Tuesday, November 01, 2011

From Hate to Healing (Aba Gayle, Ron Steiner, Sister Helen & Oregonians for Alternatives...)

Aba Gayle holds a photo of her daughter, Catherine Blount, at her Silverton home on Wednesday. Gayle has been able to forgive and befriend the California death row inmate responsible for killing her daughter. (More info on photo below)

Article posted Mon Oct 31, 2011

By Alan Gustafson
Statesman Journal
October 30, 2011

For years, Aba Gayle "lusted for revenge" against the California deathrow inmate who murdered her 19-year-old daughter. But everything changed when she mailed the killer a letter, saying she forgave him. Paying visits to San Quentin prison, Gayle befriended the man she once despised and wanted put to death. As hate gave way to healing, she turned against the death penalty.

Now, the 77-year-old Silverton woman is a leader of a nonprofit Oregon advocacy organization that is seeking to abolish the death penalty here. Even though condemned killers rarely are executed in Oregon, Gayle says it's time for Oregonians to repeal the law that allows state-sanctioned killing. As she tells it, the ultimate punishment should be scrapped because it sucks taxpayer dollars, undermines human values and takes revenge in arbitrary fashion.

"It truly is the ultimate violation of human rights," she said. "It is horrendous to think that when they kill somebody at the penitentiary, they do it in the name of the citizens. I don't want anybody killed in my name." As this state's first execution in 14 years draws near, Gayle and other members of Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty are waging a two-pronged campaign.

First, they are hoping to persuade Gov. John Kitzhaber to stop the planned execution of two-time killer Gary Haugen. Haugen, 49, voluntarily dropped his appeals, and he is tentatively scheduled to die by lethal injection at 7 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem.

Anti-death penalty activists are asking Kitzhaber to commute Haugen's death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Kitzhaber has remained mum about the execution. On a second front, OADP is planning a campaign to ask Oregon voters to repeal the death penalty.

The timing for a potential ballot measure remains "up in the air," said Ron Steiner of Salem, the board chairman of the nonprofit organization. For now, Steiner said, the group is working to "build coalitions" and circulate information about the death penalty through public forums, lectures and newsletters in the news media and on the organization's website.

"When all the facts are known, all the issues are examined, it's very difficult for reasonable people to support a failed public policy like the death penalty," he said.

Activism roots in New Mexico Steiner, 72, worked in television for more than 40 years, starting in sales. He rose to executive positions and ran a couple stations before he became a consultant. His opposition to the death penalty developed in the late 1990s in New Mexico. At the time, he has doing volunteer work at a transitional home for ex-felons.

After listening to a talk by Sister Helen Prejean, author of "Dead Man Walking" and a nationally known critic of the death penalty, Steiner delved deeper.

"I started to study it and it looked ridiculous the way it was set up, so I got involved with the New Mexico coalition to repeal the death penalty in early 2001," he said.

The campaign led to success in 2009, when New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson signed a bill repealing the state's death penalty. Steiner now lives in Salem but divides his volunteer time between causes he supports here and in New Mexico. Since 2003, he has been married to Caren Jackson, a professional photographer and former director of Salem's Riverfront Carousel.

Steiner describes Prejean as a personal hero and role model. "She's indefatigable," he said. "She just goes and goes and goes. When she was here, she was putting in 14-hour days."

Prejean recently spent about a week in Oregon, giving talks in Eugene, Salem and Portland. Steiner introduced her when she spoke to about 200 people at the Salem Library on Oct. 20. Like Prejean, Steiner said he's committed to long-haul advocacy.

Group cites growth With Haugen's potential execution in the news, Oregonians are paying attention to the death penalty, Steiner said. OADP evolved from a previous organization known as the Oregon Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, founded in 1983. The current group has no paid employees, Steiner said.

Money for operations and expenses comes from donations and grants. Steiner described OADP's annual budget as "a low five-figure amount." "If we get on the ballot, obviously, it's going to be a lot more expensive to advertise and get our position known."

Despite limited funding, the organization's list of supporters is swelling, Steiner said. He said the number of religious and secular organizations backing the group has increased from a handful to more than 50. "We're adding them all the time," he said...


Today's report is part of a continuing series of stories about Oregon's death penalty, death row and the planned execution of Gary Haugen, whose execution is tentatively scheduled for Dec.6.

GO here and also save this URL for more... http://StatesmanJournal.com/deathrow

Also see an article in same journal about Sister Helen Prejean's visit to a library audience of 200! (as well as a visit to an inmate writing group.)

GO here

And be sure to visit the compelling site with lots of info on what's happening in arena of the Death Penalty in Oregan: OADP.org

Photo Info: Photographer is Timothy J. Gonzalez / Statesman Journal photographer Evidently, enlarged prints of photos for purchase are available GO here or call The Stateman Journal.

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