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Thursday, May 28, 2020

Chapter 1

Letters from John Carroll Catholic High School Birmingham, Alabama

The 2012 Alabama Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing started on January 5th and ended on February 6th.  On January 18 from 7:50 am – 2:30 pm, I spoke to five classes at John Carroll Catholic High School in Birmingham.  Mike Bouton was the teacher who arranged my talks at John Carroll, and two days after my presentations he sent an email message to Shelley Douglass.  
Shelley was the one who called me on behalf of Justice and Mercy (JAM) to inquire about Alabama hosting a Journey of Hope. She did most of the organizing, much of the driving, some of the speaking, and hosted me the majority of my time in Alabama. She was a real inspiration to me. The Alabama Journey of Hope was a great opportunity to make an impact in a death penalty state.   
Shelley forwarded Mike Bouton’s email to me: 

I can't thank you enough for making the arrangements to have Bill speak.  The kids and I were riveted.  I am still trying to figure out a way to compensate him.  So many of our kids are not pro-death penalty, but are rather lukewarm because it isn't in their reality.  It made a strong impact.
Mike Bouton

Wow, something like that is really nice to hear. Mike, your words are my compensation. On February 13th I picked up mail at the Journey of Hope Post Office Box in Anchorage for the first time since I returned home from Alabama Journey of Hope. There were checks from Tom & Jeanette Block and Leslie Lytle (past Journey participants and donors), a booklet from the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, a large white envelope from John Carroll Catholic High School, and several other items. The white envelope contained evaluations from Mike’s students.  Mike included the following note to introduce the students’ writings: 

Dear Bill,
Hope you are resting from your grueling schedule. 
Thanks again for your insightful and moving talk. The evaluations speak for themselves.  I’ve taught for years and have never read such glowing evaluations. 
Thanks for coming to Alabama and sharing your story.  You’ve given us tremendous hope and renewed courage.
Sincerely, Mike Bouton

I didn’t get a chance to read the student letters until the next day, February 14th, Valentine’s Day. 
What a wonderful Valentine these letters were. Tears were shed as I read the jottings of the students. Most of the kids got it. I am happy when my story touches one person’s heart and brings about change, and as I read their evaluations I knew that more than one person’s heart was touched that day. Yes, tears… the kids got it.
I would like to share with you what I read on that very special Valentine’s Day...

Sean wrote:  Dear Mr. Pelke, The talk you gave us about your fight against the death penalty was very moving and understanding.  The story you told us touched me deeply and further inspired me to be against the death penalty.
Jalen wrote:  I admire Mr. Pelke’s love for Paula Cooper.  I could not forgive someone if they had done that to my grandma.  He is also very strong to be able to talk about this.  I think what he is doing by trying to reach out to others is very commendable.  I thoroughly appreciate him taking his time to talk to us.

Jack wrote:  Mr. Pelke’s talk about his grandmother and his work regarding the death penalty made a huge impact on me. As he was talking about the details of his grandmother’s murder I could only think of how I would feel if the same thing happened to my little brother.  I thought of how hard it would be for me to forgive, to ask for help to let go of the hatred that is so easy to get lost in.  I was inspired to deepen my spiritual relationship with God so that it will be easier to ask for His help if I ever find myself in a similar situation.

Marcy wrote:  Mr. Pelke’s talk was very enlightening and inspiring.  It was one of those talks that you hear about, but you don’t really expect to be true.  It took me the rest of the day to realize that it actually happened.  Mr. Pelke comes across as a very strong man.  His story was very touching.  It made me think about what I would do if put in that situation.  I think it is crazy that he can tell his story so many times and still be able to touch so many people.

Grace wrote:  Bill Pelke is a rare kind of man.  After having his grandmother cruelly ripped from him, he was practically handed the opportunity to get “justice” for her.  However, he learned that this justice was not justice: it was cold-hearted revenge.  An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.  He realized this isn’t what Jesus wanted or what he stood and died for.  What a rare kind of person:  fighting to save the life of a person who took his loved one away from him forever.   Well…not forever… at any rate, this is what Jesus stood and died for.  Forgiveness and Life... that is Justice.

Carla wrote:  Dear Mr. Pelke, I absolutely loved your talk about your Nana and your journey with the Journey of Hope foundation.  You story was very inspirational.  For something so tragic to happen to you and your family, yet forgiving the girls that brutally murdered your Nana truly touched my heart.  Your love, forgiveness, and compassion inspire me to love and forgive those who hurt me as well.  Thank you.

