Michael Skakel Speaks from Prison Cell

05/01/2003 AT 03:02 PM EDT

Michael Skakel's brother Stephen and sister Julie make the journey every week to the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, Conn, PEOPLE exclusively reports in its latest issue.

But the person who the Kennedy cousin -- now serving 20 years to life for the bludgeoning death of his onetime neighbor, 15-year-old Martha Moxley, in her family's Greenwich yard on Oct. 30, 1975 -- says he would like to see most, his 4-year-old son George (with ex-wife Margot Sheridan), hasn't come to visit.

The family believes it would be too upsetting for the youngster. And that is the punishment Skakel, 42, says he finds hardest to bear.

In a series of written answers to questions posed by PEOPLE (his first lengthy communication since his conviction last June), Skakel, who maintains his innocence, says that from his first day behind bars he wept to God for mercy for himself and his son. "I did that every day," he said. "I do that still."

From his prison cell, Skakel paints a family portrait of people who were as dysfunctional as they were wealthy. He says that when his mother, Anne, became ill with brain cancer in 1968, when he was 8, he was told instead that she had eaten some "bad shellfish."

Later, he says, he was staggered when he saw she had lost her hair and gained a great deal of weight from the medical treatments. "I asked someone, 'What happened to her hair?' I was told it was 'bad' shampoo," he writes. "I stopped using shampoo (because) I did not want to look like my mom."

When his mother finally succumbed to the cancer in 1973, the news came as a complete shock. Skakel says his father, Rushton Sr., an aloof and imperious man, simply announced to the seven kids one day, "Well, you know what happened, she's dead!"

Recalls Michael: "I was so stunned I could not get out of my seat. When everybody left, I screamed."

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