You are here: on tour / Annual Journeys / 2005 Texas / 10-24 Associated Press
Saturday, November 16, 2019

10-24 Associated Press

Victims' families become friends with murderers
Monday, October 24, 2005      

A group that links people on opposite ends of the justice system by opposing the death penalty has also linked some victims' families and inmates in acts of forgiveness, even friendship.
Most Journey of Hope members gather to share similar beliefs of capital punishment; but about half a dozen members have forgiven, even befriended the convicts who killed family or friends.
One such member, Bill Pelke, writes to the woman who murdered his grandmother. He said he finds it therapeutic to share his feelings in letters to the inmate, Paula Cooper.
"With her, I just felt like I could write and share things," Pelke said.
Members met Sunday in church groups around San Antonio. But their goal is not strictly to share a religious message to love their enemies. Member said that executions spread anguish, and forgiveness offers a healthy path of mourning.
However, some grief counselors disagree.
Alyssa Rheingold, a clinical psychologist, counsels relatives of homicide victims at the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center in South Carolina.
She said that many do not feel the need to forgive. They find other ways to cope. Some establish scholarship funds. Others lobby for various policy changes.
Regardless of the religious faith that helped them cope, many members said they're not saints, that they needed to forgive for their own sakes.
Pelke said his opposition to the death penalty should not be interpreted as a call for lesser punishment. Forgiving is not forgetting. He said he believes some killers deserve life without parole. And he was in no hurry to see Cooper released when state courts commuted her death sentence into a prison term that makes her eligible for release in ten years.
"I think she should be in prison, but I hope great things happen to her while she's in there," Pelke said.