Collin wrote: The presentation was great and very life changing, because I didn’t know that kind of stuff happened in real life.  I think that you should speak at other schools to spread it around.

Katie wrote:  Dear Bill Pelke, I enjoyed you coming to speak to us.  Your story inspired me and helped me believe that the death penalty is wrong.  Hearing a story first hand seemed very special to me and gave me insight on a family member’s way of seeing it.

William wrote:  Your talk to us was different from any other I have heard this year.  You are proof to us that these unique events happen to people.  The story you presented to us gives a strong message that if you can have the change of heart to object to the death penalty, then so should we.  I appreciate your time in sharing your story with us.

Marc wrote:  Dear Mr. Pelke, Thank you so much for coming to my 6th period Theology and talking to my class.  I think it must be hard forgiving the girls that killed your grandmother and it is amazing that you were able to forgive them.  If I was put in your position before your talk I do not feel I would be able to forgive them, but after hearing your story I will now be more forgiving to everyone around me.   Thank you again for sharing your story about your grandmother and how God made you more forgiving.

Nick wrote:  Dear Mr. Bill Pelke, I was quite moved by your presentation and the way that you presented the topic of capital punishment. Moreover, the way that you reached out to Paula Cooper and not only forgave her but stayed in contact with her.  You are going the extra mile by wanting to help get her life back together and that is the most beautiful part about it.  Please continue you work and calling.  God Bless.

Roxy wrote:  Dear Mr. Pelke, Thank you so much for coming to speak for our class.  Your talk really made me think about the power of forgiveness.  It made me reflect upon the grudges I no longer need to hold against people who have treated me wrongly.  I respect you greatly for the amount of compassion you have shown towards the girls who treated your grandmother so badly.  I hope you will continue to share your story to the nation.

Kat wrote:  Mr. Pelke, Thank you for coming to speak to our class about something so personal to you.  The death penalty can be a very touchy subject.  Hearing your story makes me realize how real the death penalty is.  I realize now that it is not up to us to decide when a person should die, no matter how grave their crime may be.  No one should have to die.  There are other options.  The longer time one has to live, the longer the time is for Christ to come into their lives and save them.  Thank you again.

Virginia wrote:  Dear Mr. Pelke, your speech last week was very inspiring.  I loved hearing someone’s opinion who has been a part of the death penalty.  You really made it easy for teenagers to understand.  Thank you so much for sharing your story.  I know that isn’t easy, and I admire you for your courage.

Lindley wrote:  Dear Mr. Pelke, I am a student in Mr. Bouton’s 6th period Social Justice Class.  I am in complete agreement with your stance on the death penalty.  It was so inspiring to listen to your talk.  You are a true example of forgiveness. Your ability to forgive Paula Cooper shows us that we are able to forgive anyone.  Your perseverance in keeping up with Paula Cooper is incredible.  Not only did you forgive her, but you are also helping her to turn her life around.  Thank you so much for coming to speak to us.  It was truly inspiring.

Mary wrote:  Dear Mr. Pelke, I am one of the students in Mr. Bouton’s Theology classes and I would like to thank you for coming to tell your story about your Nana.  She sounded like a very holy woman who loved God so very much.  During your story, I started to tear up because my grandmother’s name is Nana and she is a very holy woman also, like your Nana.  I started to put myself in your and your father's place, and how I would feel.  That’s why I started to cry.  I am very impressed with how you handled the situation.  You have given me a great answer/reason why I don’t believe in the death penalty.  I would like to thank you again for your compassion towards mankind.

Tatum wrote:  Mr. Pelke, Thank you so much for sharing your story and stand on the death penalty. I have always been against the death penalty, but hearing how you feel about it truly influenced me.  I’ve never really known what it means to be truly anti-death penalty.  Your courage to help the person who killed someone you love showed me that everyone truly has the right to live no matter what they have done.  Thank you so much for spending your time with us.  God Bless You.

Lauren wrote:  Bill Pelke, Your speech really touched me.  I am very sorry for your loss.  I as well am against the death penalty.  Everyone deserves a second chance.  If someone commits murder, then why murder that person as a punishment?  We are then doing as much wrong as they did.  Thank you for giving your speech to our class.

Clay wrote:  Bill Pelke, You really touched me with your story of your grandmother.  It really helped me realize that I am against the death penalty.  I never thought to think of the accused.  The family of the accused suffers as much as the family of the victims.  Thank you.

