BLACKSBURG – Almost 3,000 death row inmates across the country have begun to receive Valentines bearing a local preschooler’s art and message – “You deserve love no matter what."
Blacksburg 4-year-old Otto Waggener designed the card with his simple message in October to send to his mother’s friend, Marvin, who is incarcerated on death row. HIs mother,Claire Flowers, said the pair had been browsing a local toy shop where they spotted a 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.
Flowers said she 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. That night after dinner, Otto’s mom asked him to decorate a card for Marvin using his own art and words instead of those on the promo card. The result: “You deserve love no matter what."
Inspired by her son’s message, Flowers said she began to wonder what might happen if all prisoners on death row received such a love note from a child. The “You Deserve Love” project was born.
The You Deserve Love project is physically based out of the Good Shepherd Church of the Brethren in Blacksburg, and is supported by On Earth Peace and the Death Row Support Project.. Volunteers from around the country provided postage as well as time and relevant skills in order to ensure the valentines were mailed in time to be received by inmates.
“We have already received confirmation that the last batch of cards we sent are being received by inmates in Florida” Flowers said. “We’ve also started receiving correspondence from the inmates we mailed in our first batch a couple of weeks ago. We’ve received artwork, poetry, songs, greeting cards, faith testimonies and personal, heartfelt stories. Some inmates are specifically seeking pen pals with whom to correspond.”
Flowers said she does not expect to be able to correspond personally with 2,714 people. “One hope we have is to help facilitate pen pal friendships between people on the outside and people who are inside. People on the inside need healthy social connection and support in order to heal. They don’t get it inside the prisons.”
For more information, visit You Deserve Love’s gofundme website: https://www.gofundme.com/you-deserve-love.