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published in acatnews, April 2019

 

«When I tell him what I’m doing, he can be part of it to a certain extent»

How do you maintain a relationship with a partner who is 8000 kilometres away and in prison with a life-sentence?

 

Bernese citizen Simone Thompson explains why she married Larry Thompson of Colorado and what keeps them together.

Interview: Katleen De Beukeleer, ACAT-Switzerland (Translation: Gavin R. Messerli)

 

«Recipient unknown». This was the message Simone Thompson received in return for her first letter to a prisoner in the United States. The man had killed himself.

 

That was in 2014. As a former probation officer, the Bernese had seen and experienced a lot, but that her first correspondence with a US-prisoner would end like that was a heavy setback. Although she initially wanted to end the idea of writing to convicts, two weeks later she clicked on the website Write a prisoner, where interested convicts can introduce themselves, again. And that was when she came across a text which took her breath away.

 

Simone Thompson, which sentence made you send a letter to Larry, one of two thousand potential pen pals?

On Write a prisoner Larry wrote that ever-ongoing cancer of loneliness that kills him, to have no one who is there for him. That sentence moved me to such an extent that I immediately wrote him a letter. I mentioned that I would be there for him. A short while later, I got a seven-page response.  

 

…And it did not last long until it became romantic?

Yes, after about ten letters he asked me to marry him. Three months after our first contact, we got married.

 

Simone Thompson with ACAT-Switzerland-collaborator Dominique Joris (right) visiting Larry Thompson (left) at the "Buena Vista Correctional Facility" prison (Colorado, US), June 2018.

 

Why did you do that?

From the start, I found him to be very charming and loveable. I also felt that he needed help. He had already been engaged fourteen years ago. At the time, he thought would get out of prison. When a new trial was denied, the engagement was broken off.

 

Are you in love?

Yes, then and still today!

 

You could, however, easily be accused of starry-eyed idealism...

Of course I have a social personality quirk. I have placed special emphasis on other’s needs for much of my life. Otherwise, I would not have been a voluntary probation officer for such a long time. Also and certainly, a certain risk-taking propensity has been a factor. It was clear to me that lonely convicts can be totally overwhelming. But I also knew that it would not be worse than with my drug-addicted, now deceased husband.

 

What do you like most about Larry?

His looks. And: he has an unbelievable amount of general knowledge. He has gained his whole education by himself in prison. You can really talk about everything and anything with him. When I wanted to open the fuel tank cap of my cap second-hand for the first time, I could not find the opening lever, neither in the foot well nor on the dashboard. I told Larry, who has never seen a modern car. He told me to look under the seat. And indeed, there was the lever.

 

How can I imagine your contact to Larry?

We talk over the phone two or three times a day. I make sure that I am always at home during the time frames in which he is allowed to make phone calls. We discuss my English course, the neighbourhood, the dogs, relatives, friends, actuality or what’s on TV.

  

Like a normal couple…

Exactly. If I go out he wants to know with whom and where I was. Not because of control issues, but because I live his life, as he says. When I tell him what I’m doing, he can be part of it to a certain extent.

 

But to live the lives of two people is also a huge responsibility for you.

Yes, that is true. But in spite of everything, this relationship gives me more than the one I had with my deceased husband.

 

You make phone calls and write letters. How often have you seen Larry?

I was able to travel to Colorado twice. In total, we have been together for five and a half hours on seven occasions.

 

How did your social environment react to your marriage to Larry?

Some totally supported it from the beginning. A lot of people still think that I am crazy. A relative said: « When he gets out, every day I’ll have to check if you are still alive. »

 

How do you live with such remarks?

In the past, I tried to convince people of his innocence. By now, Larry and I have such strong solidarity that I can only coldly smile when people make angry remarks.  

 

How important is the conviction to you that he is innocently held in prison?

I only came to know that he is innocent after our wedding. He never spoke about that point on his own initiative. Big questions only arose when I began to read tons of files. After having studied the pictures of the victim it was incomprehensible to me how he could have fatally stabbed that man. The victim had no defensive wounds on his hands. When I asked Larry how this could be possible, his answer was:  «The answer is that it was not me.» This realisation was dreadful.

 

Are you sometimes scared that Larry’s love for you is only pretence?

I am not afraid. But it is clear to me that it could be so. Although he said that in the case of his release, he would not be able to do anything else than to thank me for my support, I know: The possibility exists that he will not have anything to do with me any longer. I know how prisoners function and also what it is like when they are free again. 

 

…And what if you separate whilst he is still in prison?

Even then I would continue to help him. Our marriage, those are our emotions. But I can separate those from the injustice which has been laid on Larry.  I will not give up on him in his fight against this injustice.

 

What gives you the strength to live with this injustice every day?

My belief in God is extremely important to me. Even though there are so many disasters in the world that I ask myself if God has closed his eyes. Despite that, it does give stability. This is most of all because Larry and I are on the same page. Sometimes, we pray together whilst on the phone. I of course hope that there is someone up there so that there will finally be justice in our case.

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Simone Thompson (68) is a retired personnel consultant. For a long time, she was also a probation officer in an honorary capacity: she helped ex-convicts in semi-freedom in regards to reintegration issues. Since December 2014, she has been married to Larry Thompson. She lives with her two dogs in Niederwangen, Switzerland.  

 
 

 

In his book «Absolute Innocence», John Dicke tells the story of Larry Thompson (Sinseer Publishing, June 2018).