THE ROAD TO HUNTSVILLE / Stephanie Ridings

The Road to Huntsville is a performance lecture that starts off asking why women fall in love with men on death row, and ends up questioning how state execution is ever allowed to happen. Written and presented by Stephanie Ridings, it's the culmination of a research project of hers that began objectively enough but became profoundly personal.

Ridings' position at the beginning of her lecture is clear: she doesn't understand what motivates women to seek out the affection of some of the world's worst criminals. There are several websites devoted to matching up women with incarcerated men, where you can plug in your requirements, including the prisoner's age, star sign, and whether or not they have been sentenced to death. Ridings displays the profile images of some of the men seeking pen pals online, before telling us what they have done. This one is a serial killer, this one is a serial rapist and killer, this one shot his girlfriend and her brother.

Ridings becomes increasingly embroiled in her research, making contact with the sister of a man on death row in Texas. She eventually finds herself in regular correspondence with Jonny, who is awaiting execution after killing a shop worker during a robbery. They strike up a friendship, and Ridings finds she can talk openly to Jonny about her own depression. He listens and understands her in a way that her real-life boyfriend doesn't. As they become closer, the reality of the death penalty starts to hit home. No matter how horrible the crime committed, how can executing anyone ever be just?

Ridings' real life boyfriend asks her if she needs stronger medication, but Jonny writes of love, even marriage. Despite her partner's pleas that she stay at home with him and the cat, she eventually flies off to Texas. Her motives have become fuzzy and unclear, and it's shocking to learn quite how far Ridings goes. By the show's end, Ridings' own behaviour has gone some way in explaining how a woman can become emotionally involved with a man on death row. (HB)

The Road to Huntsville is on at 20.45 at Summerhall until 28 August (not 22nd). See venue for accessibility information -

'In love with a death row dandy':

'Dating a prisoner: What attracts people on the outside to fall in love with convicted criminals?':

Death Penalty Information Center:

US Death Penalty Facts: