With Love from the Inside focuses on Grace Bradshaw whose time is running out. She’s on death row for the murder of her infant son, and all appeals have been exhausted. Her execution date has been set and she wants her now-married daughter, Sophie, to know the truth about what really happened to her baby brother William.
Sophie hasn’t been in touch with her mother in years. She’s turned her back on her old life, keeping the details of her past hidden, even from her husband and his family. But Grace’s attorney tracks down Sophie and tells her of her mother’s impending execution, which sends Sophie digging into the past to uncover new details about her brother’s death. Will she follow evidence that might exonerate her mother but destroy the new life she’s so carefully constructed? And is her mother the monster the prosecutor made her out to be, or the loving mother Sophie recalls from childhood?
What was the inspiration for your writing With Love from the Inside?
I decided to write the book because of my obsession with TV trials. I began researching women on death row, read their stories, and wondered about their children. I tried figuring out why they ended up on death row. I wanted to explore the entire issue and determine what went wrong in their lives.
Your descriptions of the daily life on death row are harrowing. What kind of research did you do?
I read everything I could about death row. I read interviews with inmates; read books; watched documentaries; and talked to staff members at a North Carolina correctional facility in Raleigh. Death row is a horrific place filled with irony. Inmates are sentenced to death and may sit on death row for decades before being executed. They’re kept in small spaces with very little human interaction. There’s constant cursing; the sounds of toilets flushing; people screaming; and we wonder why the inmates don’t act normally in such a place. It’s especially strange when before an execution, an inmate is put on ‘death watch’ and everything is recorded: how much they weigh; what they eat; what they’re doing. The purpose is to ensure the inmate doesn’t commit suicide. The irony of it is morbidly fascinating.
With Love from the Inside makes clear that factors other than the crime itself can be determinates in prisoners ending up on death row. What are they?
It varies from state-to-state. The Supreme Court has determined that death row is supposed to be reserved for the ‘worst of the worst.’ But you will find the Green River Killer—who executed forty-eight people—got life in prison, whereas Kelly Gissendaner in Georgia, was executed but didn’t even commit the murder herself. Her boyfriend did it. It can be terribly arbitrary, depending upon where you live.
From reading the novel, one must conclude you have thoughts about the death penalty. Tell us about them.
I’m very concerned about inequality in sentencing. In addition to the Green River Killer executing forty-eight people but receiving a life sentence, there’s Richard Glossip, who is currently on death row in Oklahoma. He didn’t actually kill the victim and there’s evidence he may be innocent of the crime for which he’s been sentenced to death. One-hundred fifty-six people have been released from death row because of evidence showing they were innocent. A woman in Arizona, Deborah Milke, spent twenty-three years on death row before having the charges dismissed.
I’m also concerned about people who don’t have the resources to provide themselves with a good attorney. They’re forced to accept court-appointed attorneys who often lack experience in trying capital cases. In my home state of North Carolina, sixteen people, three of whom have been executed, were represented by lawyers who were later disbarred for unethical conduct. While these trials are sometimes viewed by some as ‘sporting events,’ they’re very serious affairs with life-or-death consequences.
With Love from the Inside also focuses on family members of death row inmates. What thoughts do you have about them?
I’m glad you asked that question. When I was researching the novel, I interviewed a woman whose father had been in and out of prison during her entire life. I really got a good look at the life of a child celebrating birthdays and holidays with a parent behind bars. The experience often has a profound impact on children who feel deprived and can also feel the parent’s incarceration is the fault of the child.
Tell us about your path to becoming a published author.
As a little girl, I always wanted to be a writer. During junior high and high school, I grew up in a small town and wrote for a local newspaper, covering sports. I was encouraged to pursue a more practical career and became an occupational therapist. My daughter developed cancer when she was two-years old—she’s doing fine now—and I used that time to start writing again.
Once I’d written With Love From the Inside, I was fortunate to find an agent, and the novel was sold to Putnam within about a month.
What do you feel is the most important lesson you’ve learned about the writing life?
I’ve learned the best reason to write is you gain satisfaction from writing.
For me, writing is a passion. I have to do it. When I’m writing, some part of me comes alive. Personal satisfaction in the process is what’s most important for me. The other thing I’ve learned is perseverance is crucial. You have to learn all the skills needed and never give up if you want to get published.
What’s coming next from Angela Pisel?
I’m working on my second book—a high-stakes family drama with another secret.
Congratulations on writing With Love from the Inside, a poignant novel written with power and grace, which takes the reader on an emotional roller-coaster.