(WGHP) — Tessie Castillo hasn’t committed any crimes, but she’s spent a lot of time in prison on death row.
“Never ever thought I would get involved with the death penalty,” she said. “It actually started at a Super Bowl party, which is something I would never normally go to, but I was really bored and just hanging out near the food, and I met a psychologist who was working inside Central Prison (in Raleigh) on death row, and he was trying to get the warden to open the prison up so that volunteers could come in and teach writing and art.”
So in 2014, Tessie became a volunteer and began teaching writing.
“I taught (inmates) in person, so I would go into the prison and sit down in a semi-circle with a number of men. They all have to wear blood-red jumpsuits on death row, and a lot of death row is painted blood red as well,” she said. “I was expecting a lot of serious mental health problems and people who hadn’t had a lot of education…those things are there, but many of them have been able to overcome not having educations. All of my coauthors are high school dropouts, but they are brilliant writers.”
The result is a new book called “Inside: Voices From Death Row.”
Castillo says she sometimes has people ask her why she would spend time with men who are condemned to death for horrible murders.
“Because they’re still people, and they’re still valuable, and they grow,” she said. “We all change and grow. And you can’t tell from where a person is or what they’ve done in the past how or if they’re going to change and grow, and we all have that opportunity.”
Castillo says the ones she works with are trying hard to turn their lives around and improve themselves more than a lot of people outside of prison that she knows. And there is a good chance they may never be executed.
“Seventy-one percent of people in North Carolina on death row get off of death row. So the odds are that three of the four of these coauthors will get out. Not necessarily of prison…but they will get reduced sentences. They will be taken off of death row,” Castillo said.
The program she worked in was eliminated when Central Prison got a new warden, but Castillo continues to work with the men through the normal access process and hopes to continue to do so.
Hear from one of the men on death row who contributed to the book in this edition of The Buckley Report.