Wednesday, October 25, 2006

More Journey updates

Above: Journey of Hope participant Robert Hoelscher, who has been bringing us regular updates on the progress of the Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing, talks to law students at the College of William and Mary.

The latest dispatch (actually, three dispatches) from Robert:

On Tuesday, October 24, Tracy Spirko and I visited two criminology classes at University of Mary Washington taught by Dr. Joan Olson (thank you Joan!). About two of every three students signed the petitions asking for a death penalty moratorium in Virginia. The students (even those at the 8 a.m. class) were very attentive and respectful and asked lots of questions. These classes don't offer a huge block of time to talk. And it would be unreasonable to expect anyone to fully comprehend all sides of a topic they may not have given much thought to. So the best measure I can think of regarding our discussion is simply to ask the class if our information was helpful. Most nod their heads and say it was. To me, that's a successful event. Our host Debbie Simpson arranged dinner for me and Tracy with some very nice members of her church. Again, we are so grateful for the hospitality extended to us.

On Monday, October 23, Tracy Spirko (family member of death row prisoner) and I visited a group of law school students at the William & Mary Law School in Williamsburg. This was a real treat for me because these law students were also forming an innocence project to investigate suspected cases of wrongful conviction. I had worked for five years for innocence projects in Louisiana and Texas. And Tracy's husband John has been claiming his innocence for every day of his 24 years on Ohio's death row. On top of that, to my pleasant surprise, Virginia exoneree Beverly Monroe attended. I met Beverly two years ago at the National Innocence Network Conference in Austin, Texas where she participated in a panel discussion that I organized. Bottom line, a grand time was had by all. After this event, Tracy and I continued on to Fredericksburg, where we would be speaking on Tuesday and Wednesday. We were greeted in Fredericksburg by local activist Debbie Simpson, who served as our host for the next two days. I cannot say enough about the kindness and generosity of Journey activists and volunteers who, like Debbie, have been so important in making this adventure possible.

Sunday, October 22 was another caravan day. We checked out of Richmond and headed to Williamsburg and a noon event with Sister Helen at the William and Mary Catholic Campus Ministry. It was a great crowd (over 150). Sister Helen was introduced by William and Mary President Gene R. Nichol. She gave another rousing performance. Then on we went to Norfolk and our last event with Sister Helen at the Church of the Ascension in Virginia Beach. This was our largest audience (over 400) on the Journey. After this event, we gathered in our hospitality room at the hotel for some personal time with Sister Helen. She regaled us with a few "Boudreaux" jokes from Louisiana. It was a hoot. Time flies when you're having fun. Most of us didn't hit the sack until the wee hours of the morning.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Above: Activist Abe Bonowitz gets a much-needed massage from Journey of Hope participant SueZann Bosler (with an assist from little Isaac Bonowitz!)

Here's the latest posting from Robert Hoelscher as the Journey prepares for its final week:

Saturday, Oct. 21 was rest day. Clothes got washed. And several of us received hairdressing services from family member SueZann Bosler. Mine included an all purpose touch up which left me confident that I was free of unsightly nose hair.

Tonight we gathered at St. Edward's Catholic Church in Richmond for our first major event with Sister Helen Prejean. Before Sister Helen spoke, each JOH participant placed a rose dedicated to a loved one in a vase. This ritual was very powerful and emotional for both the audience and the JOH folks. Tears were in abundance.

Sister Helen was her usual sassy self. The thing about Sister Helen is that she is as
authentic as it gets. Her passion to abolish the death penalty comes from the
depths of her faith and her up close and personal relationships with those affected by the capital punishment. When we were driving back to the hotel, activist Claire (sorry Claire, forgot your last name) recalled the first time she met Sister Helen. "I fell in love with her in about eight seconds." That, indeed, is Sister Helen.

The Ridge Baptist Church is right down the street from our hotel. The sermon tomorrow is "Finding Strength in Broken Places." That is what the Journey of Hope is all about. And from this strength we will defeat the broken death

Monday, October 23, 2006

Halfway home!

Above: Some of the journey crew pose for a group shot after dinner at the Super King buffet.

The Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing continues. Here's the latest report from Robert Hoelscher, Journey participant and campaign coordinator for Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation:

Friday, Oct. 20 was the halfway point of the Journey. We have been to Northern Virginia, Charlottesville, Harrisonburg, Lexington, Roanoke, and now Richmond. At this point we have spoken at over 50 events, to hundreds and hundreds of people, about how the death penalty fails America and doesn't serve victims.

During my morning jog, I ran through a nearby neighborhood. It was a modest, older middle-class enclave of homogeneous brick homes hugged by a forest of towering trees. There were no storm sewers, no curbs, no garages or paved driveways. Flags (Old Glory, Washington Redskins, Virginia Tech) and Halloween pumpkins animated porch fronts. A fellow drove by and waved to me, probably thinking I was a local. I found myself thinking that the fate of the death penalty will be decided in neighborhoods like this one. Maybe we'll see one of these residents this weekend.

At noon a number of us went into downtown Richmond for a Burma Shave/Visibility event. For about an hour, we stood on the sidewalk inviting honks of support from
passing drivers. The honks came steadily. Our informal survey concluded that
most of the responses came from people of color and young people. No real surprise. But maybe our other supporters were just too shy to honk.

Many new family members and others have joined the Journey this weekend. And of course our special friend Sister Helen Prejean will be with us tomorrow for a major event at St. Edwards Catholic Church here in Richmond.

A big pack of us caravaned to dinner at the Super King Buffet. The best damn buffet I've ever been to. We pigged out on an assortment of delightful dishes that included seafood, sushi, and Asian offerings. I did take a pass on the chicken legs, however.

After a week as part of the Journey, I am comforted by the warmth and spirit of this
unique tribe of individuals. This is like an instant family. You meet someone for the first time and you know you are connected in a special way. It's spontaneous friendship. And the joy that these folks express, the affection they have for laughter in spite of the wounds they carry with them, is truly a wonder to behold. If we could bottle what these people have, we really could have peace on earth. And end the death penalty while we're at it.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Kicking it up a notch

Above: Isaac Bonowitz -- Never too young for the Journey of Hope!

Today's Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing blogging continues with Robert Hoelscher's latest report from the road:

Thursday began with most folks moving from Roanoke to Richmond (state capital). Once again, I was privileged to ride with our JOH mascot Isaac Bonowitz and activist mother Beth. Once in Richmond, family member Bud Welch and I headed over to Randolph-Macon College to speak. It was a small but attentive group. Bud's tender story about his daughter Julie, who was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing attack, just gets better with age. His relationship with the father of Timothy McVeigh is a wonderful testimony to the power of forgiveness.

The rest of the JOH brood attended events in Charlottesville, Lynchburg, Roanoke, and Lexington, spreading words of love and reconciliation.

Inside sources tell me that JOH storytellers/family members SueZann Bosler and Christina Lawson are getting JOH tattoos tonight. I have confirmed that each will be
in a region permitting photographs, for which I have exclusive rights.

I must also report that Virginia is an absolutely beautiful state. Just about every road we've been on has offered breathtaking scenery. The trees are thick across the countryside and ablaze in their fall glory.

Tomorrow begins our weekend with Sister Helen Prejean. The JOH is about to "kick it up a notch."

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Journey continues

Above: Robert poses with the high school youth group at Salem Presbyterian Church

Here's the daily Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing installment from Robert Hoelscher, Journey participant and campaign coordinator for Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation:

On Wednesday we packed up in Harrisonburg and set out for Roanoke. I caravaned in the abolitionmobile with JOH co-founder George White, family member Aba Gayle, activist Beth Wood-Bonowitz and her JOH mascot son Isaac (son of Abe
Bonowitz), family member Christina Lawson, and activist Steve "I Sell Music on E-Bay" Louis. We had lunch on the road at the Whistle Stop Cafe. Yes, I had fried green tomatoes. They was yummy.

After we got set up in Roanoke, local VDAP activist Gene Edmunds (thank you Gene!) escorted me to the Salem Presbyterian Church where I visited with a high school youth group. We talked for about an hour in a "living room" setting. I told the story of losing my father at age 7. And how my mother had called the offender's parents just two days after the murder to offer forgiveness. At the end, I asked if our discussion had helped. They all seemed to think it had. One student mentioned
that the most she had really thought about the death penalty was through the
humor of comedian Ron "Tater Salad" White who has a joke about Texas using the
"express lane" for its death penalty. I tried to encourage them always to look
deeply at issues where fellow human beings are involved. I believe they will.

