Letter-writing has not lost its appeal, at least not for Carol Horan, who values having something handwritten for its “lasting quality.” She has been a pen pal to prisoners for more than 40 years.
Horan first wrote a man name Jeff Dicks, who later died in prison of a massive heart attack after 17 years on Death Row, according to mysouthsidestand.com, a digital news site.
“The first letter was so hard to write because you don’t know what to say or ask,” Horan said.
As she got to know Dicks, she learned he was convicted in 1979 for allegedly murdering a store owner. She felt that he “as a poor White man in the South” had a hard time getting a fair trial.
She developed a friendship with Dicks and got to visit him with his mother, who had tried for years to prove his innocence.
“To physically see (him) and being able to hug him,” Horan said. “It was pure joy.”
Over the years, they corresponded about everything including life in solitary confinement, his appeals, his divorce from his wife, being an absentee father and later, his earned privileges that allowed him to teach a class. After Dicks’ fatal heart attack, she stopped writing letters for a while to process the loss of her friend.
During the past 40 years, Horan has corresponded with 10 inmates; currently she writes to three prisoners. One is on Death Row.
She is usually paired with a man through the Death Row Support Project but felt compelled to write to Habakkuk Nickens after reading an article about Nickens’ efforts to prevent gang violence in South Side Chicago. She remembered Habakkuk from Seymour Elementary School when she was a school secretary there.
While serving a 20-year sentence for gang activity at the Federal Correctional Institution in Ray Brook, N.Y., Habakkuk created a program called MEN, Men Educating Neighborhoods.
“It’s just a beautiful thing,” Horan said, “It is a very loving friendship, and he is doing beautiful work trying to turn his life around.”
The other two men she is currently writing are Jonathan, who is incarcerated at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, and Von, a 72-year-old man who has been on Death Row in Ohio for the past 35 years.
She never questions the men about what they did but asks how they spend their leisure time in prison or what type of prison jobs they have. She keeps photos of her prison friends on her refrigerator and stores all their letters in a box.
“One of the beautiful things about writing and receiving (a letter) is that you can read it again and again,” Horan told the Stand reporter in November.