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Une grande famille

From time to time, a person with a singular destiny emerges who is to become a beacon for her or his fellow humans. 


Such is the one you are to discover on this website. Roger w. McGowen is his name. 


A person who can write from possibly the worst death row of the United States, « If I have to die on death row, I will at least have shown that one can be happy there» as he wrote to one of my friends; or one who states: « God has a perfect plan for my life » 
after numerous years in what is a place of total desolation, as he wrote to me, such a person seems to have something exceptional to teach us. Which is exactly what has happened. 


Incarcerated for 33 years for a crime we are positive he never committed - including 25 years on death row Texas - Roger has become a teacher and master for hundreds - possibly thousands - around the world. The book of his letters « Messages of Life from Death Row » has changed lives left, right and center since its first appearance in French in 2003. For the main lesson Roger teaches us is that it is not our surroundings, however dire, or the history of our life, however tragic, that determines what we become and whether we reach fulfillment or not, but our inner attitude towards the circumstances of our life. In the remarkable TV documentary on Roger by Swiss producer Nicolas Palley (rewarded in two international film festivals in the USA and Great Britain), he makes these two powerful statements at the beginning of the film: « I made a decision not to allow any outside events determine how I would feel inside me. And that is my freedom and hold on to it» and: « They can only imprison me if I give them my consent and I refuse to give them my consent. »


To talk to Roger is to talk to a man who is freer that the majority of the people you will ever cross in your life. A man who practices unconditional live and forgiveness in a place that drives many inmates to insanity and many others to mutilate themselves sometimes atrociously or even to take their own lives; a man who started blessing his guards - especially those who had behaved terribly unjustly with him - from morning till night. A man who has completely changed the atmosphere of the « pod » (section of the prison) where he is presently « housed » (to describe charitably the tiny 6 by ten foot cell he shares with another inmate). A man who, five years after leaving death row, left such a warm memory behind him that guards requested his lawyer to greet him on their behalf. A man to whom, while on death row, guards would come and confide heir own personal challenges and seek solace from this exceptional being.


I got to know about Roger in 1996, started corresponding with him in 1997, and have visited him very year since then (except one year). His letters were so remarkable that I decided I could not keep them to myself and published them first in French in 2003. In 2006 I founded an international defense committee and readers of his book, viewers of Palley’s film and the French group »The Friends of Roger McGowen » have donated very generously to his cause which enabled us to hire an outstanding lawyer who got him off death row. He has since then received a life sentence with a possibility of parole in 2036. 


The most frequent comment I hear from readers of Roger’s book is: « After having read this book, I will never ever be able to complain». May this also be true for you after reading the enclosed pages, dear visitor to this website. 


« It always seems impossible till it is done » wrote Nelson Mandela (to whom many compare Roger). It seemed impossible to find happiness on death row. Roger showed it is possible. He is a stunning example of Mandela’s statement. It can also become yours.

Pierre Pradervand 

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