Anonymous #1 wrote: Dear Bill Pelke, Your talk was very inspirational.  I was extremely pro-death penalty, but your talk has made me change my mind about that.

Joe wrote:  Dear Mr. Pelke, I thought your talk really inspired and changed my opinion on the death penalty. When you said you opened up to Paula Cooper with love and compassion it really made me think.  When you hear a speaker come and talk about the death penalty, they generally didn’t go through it.  It really made an impact on my opinion about the death penalty.  Thank you and God bless.

Evan wrote:  Thank you Mr. Bill Pelke for taking the time to come by our class.  I am against the death penalty and always have been, but if I were put in the same situation as you were put in, I do not know if I could forgive someone. So you really taught me the valuable lesson of forgiving those who hurt you and showed me how God can truly have such a huge impact in our lives.  Thank you for everything.

Anonymous #2 wrote:  Bill Pelke changed my view on life, the view that made me realize how important life is.  I really didn’t even care about the death penalty or its issues... but after your talk I am truly and 100% behind stopping capital punishment.

Catherine wrote:  Dear Mr. Pelke, Thank you so much for coming and speaking to our class.  I really enjoyed hearing the opinion of the death penalty from someone who has dealt with it first-hand.  I find it very inspiring that you are so passionate in ending the death penalty and that you speak in so many different places.  The forgiveness and compassion that you experienced and shared with our class has helped me become more forgiving in my everyday life.  Thank you again.

Anonymous #3:  Bill Pelke is great speaker.  I was moved by his story and the way it changed his life.  Everything he said was just heartfelt to me.  There was never a boring moment in his speech.  I really loved his talk and I am glad he is going to see Paula Cooper when she gets out of jail.  Not only is he going to pick her up, but he’s going to get her back on her feet for the new life she has ahead of her.  It really was a powerful story and I liked it a lot.

Anonymous #4:  Bill Pelke was probably the most influential and interesting school speaker I have ever heard.  He taught me a lot and shared a very moving and inspirational story.  To be honest, I dread school speakers, but was pleasantly surprised by Mr. Pelke.  What amazes me most is that he not only had the courage to forgive the girl, but to become friends with her and help her when she is free.

Andrew wrote:  Thank you so much for the talk.  It was great to hear from someone with direct influence on the death penalty. Hearing a real life story definitely affects my opinion on the death penalty.  The fact that you went through so much hardship and forgave is astounding.  I once again really appreciate your time spent at John Carroll and I hope your meeting with Paula Cooper goes well.

M.D. wrote:  Dear Mr. Pelke, thank you for coming and talking to us.  Your story really hit home for me.  When I was younger my uncle was trying to commit suicide to save my aunt and their son from losing their house so they would have his social security money to live on.  However, my aunt found him and tried to save him, and he accidently shot her when they were fighting over the gun.  My cousin never forgave my uncle.  My uncle was very upset over what he did and said he was guilty.  He was put on death row. My uncle and aunt were the closest thing I’ve ever seen to true love.  My cousin is the only one in our family that never forgave my uncle, and because of this my uncle died never having had an actual chance to apologize or receive forgiveness from him.  To this day it still hurts me to think about the last thing my cousin said to my uncle when my cousin was testifying for my uncle’s prosecution.  Forgiveness is one thing, compassion is another.  With you as an inspiration I hope to mend my family.  Thank you.

Mauro wrote:  Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to come and speak to us.  Your talk with us was very inspiring and allowed us to see that compassion and love can overcome any obstacle.  You are truly continuing Christ’s mission of forgiveness and mercy.  I hope that when you visit Paula Cooper that everything goes well.  Your mercy and kindness astounds all of us.

Aru wrote:  Mr. Pelke was a great speaker and had a lot of very powerful points.  I was shocked of his acceptance and compassion towards the young ladies, and he has taught me a valuable lesson.  While I am still a believer in the death penalty, I have more light on the subject, and I have learned the concept of the compassion of forgiveness.  I am very lucky and thankful to have heard this man speak.

Jordon wrote:  The day Bill Pelke came in and told us why he did what he did and what he is doing actually had me thinking a lot.  He forgave a person who took the life of someone who he loved. He showed me that forgiving is not about just saying I forgive, but meaning what you say and feel.  He is a strong man in my eyes.  I lost my uncle to a death sentence, but it didn’t hurt me for real.  He killed a police officer who was simply doing his job.  I thought he deserved to get executed by the death sentence.  Now I realize he actually deserved a second chance, but it’s too late for him now.  He is gone.  Thanks for coming.  The talk you gave made me think.

