“The big prejudice about women who date men on death row in the US, that they’re a little crazy, is quite understandable. But if you get to know these women a little better and you look at them with an open mind , you can also see that their love is also beautiful and sincere. They’re not crazy.”
Death Row in Texas
Eva Julia Manneke learned that lesson from her own documentary about such women, Death Row Angels. On a daily basis, she makes TV productions and commercials for presenter Beau van Ervan Doren’s production company. She has now made her first full-length documentary. In the film, which can be seen on the streaming service Amazon Prime Video from next Friday, she and three women visit their condemned partners.
And: in the film, she meets her pen pal Clinton for the first time, who at the time was still ‘on death row’ in a prison in the US state of Texas.
How is that exactly? Eva Julia: “I have corresponded with Clinton since 2016. I had seen him in the documentary Code Rood by director Jessica Villerius. His story touched me because all sorts of things had been handled completely wrongly in his trial. He was convicted of committing two murders, but I was, and still am, convinced of his innocence. I wrote him a letter.”
Shocked by letter
This was, she says now, a rather impulsive act. “I’m always interested in things that are far from me. When I got a letter from him, I was quite shocked. I thought: what have I done? But then I had to do something about it.”
Her own story differs from the other three women in her film. They cherish feelings of infatuation for the condemned. This does not apply to Eva Julia herself. “It’s never been more than a kind of friendship to me.”
Eva Julia gave Clinton “space to tell her story.” She wrote an average of one letter a month. Usually about everyday things. “I wanted to help him. And I think he’s a nice guy.”
In love with a death row
Still, here lies the seed of Death Row Angels, she says. “For me, falling in love was never a problem… but still, every time you receive a letter like this… I could imagine how other women in this situation get carried away. This is how the idea came about: I wanted to hear from such women, how they are going to be in a relationship with a death row.”
Eva Julia got in touch with three women: Agnes, a Flemish woman who has written with several men on death row for thirty years. She considers one of them, James, to be her ‘soulmate’.
The other woman is Mirjam, who lives near Nijmegen. She meets her fiance Leonard for the first time in the film. The third woman is Nadine, French from Paris, who is married in Texas to a man she will never be able to physically touch: “In Texas, there is no possibility of contact visits. She can only see him behind glass.”
According to Eva Julia, there is a big difference between women who feel a genuine crush, and ‘in roles’, and ‘kind of groupies’ who find it exciting to be in a serious criminal spotlight. “The women in my film have fallen into it. It’s still not very easy to understand their motives, of course, why you choose such a life, but I understand them much better after making the film. It has helped me. took a for a while, but I now believe in their love.”
Free on bail
She experienced her own meeting with Clinton as “unsettling.” “It’s very exciting to enter such a maximum security prison. I had a meeting with a kind of friend. It was also a farewell, because I didn’t want to be visiting all the time. Also, I had to interview him for the film. And all that in an hour. It was emotionally quite heavy.”
Her distrust of Clinton’s conviction is not unfounded: American prosecutors have decided that the hearing of his trial must be repeated because a lot went wrong the first time. He is currently free on bail. It is not yet known when the case will be heard again.
She is still in contact with him, but ‘at an appropriate distance’.