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The Campaign to Exonerate Jack Alderman
Simone’s campaign work was motivated by the plight of Jack Alderman who was wrongly accused of murder and spent 34 years on death row in Georgia,USA, before being executed in September 2008. His letters inspired a series of her paintings that were exhibited at Somerset House, London, and sold to support his appeal and raise awareness of the injustice of his case.
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I started writing to a death row prisoner in May 2004, having been put in touch by the charity ‘Human Writes’. This is an extract from one of many letters written to me by Jack Alderman from death row, Atlanta, Georgia, over a four year period.
“Your letters impact my world profoundly. It centers on the acceptance, it is fuelled by freedom. I trust you to let me be who I am. I am not suspicious or defensive. You cannot imagine the assault on the soul when the interrogations begin.I have no complaints about doubts or questions, they are reasonable. What can depress is a façade for curiosity…”
All Jack’s letters were written on the same prison file paper, placed in the same prison envelopes and stamped to indicate they had been read by the authorities. They contained the unfolding of an extraordinary story of a deeply spiritual man, who had been on death row for 34 years for the murder of his wife, Barbara. It is the story of the destruction of evidence by the State of Georgia to cover up their own improprieties and a confession by the actual murderer, who was offered his freedom by the State, in return for implicating Jack Alderman in the murder. Hundreds in the US and abroad, including the prison governor, thought him to be innocent.
He was executed in 2008 in spite of a campaign to try and prove his innocence. New evidence was discovered to show he was not at the scene of the crime, but the court refused a retrial on the basis there were no witnesses.
The witnesses were both dead.
Jack Alderman Senior holding a portrait painted by Simone Sandelson of his son, Jack E Alderman.
‘The butterfly settled in the palm of my hand. Barbed wire , razor ribbons and cyclone fences had been crossed to enter an inhospitable zone. Another prisoner wanted to crush its wings and yet she visited me. Breath held in awe, my spirit smiled.’
Jack Alderman May 2005
Barbara, Jack’s wife, was found dead in a creak in 1974. Jack was arrested for her murder.
“We are permitted to go onto the yard twice a week. Yesterday it was wet and windy, I was asked why I participate, why I venture?
I could remind them of the six years I spent without ever going outside and without ever seeing the daylight; but instead I quote David and explain that I commune with God through the trees, the birds and the sky.”
Jack Alderman October 2005
‘Is there a possibility the state will execute me? Indeed there is. I have no desire to die but what worries me more is what they can make me do to myself. I deny them that leverage and power. All they can do is hill me, they cannot break me. We must have values and I am prepared to die for mine.’
Jack Alderman August 2006
‘Would you consider a 2006 Rolls Royce valuable? Even if it was at the bottom of the English Channel? Where it is affects what it is.
I see myself as a mini at the bottom of Lochness. No motorways to drive on.’
Jack Alderman Feb 2006
‘ I believe matter is not destroyed or created but reshaped. The tree into paper, paper into firw, firw into heat. If we look beyond the apparent we can see emptiness which is not to be confused as nothingness. How do we reshape emptiness? Do others blossom or shrivel as a result of contact with us? Acid rain or invigorating waters? We do not need to have a church or a book to be disciples. We do need to have mindfulness of that connectivity. If everyone did, we would be worthy of inhabiting this world.’
Jack Alderman November 2005
‘Humans should have peace individually and collectively. We have the intelligence but lack the wisdom that comes with humility.
I have to operate on the belief that a higher peace, a deeper love and a wider impact is possible in this world.’
Jack Alderman 2007
Weekends spent riding in the woods with his wife, Barbara.
‘Cowards die many times before their death. The valiant taste death only once’. A favourite quote of Jack’s.
He refused his lawyer’s insistence that he should plead guilty and accept a deal from the state. Had he done so he may have been a free man but has written many times,’I would rather die than lie to save myself.’