Porter wrote:  Dear Bill Pelke, Thank you so much for coming to our school to speak to us.  You revealed first hand to our class the power of compassion.  I also came to realize how unjust the death penalty is.  P.S. I hope your visit with Ms. Cooper goes well.

Conner wrote:  Dear Mr. Pelke, My name is Conner and I am a student at John Carroll Catholic High School.  I heard your talk on the death penalty and I would like to thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience with my classmates and me. I was moved by the way you stood up and believed in love, compassion, and the healing power of forgiveness.  Thank you for your insight and your time spent with us.

Anonymous #5 wrote: Mr. Bill Pelke, Thank you for letting me relieve your grandmother’s life through your eye-opening speech.  It made me aware of the evilness of some people and their ability to change.  Your grandmother was a very kind and caring person and I know it must have been very difficult for you to forgive Paula Cooper for her violent acts. Your openness to the will of God really impresses me also, and you took that calling and helped other families affected by the death penalty.  Thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to our class.

Anna wrote: Mr. Pelke, I really enjoyed your presentation.  Coming from someone who has lived through this experience, the story really affected me more than hearing a teacher talk about it. I think that you should come every year because you really helped me understand forgiveness.  Thank you for your time.

Anonymous #6 wrote:  Dear Mr. Pelke, Your speech and passion for love and compassion was very moving.  It is amazing that you were able to forgive Paula after only a year and a half.  There are still things that I have not forgiven people for and that was much longer ago... so now I have examined my mind.  All of the anger that I used to have for people has changed because now I know that since you could forgive a teenager of murder, I'll absolutely be able to forgive someone of the hurt they have caused me.  Thank you, and God Bless.

Kathanne wrote:  I liked Bill Pelke’s talk! I learned a lot about why you should forgive and not favor the death penalty.  I think everyone should have the right to live even if they have made a mistake in life.  I felt that his talk was more real because he actually went through the pain, instead of just being someone who studies about the death penalty.

Anonymous #7 wrote:  Hearing Bill Pelke’s story was very helpful to me, as well as to others I’m sure, in being able to understand the widespread and long term effects of such a tragedy.  Forgiveness and most especially devotion were key points, which were ultimately inspiring as well as respectful.  Though this nation is so great, and is truly the greatest nation on Earth, it has often been last in the world’s great moments of change.  I’m afraid that despite all efforts it will take not only many decades, but also an impending event to cause America to change its ways, most especially with the death penalty and even abortion. I believe this because of America’s freedom, and the conflict of opinions which delays immediate action.  I am therefore glad to see a man such as Bill Pelke try and reach out to the masses concerning these conflicts, and try to be a great example and leader in the move for all who are for such changes.

Rachel wrote:  I loved Bill Pelke’s talk.  I have a great deal of respect for his power to forgive and go out of his way to help someone.  I was in tune with his talk maybe because for once it was real.  It wasn’t on TV, and I wasn’t reading it in a book.  I was witnessing a man who went through the pain of loving somebody who killed someone he loved and killed her for zero reason at all.  He didn’t want revenge or for her to suffer.  He wanted her to do well, live, change, and help her.  Not everyone could do that.  I’m not even sure I could do that.

Robert wrote:  Bill Pelke’s talk on the death penalty was very informative, and it made me think about it in a different way.  When I thought of the death penalty before, I would only think of serial killers and gangster-type people being on death row, but I had never thought of how it could change the life of a child my age in a matter of days.  He also explained cost benefits and technicalities that were positive to his campaign.  I thought about how the death penalty is not only wrong, but insufficient as well.

Anonymous #8 wrote:  The talk about the death penalty by Bill Pelke was a very interesting one.  He is a very good storyteller and kept everyone interested in what he had to say.  If I had been in his shoes, I don’t think I could have had the strength to stand up for Paula Cooper and try to get her off of death row.  Looking in as an outsider though, I can agree with the choice he made.  Paula Cooper should not have been given a death sentence for many reasons.

Trey wrote:  Dear Bill Pelke, Your talk was really great and I feel that way about the death penalty.  The victim dying is bad as it is, and taking another life would be equally tragic.  I would like to be a public speaker as well, and your talk showed me that one can talk about both personal and non-personal things.

