I have three daughters: an Australian blood daughter who lives in Florida, and two adopted Korean daughters who live in Chapel Hill. They are all grown now, but the two Koreans are the youngest.
When John Lee came into my life, my younger Korean daughter Katy was antagonistic because she couldn’t understand why I would take up with someone who did something so hateful as to shoot two people, which John Lee must have done because he was on Death Row.
But after a month or so, when I had talked more about his case, and how he had been framed for something he didn’t do, she began to take an interest.
“After a while,” she told me later, “I thought, well, everybody says don’t judge a book by its cover. Read a couple of pages first and then decide whether you like it or not. So I decided, okay, fine, I’ll go with Mom and talk with him.
“That’s when I found out John Lee and I are similar. We like the same kind of music. We have the same kind of humor. We both like drawing, we can do it easily. And when he starts explaining something to me I know what he’s talking about. He doesn’t have to explain in depth. I can get it.
“He can say, ‘You know what I mean?’ And I say, ‘Yes, I know what you mean.’ If he says slang words I know what he’s talking about because when I was in Maryland at high school I had black friends so I learned slang words.
“When I got to know him more, I found that I could talk to him about anything wanted. I had that sort of brotherly connection. Even though he wasn’t a physical brother outside the prison, I could talk to him and write to him about any problem I had.
“He never judges me, but he wants me to learn, to always do better for myself. I say, ‘I can do this,’ and he says, ‘You can also do that.’ “He always wants me to make goals for myself and accomplish them because he knows I can do it and wants me to know that too. He always gives me good advice about stuff and I can count on him to do that.
“I’m not a very patient person, I know that. He said I had to learn to be patient, and I know that too. And I’ve learned to be a lot more patient because of him. He’s made me look at myself, how I am as a person.
“He’s always telling me slow down, take a step back and reflect on what you’ve done, what you’ve said. Don’t always be so on the go with things because that can be a bad thing. You need to just relax, be calm––he’s always about being calm––and look at the things you’ve accomplished. He helped build my confidence.”