We're having a "debriefing" of the days events in a few minutes. I'm off to check it out.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Cool T-shirt, huh?

Here's the latest installation from Robert Hoelscher, campaign coordinator for Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation and a participant in the ongoing Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing:

Yesterday (Monday, October 16) teams fanned out into Northern Virginia for events at a high school, prison, university, a Catholic church, and on Capital Hill in Washington, DC. I pulled out about 3 p.m. with family member Vera Crutcher and death row family member Tracy Spirko to head to Charlottesville for the night, where we stayed at the home of Democratic activists and JOH supporters Tom and Betty Gallagher (thank you Tom and Betty!). As the evening wound down, I talked for awhile with Tracy, who was on the computer cruising the internet trying to find out whether Gov. Taft of Ohio had issued a reprieve for her husband John, who has an execution date. She went to bed with no answer.

This morning (Tuesday, October 17) Vera, Tracy, Betty and I met with Virginia state delegate David Toscano. David is a staunch abolitionist and spent a gracious hour with us discussing legislative strategies to advance death penalty related issues. It was a good meeting. While we were meeting with David in Charlottesville, the rest of the group "broke camp" in Falls Church and headed to Harrisonburg for the next
phase of the Journey. We drove over to Harrisonburg after our meeting.

This afternoon in our hotel we were treated to massage services donated by a local JOH supporter. One after the other, Journey participants filed into Room 151 for a genuine "ahhhhh" refresher. Boy, did it hit the spot. As I write this, the crew is out doing evening events at James Madison University here inHarrisonburg, the Central United Methodist Church in Staunton, and the Augusta Coalition for Peace and Justice in Waynesboro.

Tomorrow (Wednesday, October 18) looks like a very full day, at the end of which we'll go to Roanoke. I still await my "inaugural" JOH storytelling event, what with group events on Saturday, the cancelled event on Sunday due to bad directions, travel yesterday, and a one-on-one meeting today. I'm looking forward to finally sharing the experience the others are having. Stories are starting to trickle back of tears shed, changing hearts and minds, and other special moments.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Above: Journey of Hope participants kick it off with a march and rally!

Here's the latest update from Robert Hoelscher:

This afternoon, we drove an hour to Manassas in Prince William County, the jurisdiction that produces the most death sentences in Virginia. On the way, we passed a service station with regular at $1.91 a gallon. We observed a moment of silence in celebration of sub-two dollar gas. In Manassas, our group of about 75 marched from the All Saints Catholic Church to the Manassas Peace Pole, where VADP executive director Jack Payton-Travers thrashed the death penalty in Virginia, urging the state to enact a moratorium on capital punishment. Following Jack, Pennsylvania death row exoneree and now Manassas resident Harold Wilson and murder victim family member SueZann Bosler shared their stories and joined in the call for a moratorium. It wasn't the Million Man March, but it was nonetheless a fine start for the Journey of Hope. The good people of All Saints Catholic Church hosted an after-march meal (my third straight with a pasta entree, but hey, I'm not

Monday, October 16, 2006

Day One: Journey of Hope

Pictured above: During an orientation for Journey of Hope participants, Jack Payden-Travers and Connie Watts point to the route the entourage will travel as they make their way across the state.

This is the second in what will be a series of posts from Robert Hoelscher, campaign coordinator for Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation and a participant in the Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing.

Last night I dreamt that I kept going into the wrong rooms - naked - at the hotel where we are staying these first four nights. Five bucks to any shrink (amateur or otherwise) that can translate that piece of "too much information."

This morning while out on a run I was looking for a store to grab some orange juice and a snack bar. No surprise, I find a neighborhood 7/11. There's a million of them of course. But there were only a few dozen in 1961 when my father, the manager of a suburban Houston 7/11, was murdered during a robbery. I've gone into 7/11's a million times since then and rarely associate the visits with my father. But today it felt different. Today I was remembering.

This morning we had our orientation and training session. We started out by being led in song, "break 'em on down these walls between us, break 'em on down."

