeled off and he could see the sunlight outside. Usually, the windows in the prison are covered with a white film to prevent prisoners from looking out. Brandon was just happy to be able to finally see the sun.

Federal death row inmate Brandon Bernard. Source: Aoibhin O'Sullivan
Federal death row inmate Brandon Bernard. Source: Aoibhin O'Sullivan

It’s hard to care for someone you’ve never met but Brandon makes it easy. He writes pages and pages of meaningful letters; I always look forward to reading his words. He’s thoughtful, kind and insightful. He’s read so many books, he’s learned to play the guitar and to crotchet. He doesn’t define himself by his past, nor does he ignore it. He’s so self-developed and self-aware, his profoundness just seeps through his letters.

Brandon doesn’t deserve to be killed and his defence team are doing everything they can to move him off death row. For those who are worried that Brandon will walk free, that’s not what we’re fighting for. His lawyers want him to be moved to Life without Parole. He would still be imprisoned for the rest of his life, but Brandon would still have a chance at life, he would still have his life. That’s all they are asking for. That Brandon gets a chance to live.

I would like to share an extract from one of Brandon’s letters below that I think sums up his kindness and mindset. We were discussing failure and how to bounce back from it. This is what he said:

“I saw this commercial once and when I saw it, it inspired me to think like the kid in the commercial. It was of this kid by himself on a baseball field. He is pretending to be the greatest hitter of all time. He throws a ball in the air, swings the bat and says ‘I’m the greatest hitter in the world.’ 

He swings and misses. Strike One. He throws the ball in the air a second time, swings and says ‘I am the greatest hitter in the world.’ He misses again. He does this one more time and he still misses. 

Afterwards, he stands silently and looks at the ball and bat. At first, you think he is disappointed but then he says ‘I’m the greatest pitcher in the world.’ The boy didn’t let his dream of being great be ruined, he just changed what he was great in.”

One of Brandon's letters. Source: Aoibhin O'Sullivan
One of Brandon's letters. Source: Aoibhin O'Sullivan

This is why Brandon needs your help. His defence team have set up a website, where people can send a letter to Trump asking him to spare Brandon’s life. They have gotten over 6000 letters already, but they need more.

If you could sign the letter, I would be so grateful. It takes less than a minute, you could help save Brandon’s life. All you have to do is click into the website, scroll down until you get to “Send Letter to Trump”, click into the link and sign your name and email.

Brandon has got less than a month until his execution date and needs all the help he can get. See below for a link to the website and his defence team’s social accounts.

Website: helpsavebrandon.com

Twitter: twitter.com/helpsavebrandon

Instagram:

instagram.com/helpsavebrandon

 

 

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