Meet author Angela Pisel: This guest post is written by Angela Pisel author of debut novel, With Love from the Inside, by G.P. Putnam’s Sons. She and nine critically acclaimed authors will be featured at the Women’s National Book Association Charlotte’s 7th Annual “BIBLIOFEAST” Book & Author Dinner on Oct. 17.
We hear about them more often than we should. After fifteen, twenty, and sometimes even thirty years, a horrific mistake is made right. Camera crews now capturing the wrongly convicted ones, with their overgrown, more-gray-than-not hair and hesitant feet, stepping out into the sunshine. Their heavy eyes, once again meeting freedom, while being introduced to babies they’d never met, from children they didn’t see grow up.
In late 2011, I watched the news coverage of a man who’d spent twenty-five years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. I stared at him while he wrapped his frail, spindly arms around those he’d thought he’d never be able to touch again. I could almost hear his erratically pumping heart struggling to balance all that had been taken from him with the promise of what was to come.
I dared to ask myself the question I imagine most of us would ask: What if that were me?
Could I have endured?
Could I have forgiven?
Could I move on after so much was taken away from me?
In 2012, I began to study women on death row. I read everything I could find about them online and in the library. I wrote 57 of them letters, asking questions about how they passed the time and what their first thoughts were when they woke up in the morning. One woman sent me her picture. She was average-enough looking that she could have worked beside me at the seventh-grade bake sale, carrying on conversations about fundraisers and the high price of school calculators. Would these women, if given the right circumstances— a sober mother to tuck them in at night, a father who kept his hands to himself—now be working in a cubicle someplace, instead of living in a cage with all the freedom afforded to a rabid animal? Or would they have made the same decisions, even with two appropriately affectionate parents—their personalities and their fates predetermined, so to speak? How did these women end up with an expiration date?
I couldn’t help but wonder about their children. What it’s like spending birthdays, holidays, and first days of school separated from their incarcerated mom or dad? Who do they turn to when they have no one to sit with at lunch, or when a stranger knocks on their front door?
Could they endure?
Could they forgive?
Could they move on after so much was taken away from them?
These questions birthed my debut novel, With Love From the Inside. It’s the story of a mother on death row and a daughter left to navigate growing up without her. Both women desperately struggle to figure out how they ended up where they did, and if they will ever find truth and forgiveness.
While writing this story, I interviewed a woman from North Carolina whose father had been in and out of prison for her entire childhood. Most of her weekends, she told me, were spent driving up to three hours with her mom to sit in a dirty visitation room, hoping to hear her daddy say he was proud of her. At the age of forty-one, she finally heard him say “I love you” for the first time. He said those words, handcuffed in a courtroom, right after the judge sentenced him to live his final days in prison. He died of a heart attack shortly afterward.
She promised herself she’d never set foot in another prison, but that wasn’t what happened. God had other plans, she told me. This year alone, she will spend 36 weekends behind locked doors with an organization she founded called Forgiven Ministry (forgivenministry.org), whose mission is to reconnect incarcerated parents with their children. She will teach moms how to tell their kids “This is not your fault” and help dads learn how to say “I’m sorry.” She’s hoping to break the cycle of recidivism, and sometimes she will let me tag along.
A quick Google search will tell you that my new friend’s childhood was not that uncommon: 2.7 million American children are growing up with a mom or dad behind bars. That’s a lot of kids, one in twenty-eight to be more exact, trying to endure, trying to forgive, trying to move on after so much was taken from them….
Angela Pisel was born in the Midwest but has set up homes across the United States since marrying an Army physician. As a therapist and life coach, she has taken a special interest in mentoring women throughout various transitions in their lives. She decided to write her first novel after her obsession with TV trials led her to research women on death row. She didn’t find what she thought she’d find—how people end up where they end up continues to mesmerize her. Angela volunteers with an organization in North Carolina (forgivenministry.org) that seeks to break the cycle of recidivism by promoting healthy relationships between children and their incarcerated parent.
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