Then everyone introduced themselves and I saw a glimpse of the power and poignancy of these stories. We not only have murder victim family members, but also family members of death row inmates, and former prisoners who were exonerated from death row. Along with the dedicated activists who are the logistical backbone of this great project. I can sense the magic about to be unleashed.

We leave in about an hour for the kick-off march and rally. I have my Journey of Hope t-shirt and I'm good to go.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Journey of Hope 2006 launches!

The picture above is a bit dark -- it shows Connie Watts, organizer for the Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing. But if you look closely at the table in front of Connie, you can see that Journey participants have their media kits, notebooks, pens, clipboards and other materials they need to take Virginia by storm.

Because tomorrow is Day One of a two-week journey that will culminate with the annual conference of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

From the front lines, Robert Hoelscher, a Journey participant and campaign coordinator for Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation, reports:

Today, I'm on my way to the Virginia Journey of Hope 2006. Every day for the next two weeks, starting tomorrow, murder victim family members opposed to the death penalty will tell our stories at over 100 events across the state. My flight from Austin to Virginia went through Chicago. It was a picture perfect day, bright sun and few clouds. As the plane turned to land at Midway Airport, something caught my eye on the ground below. It was a cemetery. The sun was bouncing off the marble headstones, creating a festival of flickering light. I think of these next two weeks. And how our stories will chronicle a graveyard of death. The thought sits heavy in my chest.

Keep an eye on this space. We'll be blogging the Journey "live," just as often as Robert (and possibly others) can access a computer and send in the stories of their journey.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Tuesday's Focus: Vicki Schieber

We apologize for being a day late with the latest installment in our Tuesday's Focus series. Today we look at the journey of Vicki Schieber:

Vicki Schieber’s daughter, Shannon, was raped and murdered on May 7, 1998 while finishing her first year of graduate school on a full scholarship at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Shannon’s killer was not arrested until 2002. He is serving several life sentences without parole in Colorado and Pennsylvania not only for Shannon’s rape and murder but for 13 other sexual assaults as well.

Vicki and her husband, Sylvester, both Maryland residents, testified in support of a Maryland bill that would extend that state’s moratorium on executions and create a commission to study the way the death penalty is imposed. She also testified in Pennsylvania for the abolition of the death penalty alongside former Illinois governor George Ryan and exonerated former death row inmates, including Kirk Bloodsworth.

She has taught many high school and university classes on abolition, run workshops at state conferences, and published op-ed pieces in newspapers including the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Washington Post. She also has met with and testified before state legislators in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Vicki was vocal in her opposition to the death penalty long before Shannon’s murderer was apprehended. The Schiebers fought the district attorney and the prosecutors to keep the death penalty from being applied to their daughter’s killer.

“The death penalty is against our religion, a belief system in which life is held to be sacred,” she says. “We know that there are many inequities in how the states apply the death penalty. Therefore I believe MVFHR must focus on abolition in the context of its being a human rights issue and work hard to bring the world community of murder victims together to oppose the death penalty in the U.S. I have traveled in many parts of the world and citizens in other countries are appalled at the inequitable application of this sentence in our homeland.”

Vicki, who has spent her career in a variety of financial marketing and management roles, was profiled on “Dateline NBC”, a show which also aired multiple times on Court TV. Her story is part of an NBC film on the death penalty sponsored by the Robert Kennedy Foundation.

She has long been active in leadership positions in non-profits dedicated to literacy and programs for elderly, disabled and low-income residents of Washington, D.C.

Vicki is the recipient of the Fannie Mae Foundation Good Neighbor Award, the Courage in Community Award of the McAuley Institute Board of Trustees and the Exceptional Community Spirit Award from Rebuilding Together of Washington, D.C.

Links to Vicki's journey:

Vickie’s Story: Go to MVFHR Board of Directors for more of Vicki’s story
May Brings Relief for Vicki Schieber: Having suspect in Shannon's killing eases pain this Mother's Day
…Vicki Schieber said: "I have forgiven him
"It would be an insult to our daughter's memory to put another person to death," Vicki Schieber said, "even the murderer of our daughter."
What happened when one state governor declared a moratorium on capital punishment?
Testimony of MVFHR's Vicki Schieber to the U.S. Senate