Anonymous #9 wrote:  Bill Pelke, I really enjoyed your talk.  It gave me a visual of your life, and why you choose to do the job you do.  It really excites me to hear about your relationship with God and also how close you are to Him.  I would love to have one of those types of relationships.  I wish you would have given more insight of other criminals you are involved with, but I understand you ran out of time.  Thanks for coming and please come again.

Anonymous #10 wrote:  Dear Bill Pelke, I felt like you were a wonderful speaker and I think it is great that you can go around and tell others your story. I‘m so sorry that happened to you and your family, but I believe you’re right.  One person is dead, why should another have to be?  It’s also very big of you to have forgiven her for what she did.  I really hope your visit with her on Saturday went well.  I will keep praying for her and for you and your family.  Thank you so much for coming and talking to us!

Anonymous #11 wrote: I enjoyed your talk about forgiveness and restorative justice.  It definitely made me think about my stance on the death penalty.  I’m still in favor of the death penalty, but now I feel there needs to be changes made to the capital punishment system.  The statistics you gave about people that are put to death and later found innocent was eye opening.  I think in some cases we are too fast to hand out the death penalty.  They system needs to be fixed, so that innocent people are never put to death.

Anonymous #12 wrote: Dear Bill Pelke, I enjoyed your speech about forgiveness that you gave to my social justice class.  Hearing how you forgave a group of girls that took the life of your grandmother really helped me learn how God does certain things for a reason.  I now know how to reflect and ask God for guidance and help before trying to seek revenge. Thank you for coming to speak to my class and teaching us how to forgive.

Nick wrote:  Dear Mr. Pelke, Thank you for coming to speak with our class.  Your speech was very moving and even caused me to reevaluate my belief on the death penalty.  At first, I held the position that the price for murdering someone else was their own life; however, I now see things differently.  Not only did you speak to us students on a spiritual level, but on an economical level as well, which is vital when speaking to someone who isn’t a religious participant. Not only did you give a variety of reasons against capital punishment, but you also were completely composed and unbiased against the murders.  This made your answers very convincing.  Thanks again.

Anonymous #13 wrote:  Bill Pelke – * I thought his speech was very intriguing. *His story kept my attention. *Made me want to help out in some way – Inspirational. * I like him * Picture of Nana was so cute – made more personal. * 5 stars

John wrote: The speech that Mr. Pelke gave was incredible.  The way he presented himself and spoke was very impressive.  On top of that the speech was touching in every way possible.  I never thought someone could be so forgiving and caring, or at least I never thought I would have the honor to meet such a great person.  I look up to Bill Pelke, and I will never forget his story or his name.

Christina wrote:  Bill Pelke, I found your talk and story very interesting and inspirational because it inspired me to forgive those who have hurt me.  When you showed the picture of your grandmother I almost started crying because she was so kind and sweet and I wish I could have met her.  I will never forget you and how you inspired me to be a better person.  Thank you.

Katherine wrote:  Bill Pelke was a great speaker!  He kept us engaged, which is pretty amazing.  He was passionate, which in turn made us enjoy his speech.  It was inspiring to hear all that he did.  You should try to get him to come again next year.

Ariana wrote:  I thought Mr. Pelke was a great speaker.  The manner in which he presented his story really captivated the classroom.  His theme “the healing power of forgiveness,” called our summer reading book to mind, “Left to Tell."  I honestly believe his story needs to be told because there is no legitimate reason for capital punishment.  Just like our summer reading story, he was able to move everyone who listened and left an impression we could never forget.  Mr. Pelke made me very aware of my blessings and everyone’s right to life and forgiveness.

Emma wrote: Mr. Pelke, I loved your story of love, compassion, and forgiveness.  You kept all of us very engaged.  I now know I need to love my neighbors, no matter what they do to hurt me.  I must try harder to live as Christ did and as you have – loving each other through the eyes of God.  Thank you for teaching us that life is short, and we should try to touch as many people with Jesus-kindness as we can in the meantime.

Olivia wrote:  Dear Mr. Pelke, Thank you so much for speaking to our class at John Carroll on Wednesday, January 18th.  I was very moved by your story and the story of your grandmother.  I had expected someone to show up and give us a bunch of facts about social justice and the law, but I loved the way you expressed your opinion through your own experience.  I am inspired to live my life with love and compassion for others.  You are a wonderful speaker Mr. Pelke.  Thank you for sharing your time and talents with us.  God Bless.

Regan wrote:  Dear Bill Pelke, Thank you so much for coming to our school and talking to our class.  You really have influenced my thoughts regarding the death penalty.  It made me think about other things and how everyone has a right to life!  Thank you again.

