Angela Saldanha doesn't care why a person is in jail -- she just wants to be a positive voice in their lives.

The Ontario resident has been writing letters to prisoners for more than two decades. She began by writing letters for Amnesty International and Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) to heads of states asking for the release of prisoners and for the end to torturous treatment of inmates.

"That came about because I had a friend who was friends with a chaplain in Illinois and he told her about the loneliness of prisoners -- guys who'd been locked up for months and years, abandoned by their families and rejected by their friends," Saldanha says.

"They go for long, long periods of time without even seeing a visitor or (receiving a) phone call or a letter and it's just awful."

Hearing that, it didn't take long for Saldanha to put her hat in the ring as a letter-writer.

"I'd been writing letters all my life, so I thought, 'I'll write to somebody.'"

That's when she met Peter.


A former death-row prisoner in Chicago, Illinois, Peter is the longest correspondent Saldanha has kept in touch with and one of two inmates Saldanha regularly writes.

In her first letter to him, Saldanha sent Peter a Christmas card and introduced herself.

"Having decided I'd write, I suddenly wasn't sure what I should say," Saldanha recalls.

Saldanha told Peter she'd been born in England and raised in India, moved around throughout her life and eventually wound up in Ontario.

"Wow, that sounds like a United Nations roll-call," Saldanha says Peter wrote back.

It was the start of a long-lasting friendship. Saldanha asked Peter what it was like being on death row, where he'd been for about a decade, since his early 20s.

After a few years of back-and-forth, Saldanha remembers Peter telling her that the outgoing governor of Illinois might possibly commute his sentence to life in prison without parole. She and Peter continued to write as Peter waited to hear whether he would remain on death row.

"I almost wish they'd just go ahead and execute me, I can't stand all this waiting around," Peter told Saldanha at one point during those months.

"I just accept him as a fellow human being. He's fallen from grace as we all have." -Angela Saldanha

"That's not the way you should be thinking," Saldanha wrote back. "You don't live life in chunks of 10 or 20 years."

Peter responded that the thought of being in prison for the next 20 years wasn't any better to him than being put to death within that time.

"You live life one day at a time, and see how it goes," Saldanha encouraged Peter.

A practicing Buddhist, Peter wrote back thanking Saldanha for the reminder, which is a basic tenet of the religion.

Peter told Saldanha that each day, he practices metta, a meditation where he wishes kindness towards others. Over the past two decades in prison, he has done this and tells Saldanha he now has nobody he feels any animosity towards in his life.

For Saldanha, who is Catholic, it is also a faith-based reminder.

"I understood, doing this every day, if you pray (I don't know if they call it praying) with a sincere heart, you wish them well every single day, eventually you come to believe that."

Saldanha says this is part of a change she's seen in Peter over the past 20 years of correspondence, as they've gotten to know each other, shared their beliefs and thoughts and told each other about their families.

"I've just come to see him, on the whole, as being a very decent, good person," she says. "It's hard to put into words."


Donny is the second prisoner Saldanha feels privileged to correspond with regularly. Also in Illinois, Saldanha describes him as a poor, Black man who has little by the way of education. The two have written for the past six or seven years.

Those factors have not made life in prison any easier for Donny, Saldanha says.

"He has hope, faith in God," Saldanha says, explaining Donny gave his life to Christ during his time in prison.

"He got baptized in a water trough in the prison yard," Saldanha says.

Saldanha says faith seems to be very significant to Donny, who frequently quotes scripture in his letters and tells Saldanha he reads his Bible daily.

But Donny struggles with being in prison, too, sharing with Saldanha many things about his personal struggles in confidence through their letters.

Donny tries to have hope, however and tells Saldanha about how he prays for the guards at his prison. She says he's tried to have talks with the prison chaplain about putting together a small Bible study but has apparently been put off many times.

"It's such a long process ... you've got to submit a written request and all sorts of time-wasting nonsense," Saldanha explains.

Fallen from grace

Unlike many who might find it interesting to correspond with prisoners, Saldanha wants to know very little about the crimes that put those she writes with behind bars.

"I made it clear I was not interested," Saldanha says. "I said, whatever he did, that is between (him) and his victim or victims, and God. And also, I suppose, a judge and jury. But it is not my decision. I don't want to know; it doesn't matter to me."

Saldanha says she doesn't feel it is her place to know.

"With my vivid imagination, I might start seeing whatever it was happening when I sat down to write and that might colour my writing or my view of him," she explains. 

"As it is, I just accept him as a fellow human being. He's fallen from grace as we all have."

Letter-bound lessons

From the beginning, Saldanha has always expressed to the inmates she corresponds with that she prays for them regularly.

It's from a position of faith and humility Saldanha writes to Peter and Donny, sometimes multiple times a week.

"I can see forgiveness; Donny willing to pray for his guards and Peter sending out metta to people that he did not like," Saldanha says.

"I think I've gained a lot, learning from Peter his resignation and acceptance and how he's sort of moving forward. He's also determined to be the best person he can be, knowing he's never going to get out of there alive."

In her letter-writing, Saldanha has grown passionate about the ministry of corresponding with inmates. It's a practice she hopes to continue for years to come and hopes others will consider taking part in, as well.

"There must be tens of thousands of people worldwide who would love a letter," she says.