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Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Journey of Hope… From Violence to Healing, Seeks Support, Participation

By: Abe Bonowitz

    At this time in our nation’s history, with the pace of executions skyrocketing, strong voices against the death penalty are needed more than ever before.  Abolitionists who have encountered the Journey of Hope…From Violence to Healing (The Journey) know that nothing is stronger than the voices of family members of homicide victims speaking out against state killing.
    The Journey is led by murder victims’ family members who publicly share their experiences of moving from pain and anger, even hatred, through a process of reconciliation.  Because it is billed as victims’ families sharing their stories, opportunities to speak in schools, religious settings, through the media, etc., because much easier to seek and obtain.  The Journey puts a spotlight on individuals who tell their stories full of personal pain, hope and courage.  The twist is that the speakers discuss their experience in a context, which frames the issue of the death penalty not only as a bad public policy, but also as a very real detriment to the process of healing and reconciliation.
    Part of the Journey involves the joining of murder victims family members with people who have kin on death row.  (Families of prisoners who have been executed are counted among the murder victims’ family members).  Also vital to this mix are death row survivors as well as supporters and activists who can bring the pragmatic issues to the discussion outside of the emotional context of a personal or family tragedy.
    Everyone who encounters the Journey gets moved in some way.  People who thought they were for the penalty re-evaluate their opinion.  Some stand up right there in the meeting and tell about their change of heart, while others seek out an individual to speak with privately after the event is over.  Family members of murder victims and family members of people in prison speak feely, having found a safe and supportive environment of unconditional acceptance.
    The brainchild of NCADP board member Bill Pelke, the first Journey of Hope was held in Indiana in 1993.  Over 30 murder victims’ family members were joined by hundreds of other abolitionists from around the world.  During the 17 day event, teams comprised of victims’ family members and activists well versed in the issues of the death penalty spoke at the 175 events including public marches and rallies, churches, schools, colleges and numerous other venues.  The Journey garnered front-page coverage across the state, reaching millions of people with the message that moving “from violence to healing” is possible without the death penalty.  The event in Indiana was such a success that Ed Weir of New Hope House in Georgia invited the Journey to Georgia in 1994.  In 1995 the Journey went to California and in 1996 the Journey was held in Virginia.
    All four Journeys were sponsored and coordinated under the auspices of Murder Victim’' Families for Reconciliation (MVFR).  The Journey has now gone to a new level.  When Bill Pelke retired from Bethlehem Steel in 1997 after 30 years service, he incorporated the Journey of Hope…From Violence to Healing as an independent non-profit organization.  As a separate organization, but walking hand in hand with MVFR, the Journey of Hope…From Violence to Healing, INC, will hold its annual two-week event in Texas from May 29th to June 14th, 1998.  Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ, will be with us as our spiritual advisor June 9-14.  On Saturday, June 13th, Sister Helen will lead a march to the State House in Austin, the capital of Texas.
    After the Texas event, the Journey will be moving throughout the nation.  From Texas, we work our way through Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama and Tennessee to the annual Fast and Vigil at the United States Supreme Court.  There will be an annual two-week event in Tennessee in 1999 and Maryland (proposed) in the year 2000 but between those events the Journey can be anywhere and everywhere.
    Those who already oppose the death penalty, particularly those who participant in planning and implementation of a Journey event, are also influenced.  They become stronger in their knowledge about the issue and in their commitment to this important struggle.  They also find themselves with new tools to use in their role as anti-death penalty spokespersons.  Once an activist has heard a victim’s family member tell their story a few times, they can begin to retell it, using the story as a concrete example to strengthen an argument on any one of the myriad issues which commonly come up during our outreach work.
    Mark your calendars and plan to attend all or part of the Texas Journey from May 29th to June 14th, 1998.  For further details, and for information about scheduled the Journey to come to your area, please contact the Journey of Hope…From Violence to Healing, INC at 918-743-8119, P.O. Box 50293, Tulsa, OK. 74150.  Resource: Lifelines (NCADP)

After the Texas event, the Journey will be continuously moving throughout this nation.  From Texas the Journey will work its way through Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Ohio to the annual Fast & Vigil at the U.S. Supreme Court, and from there into New England. There will still be an annual two week event, including Maryland in
1999 and Tennessee in the year 2000, but between those events the Journey can be anywhere and everywhere.  Please contact us to learn when the Journey will be in your region of the country and to schedule the Journey to come to your city or state.

Please mark your calendar and plan to attend all or part of the Texas Journey from May 29th to June 14th, 1998.  For further details, please contact the Journey of Hope... From Violence to Healing, Inc. at:
P.O. Box 950
Portage, IN 46368

By Abe Bonowitz
National Coordinator
The Journey of Hope... From Violence to Healing(tm), Inc.
Abraham J. Bonowitz is co-director of Citizens United for
Alternatives to the Death Penalty and serves as a member of the board
of directors of the U.S. section of Amnesty International