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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

10-18

Good Morning All! We hail from Houston, Texas this morning. Governor left us yesterday for Kamp K-9. It was a great facility and I believe he will have a great time.
We arrived to a greet a big group of murder victims families last night. Although Abe knew most everyone, it was exciting for me to meet so many people I've seen in movies and read about in books. We began the evening by introducing ourselves and giving a brief introduction. I hadn't prepared myself for the amount of sadness that most of the Journey participants have suffered. Although I had heard or read about most of them, hearing their story in person is much more moving. I spent most of the time in tears.
As I chronicle this journey, I thought I would try to focus on one person per day and help you to get to know them. I had not heard the story of a woman named Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins. Her sister, her sister's unborn child and her sister's husband were murdered by a teen who just wanted to see what it would be like to kill someone.
Jennifer told of how her sister lived long enough to see her husband and unborn child murdered and then eventually bleed to death. As she lie dying, she traced a heart in the blood above her husband's head.
This, according to Jennifer, is the reason for her opposition to the death penalty for this killer. Even having watched all of that, the last thought her sister had was of love for her family. Having just had a baby and having a very excited sister, who shared our joy, I can't imagine the pain Jennifer has suffered. Yet, like all of these people, she is a bubbly woman filled with joy. Forgiveness for her seems to be an elixir. She is scheduled to speak at a synagogue with Abe this morning and I look forward to getting to know her better.
More Later . . .

10-19

Hi All!
This is our last day in Houston. The accommodations here have been fantastic. This hotel has the best free breakfast buffet that I have ever seen. They have it all and it is fresh, hot and delicious. The Drury is, according to other veteran Journeyers, the best place they've ever stayed.
Yesterday, our team began the day at Thoreau Unitarian Universalist Church here in Houston. Our team included two sisters, Bess Klassen-Landis and Ruth Andrews. Their mother was murdered in 1969.
Although Ruth has joined the Journey before, this was Bess' first time. She surely didn't seem like a first timer, as she mesmerized the audience with her Prarie-home like talk of her utter devastation at the loss of her mother. We learned in Ruth's talk that their 11 year old sister came home to find the naked body of her raped and murdered mother. Ruth and Bess were spared the sight because their sister called authorities before they arrived home. Bess was 13 years old at the time and Ruth was 16. Two days later, their father told the girls that they needed to put on a brave face for the rest of the community. However, Bess tells how her brave face only covered her fear of continuing to live in the house and in the community where her mother had met such a brutal end. The murderer was never caught and several of the suspects continued to live in her neighborhood. She tells how her world stopped yet everything else continued on unabated.
But, despite this brutality, she is sure that her mother's love and legacy should not include revenge and retribution. She believes that love and hope are the only answers to violence. She ended her speech with a song she had written for children. I was struck by how joy, beauty and creativity were a hallmark of Bess. Despite the tragic loss of her mother, her legacy lived on in the inner beauty of this daughter. She so moved Abe and I that we suggested that she speak at the evening event. She again gave an amazing talk.
The evening event was at a Catholic Seminary here in Houston. Sadly, the event was not well-attended. A myriad of reasons were given including publicity and the baseball game. In addition to Ray Krone and Bess, Bud Welch and Shujaa Graham spoke -- more on them later. Those that did not attend really missed a thought-provoking evening.
We had to say goodbye to Ruth, Bess and Sue Norton, who were only able to attend for the weekend.
I'm excited to hear Tracy Spirko speak today -- I'll give you the details of her talk tomorrow.

“People ask me, ‘What gives you the right to preach about the death penalty?’” said Jeanette Popp, a Journey of Hope member. “I’m the granddaughter of a murderer. I’m the third cousin of a murderer. I’m the cousin of two murder victims. I’m the cousin of a person missing, presumed dead. I’m the mother of a murder victim. I’m the niece of a murder victim. I’m the niece of a murderer. I’m a woman who saved the life of her daughter’s killer, and I’m the accessory to over 900 executions. In the state of Texas, I am no stranger to death.”
Popp’s daughter was a manager of an Austin restaurant in 1988 when she was found lying naked on the floor at 11 a.m. She died shortly after. Two men were apprehended and tried.
In 2000, Popp learned another man had confessed to her daughter’s murder while the other two men were still incarcerated. After meeting with her daughter’s murderer, Popp sent a plea to the public, begging the district attorney to drop the death penalty case against him.
“He confessed because he’d converted to Christianity,” she said. “Don’t stain my daughter’s memory with his blood. I am a Catholic, and my God said we shall not kill. When Cain killed Abel, [God] did not kill him, he banished him.” 

