by Claire Flowers
A preschooler is sending a message to Capitol Hill and death row–“You deserve love no matter what.”
Otto Waggener painted a greeting card in October adorned with his simple message to send to his mother’s friend, Marvin, who is incarcerated on death row. Earlier in the day, the pair had been browsing a toy shop where they spotted an irregular hand-sewn stuffed toy with a promotional card that said, “You don’t have to be perfect to be lovable.” When the two saw the card, they knew they had to take one home to send to Marvin.
Otto’s mother, Claire Flowers, had been tricking the budding artist into practicing his handwriting by decorating letters for Marvin, whom his mother met in 2014 through the Death Row Support Project ( www.brethren.org/drsp ) in 2014. That night after dinner, Otto’s mom asked him to decorate a card for Marvin using his own art and words instead. The message, “You deserve love no matter what” was born.
Inspired by her son’s message, Flowers began to wonder what might happen if all prisoners on death row received such a love note from a child. After some calculations, Flowers, a single unemployed mother realized she could afford to make the idea a reality once she received her 2019 tax return. Otto and his mother resolved to send his “You Deserve Love” cards to every death row prisoner for delivery by Valentine’s Day 2019.
But who to list as the return address? Flowers considered that once the cards were delivered they would likely receive more responses from inmates then they could feasibly respond.
“I thought to myself it would be hilarious if we listed Congress as the return address, so that way any inmate correspondence would go straight to legislators. That would really get a public conversation going. I actually did the research to see if I could get in any trouble for using a pseudonym along with Congress’ address,” Flowers said.
Flowers eventually decided against it. She realized the same intended result could be achieved by expanding the project and sending the same “You Deserve Love” message directly to Congress.
“Congress also needs to be reminded of their dignity and worth. I’m sure they get lots of hate mail. Maybe sending them a Valentine will get a public conversation going. Maybe it will just a make some lowly staffer’s day. Either way, we’ve shared the good news.”
The You Deserve Love project is based out of Good Shepherd Church of the Brethren in Blacksburg, Va., and is supported by the Death Row Support Project and On Earth Peace. The project is accepting donations through the Good Shepherd congregation to cover postage for the greeting cards as well as printing costs.
For more information, visit www.gofundme.com/you-deserve-love .
— Claire Flowers is a prison justice community organizer for On Earth Peace.