Death Row Bloggers Get Help From Victims

PHOTO: Dina Milito, Thomas Whitaker
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Nearly two decades ago, Dina Milito was the victim of a violent crime that forced her to change her name and her hometown. Today, she helps an inmate on death row maintain an online blog.

Milito is not alone. Convicted killers are getting help in publishing their death row prose from a surprising range of people including PhD students to the famlies of their victims.

Inmates aren't allowed access to the Internet for fear that they could use it to communicate with criminal associates to perpetrate additional crimes or exact revenge on people. Without the help of a sympathetic person on the outside, their writings and their thoughts would be locked up with them.

Dina Milito, a mom of two, would seem to be an odd person to be sympathetic to a violent criminal.

"When I was 19 living in a different city with a different name, I was attacked walking home one night," she said. "During my attack, I thought I was going to die. I thought I was going to be killed and so I felt really lucky that I made it through. I felt lucky and relieved."

Milito, a mom of two, did not want to reveal the extent of the assault on her because she hasn't yet revealed her past to her two young children. She said that her attacker is still in prison today.

She said that she began reading books about the lives of inmates and it changed the way she looked at them. About 18 months ago, Milito began exchanging letters with Ronald Clark, a convicted murderer who has been on death row in a Florida prison for 21 years. She was connected to him through the Death Row Support Project, a group that links people to death row inmates seeking correspondence.

"In the beginning, it was just my goal to keep him company, to give him some mail...just to write about my life, my family life," she said. "He considered himself a writer, a poet and felt that he had something to say and we kind of came up with the project."

The project is a blog called The Death Row Poet and the two consider the blog a vessel for his work.

Clark, 43, writes eloquently about everything from what's in his cell to reflective writings about his crimes. One post entitled "My Thoughts on the Death of Ronald Willis" is about the man he is convicted of shooting seven to eight times and leaving in a ditch in 1990. His accomplice, John Hatch, reached a plea deal with investigators in return for testimony against Clark. Hatch was released from prison in 2001.

"It was a cold, calculated, unnecessary and senseless murder that robbed a daughter of her father. I didn't know the man nor his family," Clark wrote on April 4. "I was a fallible young man at his worst."

Inmates are not allowed internet access or access to cell phones so Clark mails his writings to Milito who posts them. A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Corrections said that they are aware of "The Death Row Poet" blog and said that there is no plan to try and remove the site because Clark is not maintaining it himself.

"It's against our rules for them to have an internet site, but they usually say it's not me that's doing it, it's my sister, my aunt, my friends," said Jo Ellyn Rackleff of the Florida Department of Corrections.

If the blog were victimizing someone, then the department would step in, Rackleff said.

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