Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Author of -Execution’s Doorstep: True Stories of the Innocent and Near Damned- writes about her journey with JOURNEY
Find choice endorsements and recent web exclusives on the book's website (find the link at end of article) Leslie Lytle: "I expected the Journey would be a gut-wrenching and, perhaps, even depressing experience. It was anything but that. Spending eight days with a group of people for whom generosity of spirit had become a way of life, their survival tool for getting through the day, defines the essence of the Journey of Hope..." (Excerpt from article below)
What do they hope for? Find Leslie's answer and links to her book and more by reading this moving piece in full below...
LOCAL ACTION and beyond...
The Journal of the Cumberland Center for Justice and Peace,
Winter 2008 Volume 13, Number 3
Journey of Hope: From Violence to Healing By Leslie Lytle
Journey press conference at the Montana capitol. The Montana legislature came within one vote of abolishing the death penalty in 2007. The current Death Penalty Study Commission in Tennessee is the first step to introducing abolition legislation in our state.
On October 3, I joined with four vanloads of folks—more than 40 people in all—setting out from Helena, Montana for a whirlwind tour of the state. What did these individuals have in common? For most, tragedy—men and women whose loved ones had been murdered in senseless violent crimes; the niece of a man murdered in legal homicide by the state; two women with family members on death row, struggling to prove their innocence in a court system that refused to give credence to the actual killers’ confessions; and five men who once stood on execution’s doorstep, innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted, and came within days of death.
Soft spoken and gentle in manner, Shujaa Graham would train his eyes on the floor when he talked about how he learned to recognize whether or not he was in for “a beatin’” by differentiating among the bootsteps of the guards tramping down “the row”—death row.
Hands stuffed deep in his pockets, Greg Wilhoit’s “awe shucks” attitude,lent a humorous flavor to his death-row account—“I believed in the death penalty. I was innocent. The other people in there were bad,” Greg jokes. But after a few weeks, he made friends with the man in the cell “next door.” Gregg stuffs his hands deeper in his pockets and looks out over the tops of heads in the crowd gathered to hear him speak, “They killed him—it didn’t accomplish anything.”
The eight-day Montana tour marked the annual Journey of Hope, which originated in 1993 largely through the efforts of Bill Pelke whose diligence and compassion stopped the execution of the teenager who murdered his grandmother. A collaboration between murder victim family members and death row exonerated, the Journey visits a different state each year, making presentations at educational institutions, churches, and civic venues—for the Montana tour sponsoring nearly 50 events.
Many of the Journey members have participated in every Journey tour since 1993. An angelic aura surrounds Marietta Jaeger-Lane whose seven-year-old daughter was kidnapped and murdered during a family camping trip. A year passed before Marietta knew her daughter’s fate. At the peak of her rage,Marietta realized that her hate would destroy her and her family, and she began to pray for her daughter’s abductor, that he would have a good day, catch a “big one” if he went fishing, and that he would be happy and gentle with “Susie.” Eventually, he phoned her. Marietta first asked about her daughter and then asked him, “What can we do for you?” The man broke down and wept.
All of the murder victim family members on the Journey had opposed the execution of the individual who murdered their loved one, yet in many cases, the executions were carried out in spite of their protests. None of them experienced “closure” from this second killing.
Journey members David Kaczynski and Bill Babbitt told parallel stories—both men turned in their brothers to law enforcement officials. “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski killed three people and maimed many more. Viet Nam War veteran Manny Babbitt suffered a psychotic flashback and assaulted an elderly woman who subsequently died of a heart attack. Ted was rich, white, and held a PhD in mathematics. Manny was poor, black, and dropped out of school in the seventh grade. Ted Kaczynski received a sentence of life without parole. Manny Babbitt was executed on his 50th birthday. David and Bill have become like brothers and routinely travel and speak together, telling a story that is larger than them both.
Sujah Graham and Juan Melendez, death-row exonerated, and Delia Meyer-Perez, whose innocent brother is on Texas’ death row, share sympathetic nods as they listen to Bill Babbitt speak.
I was invited to join the Montana Journey of Hope because two of the journey members were featured in my recently released book, -Execution’s Doorstep-, which tells the stories of five men wrongfully sentenced to death. I expected the Journey would be a gut-wrenching and, perhaps, even depressing experience. It was anything but that. Spending eight days with a group of people for whom generosity of spirit had become a way of life, their survival tool for getting through the day, defines the essence of the Journey of Hope.
What do they hope for? They hope that one day the nation will join them in understanding that the death penalty fails the guilty, fails the innocent, fails the victims of violent homicide, and fails each and every citizen of this country who wants to live in a just and compassionate society. I suspect that would be most of us.
Leslie Lytle is the Executive Director of CCJP. To learn more about her book,
- Execution’s Doorstep: True Stories of the Innocent and Near Damned -
Click this link for fuller article with more photos:
Posted by CN at 6:56 AM