I will never forget when I met Marie Deans. It was in the summer of 1988 in Albany, New York. A new organization was started that day called SOLACE (Survivors Of Loss Against Capitol Executions).
While organizing for that meeting in Albany of murder victim family members we heard about Marie Deans who was well known for her work with the Southern Coalition of Jail’s and Prisons. Marie had a small ad hoc group of friends around the country and went by the name of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation. We invited Marie to come to Albany. She told us that she had no time to pursue anything much more than friendship and exchanging of information between them. Marie was happy to put her group in with this new group SOLACE and she continued her work with the Jails and Prison project.
Unfortunately because of lack of leadership, SOLACE began to fall by the wayside and at the National Coalition to Abolish the death penalty conference in Washington, DC in 1990 murder victims’ family members took a new direction.
Marie and Joe Engel were honored as Abolitionist of the Year by the NCADP and it was during the conference that Marie talked with Sam Sheppard, Pat Bane, Teresa Mathis and me about going back to the old name of MVFR and her taking leadership on it again. Marie said that since the five of us were the only murder victim families who came to the different conferences we should become the board for MVFR. And like that, the five of us became the MVFR founding board and begin to work on getting our non-profit status. We wanted to become a force in the abolition movement.
About six months later on the TASK March in Texas, I had an idea and shared with Sam and Marie. That idea became the Indiana 1993 Indiana Journey of Hope.
During the Indiana Journey Marie made this statement.
“As we were about to finish the class this young girl raised her hand and said, ‘You have changed my mind. You have got to get around everywhere. You have got to give everybody this message.’“
This is our First, Big, Public: HERE WE ARE FOLK, And We Mean It. It is not the end of our Journey, but it is a coming home. It feels that way to me. This Journey of Hope has got to go on until we reach real justice.”
The 1993 Indiana Journey of Hope put MVFR on the map and that map has gone around the world and back. Renny Cushing, Founder and Director of Murder Victims Families for Human Rights once called me the grandfather of the victims’ movement for abolition.
If that is true, then Marie Deans was truly the Great Grandmother of the victims’ movement.
Marie Deans, Rest In Peace April 2011
Bill Pelke, President Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing