They don’t smoke and they don’t drink. They’re not big television watchers and their reading material is on the limited side.
But they do want to know more about you. So, won’t you please write?
They’re prison inmates and many, including those on Texas‘ death row, have moved their cell-based ponderings from isolated anti-death penalty Internet pages to the popular social networking Web site favored by the younger set: MySpace.
At least 30 Texas death row inmates have MySpace pages created for them. On these personal pages they detail their likes and dislikes, just like anyone else.
“I think I’m a pretty funny guy. I have a wacked sense of humor,” writes Randy Halprin, who was convicted in the 2000 shooting death of an Irving police officer. “I can be a big kid at heart. I’m a hopeless (and I mean HOPELESS) romatic (sic).”
To be clear, no Texas inmate has Internet access. Instead, inmates send letters, journal entries or blog postings to friends and families who create the pages for them and post their writings for them.
“This is not new,” explained Michelle Lyons, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. “The reality is that for many years death row inmates have had family and friends on their case, on the Internet, oftentimes to get pen pals and in some cases raise money for the defense.”
Sites devoted to inmates on MySpace or anywhere else on the Web are out of TDCJ’s jurisdiction.
“We cannot police what a person who is not in our custody puts on a Web site on behalf of an inmate,” Lyons said.
The inmate Web pages may not be new, but the increase in criminal Web pages on MySpace upsets Andy Kahan, director of the crime victims office for Houston Mayor Bill White.
“I think you ought to draw the line somewhere,” Kahan said.
Kahan shot off an e-mail to MySpace this week, asking the site to reconsider having pages created and maintained for convicted criminals, particularly murderers.
“Is it within your policy to allow the glorification of killers by giving them a platform to influence young minds?” Kahan wrote. “Are there specific guidelines within MySpace that would prohibit giving convicted felons a platform for all the world to see?”
So far, Kahan hasn’t heard from MySpace officials, who also did not respond to the Houston Chronicle‘s requests for comment.
One of the people behind the inmate sites is Danielle Allen, of All Life Is Precious Ministries in Livingston, home to Texas’ death row.
“The way I look at it, if we can’t forgive, we can’t be forgiven,” she said. “These are my personal friends.”
She maintains the pages for four death row inmates so that their friends and family can easily keep up with them and the status of their appeals.
MySpace’s popularity as a gathering place on the Internet is why she chose it as a location.
“It seems like where it’s happening right now. That’s where people are gravitating,” Allen said.
Still, Kahan would rather see MySpace bar criminals from having an Internet platform that anyone, particularly children and crime victims’ families, can see.
“I’ve not seen one of them address why they are on death row,” Kahan said. “I can’t imagine what some of the victims’ families think.”