My Letter

Tuesday, May, 22, 2018

My name is Jill Balogh and I was asked to participate in this project because I am pen pals with a man on NC's Death Row. I have decided to write about what I have learned about death, but more importantly what I have learned about life through this experience.

Four and a half years ago, God placed it on my heart to respond to an article in my church bulletin, St. Francis of Assisi, requesting pen pals for men on NC's Death Row. I was matched with Jason Hurst, a match only God could orchestrate and our pen pal relationship began. I don't know what I expected, but from the first letter I felt a sense of life in his letters, not death. Here was someone making the decision to choose life when the world was choosing death for him.

After about a year of writing, I started visiting Jason about once a month. In June of 2016, phones were installed on Death Row - one per pod of 24 cells - and Jason now calls me about once a week. After a couple of years of writing I agreed to help lead the Pen Pal Ministry at St. Francis and have been blessed on a regular basis with hearing stories of how this ministry is opening people's hearts. I now consider Jason as a brother I never had and the many fellow visitors I run into on my monthly visits as friends.

I have learned and continue to learn so many lessons thru this experience, but I will share a few.

We are each more than the worst thing we have ever done.

What if we each were judged by the worst mistake we ever made? What if we had to pay for it with our life? What if we were never given the chance to be forgiven? To be rehabilitated? To do better? Never given a chance to heal from our addictions? To grow spiritually and morally? To become who God imagines we can be?

There is always a chance for rehabilitation. We are meant to continue growing throughout our life.

I know I am not the person I was when I was in my late teens, early twenties. Many of the men on Death Row committed the crime when they were young and often on drugs or alcohol. Now living on Death Row, they are older, no longer on drugs or alcohol, many have spent the time growing in their faith and seeking ways to help others. I am often touched by stories of how they support each other, their family members, friends, pen pals and others they come in contact with. I have found they are not the monsters they are portrayed to be, but instead they are artists, poets, authors, fathers, sons, husbands, brothers, grandfathers and friends.

Slow down and take the time to enjoy all the life around me.

Disconnect from electronics. Enjoy nature. Spend time with people. Write letters, make phone calls. Meet my neighbors. Go to my favorite places. Don't allow the negative to draw me in. Choose life, love, forgiveness, kindness, compassion, mercy. Be present to and show love to whoever I am with.

I thank God for putting Jason and those that live with him into my life and the lives of my fellow pen pals. For teaching us to choose life over death, love over hate in our daily interactions with others. Who knew four and a half years ago that the men on NC's Death Row, men living daily with the threat of death, could bring me so much life?

I end as Jason and I end all our letters - Peace and blessings, Jill

Jill Balogh, Prison Pen Pal Ministry Leader

This letter is part of the Death Letter Project - North Carolina, a means to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Historic Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh, NC.


Michael Palko