10-20

We didn't arrive in Dallas until 12:30 Central time. It was 2:00 am before we were organized and ready to sleep so I'm moving a little slowly today.
We spent our day in Bryan, Texas. We were traveling with Felicia Draughon and her beautiful daughter Alivia. Felicia's brother, Martin in on Texas' death row for a murder he did commit. She told of being 16 years old when she found herself attending the trial of her brother. She was told it was a capital trial but she didn't know what that meant or really understand the severity of the charge. She talks of her utter disbelief when they found her brother guilty of capital murder. Although he did shoot the gun, it wasn't at a specific person and he didn't deserve capital murder. The victim was killed by a ricochet bullet - a fact that was hidden by the prosecution.
She reports how her mother staggered from the room and collapsed on the floor. Felicia says that she can still here the haunting sound of her mother's head slapping against the floor. Felicia says that she doesn't always feel like she has a "story" because for her there is no end -- her brother currently sits on death row in Texas. In fact, she spent time with him just prior to the Journey. She has been devastated by having a family member just waiting for the state to kill them. She told the audiences about her brother's life of 23 hours of solitary confinement and that he NEVER gets to go outside. She would give anything just to touch her brother again. We spoke at a University and then were interviewed for a radio program. The interview was recorded and will be aired later. Then we went to dinner with a group of folks from the local abolition groups and churches.
More Later . . .

10-21

We had the definite pleasure of seeing Rick Halperin at his University, SMU. He opened the session with an overview of the death penalty situation in Texas. As we approach the unfortunate 1000th execution in the modern era (Rick predicts that we will hit this milestone in November of this year), he notes that about one-third of those executions occurred in Texas. Surely, this gives one pause to wonder. As it obviously isn't the truth that Texas simply has the most "worst of the worst" and their free use of the death penalty hasn't reduced their crime rate to well below that of other states in the Union, it obviously points to the fact that the death penalty is geographically unfair. Where you live can affect whether you live or die! This is certainly not equal justice.
In addition to Rick, Bud Welch spoke. You may or may not know that Bud Welch has a daughter, Julie Welch, who was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing. He begins his speech by telling the audience about Julie. She brought a stuffed animal to college but when Bud tried to put it in her cart, she threw it back in the car and said, "Don't put the damn bear in the cart."
Later she slipped the bear onto the cart covered with a towel. She later discovered that other freshman brought their stuffed animals but Bud took to calling it damn bear after that incident. Damn bear was buried with Julie. Julie loved languages and traveling abroad, so she got a job in the Federal building. The morning of the bombing, she was escorting a client to her office when the bomb went off. If she had been in her office, she might not have died, but as she was out and about, she was killed. Bud says that prior to all of this, he was against the death penalty. But after he lost his beautiful girl, he just wanted the men responsible to die. It was only after he met with Tim McVeigh's father and sister that he came to know that Tim's father was a victim of his son's crime as much as Bud was a victim of the crime through the loss of his daughter. He knew then that killing another would bring pain not healing. Like so many stories, I wept for the sorrow and pain this man carries every day.
More Later. . .

10-25

Today was a travel day. We left our Dallas home in the morning and traveled to San Antonio. During our Dallas time, there were several groups traveling around the State. All of the other groups traveled to San Antonio today as well. It was good to be together again. The San Antonio activists welcomed us with a delicious Texas dinner.

Yesterday, I drove Walt Evertt and his wife Nancy to an event at a Catholic church in McKinney, Texas. Fr. Greg and his team warmly greeted us and were most gracious. Fr. began the evening by boldly reminding the audience that the church opposed the death penalty. Then, Beverly McKay, a parishioner of that Parish, told her story. Her brother was on death row but within 48 hours of his extermination, they received a reprieve. The reprieve led to a life sentence. She is very grateful that her brother is alive. She expressed the loneliness and isolation that her family felt. We encouraged her to join the Journey!

Our second speaker was Walt Everett. Walt is a retired Methodist minister. His son, Scott, was killed by a man named Mike. He told us that in the beginning, he felt mind-numbing grief and terrible anger about the loss of his son. He repeatedly asked God for direction but felt he wasn't receiving an answer. Then, he went to the sentencing and heard Mike apologize for his crime. He felt moved to write Mike a letter outlining the pain Walt had suffered. After he wrote this letter, he felt able to work for the first time since the day that he learned of his son's murder. Mike wrote back and eventually asked Walt to visit. Walt reluctantly began the process. He hoped the prison would say no to a visit but they said yes. He reluctantly did visit Mike. Again, as on the day of the letter, he felt a little healed. He and Mike developed a relationship over time. Then, the day for Mike's parole hearing came up. Mike asked Walt if Walt felt that Mike should be freed. Walt felt that Mike was ready to return to society and agreed to share that with the board. Because of Walt's testimony, Mike received an early parole date. Mike holds a job and has become a productive member of society. In fact, Mike and Walt have often spoken together, though not at the Journey. Walt feels that the death penalty erases the hope that a person can be reformed and re-enter society. He knows that reconciliation and forgiveness did not just help Mike but it set Walt free.