William wrote:  In my opinion Bill Pelke’s speech was great because he actually gave a true encounter with the death­­­­ penalty.  He also told us how God spoke to him and instilled faith in him.  That really spoke to me.

Anonymous #14 wrote:  I found Mr. Pelke’s talk very intriguing that someone who lost someone so close to them could still find the ability to forgive the killer.  I’m glad people like Mr. Pelke are standing up against the injustice of the death penalty.

Merritt wrote:  I thought that Bill Pelke was a very powerful speaker.  I really liked his message about not only forgiving, but having compassion for those who have hurt us as well.  I agree that the death penalty should be abolished because I do believe it is cruel, and that God is truly the only one who can control life and death.

Anonymous #15 wrote:  Mr. Pelke is a phenomenal speaker.  He had great emotion in his voice and his story was very strong.  He left leaving a sense of accomplishment.  He made a goal and strove until he met it.  It was an amazing speech.

Anonymous # 16:  The talk was great.  I learned a lot about not having revenge on people that have killed innocent people. Thank you, Mr. Bouton, for inviting him.

Megan wrote:  I thought that Bill Pelke was interesting because of the story he told about his grandmother.  I liked how he let us ask questions at the end of the speech, because it was interesting to know what happened to the other three girls who participated in the murder of Nana.  Because Bill continued to save the life of one who killed his grandmother, I thought that he served as a great example for forgiving others.

Davena wrote:  The Bill Pelke presentation was very interesting.  I thought it amazing that Mr. Pelke could stand in front of us and tell us about the awful way his grandmother died.  I also think it is amazing that he can forgive people, especially those who might do terrible things to him.  I hope one day I can be as forgiving and loving as Mr. Pelke.  I admire how he can be ready to visit the lady who killed his grandmother with an open mind and a big heart.

Medina wrote:  Dear Mr. Pelke, Your talk was very touching.  The fact that you had the courage and the strength to forgive your grandmother's murderer is amazing.  That step is not easy to make, and I admire the fact that you did forgive.  You are a great role model to me now.  Another fact about your talk that surprised me and interested me was that you said you would be waiting outside the prison in order to help Paula Cooper proceed with her life in the best way.  You never get tired, or show any anger for repeating yourself over and over again telling the story around the world.  It takes patience, of which you have and are admired.

Trevor wrote:  Thank you for coming to our class and telling us about your story of your grandmother.  Your story is very inspirational about how you could forgive the girls who did such a cruel thing to such a sweet lady.  Hope everything goes well with helping the girl get back on her feet after being in jail such a long time.

DJ wrote:  Bill Pelke’s presentation was very good.  He captured the audience and told an inspiring story.  He did a good job of expressing his beliefs while, at the same time, allowing the audience to decide on their own what stand they take on the issue of capital punishment.

Alex wrote:  I really enjoyed Bill Pelke’s talk and his ability to forgive someone who did such a terrible act to his grandmother.  Forgiveness is difficult alone, but he also developed compassion for her.  I honestly have no clue what I would do if I were in that situation.  I live with my grandmother and I would be out of a home if she were killed.  I hope that I would have at least half of the ability to forgive that he had.

Quinn wrote:  Dear Mr. Pelke, The speech you gave to us last week was extremely thought provoking.  I enjoyed hearing the viewpoint of someone who has had such a difficult and trying experience with the death penalty.  I found it very brave of you to be able to forgive someone who caused your family so much pain and then be able to share that story thousands of times.

Delore wrote:  Dear Mr. Pelke, I loved your talk.  You shared your story and your struggles with yourself and with your family with your decisions.  We hear about people like you, but don’t see how anyone can let people who have committed horrible crimes live.  Yet when you explain it in person, it makes it seem possible.  Thank you for coming and telling your story and your beliefs.

Katie wrote:  I think the speech that Mr. Pelke gave to our class was very inspiring and honest.  I think that his story about how he forgave Ms. Cooper is amazing and I think that it takes a very strong person to do all that he has done.  I believe it takes the will of God to see what he saw in that 15 year-old and to be able to get past it all and keep going and grow stronger.   I believe that all people have the right to live, and nobody should die by judgment of another human being.

Steven wrote:  Dear Mr. Pelke, Your speech last week was inspiring, regarding the way you forgave the girls even though they ruined such a big part of your life.  Your story is so moving.  If everyone could have half of your ability to forgive this world would be such a great place.

Nicole wrote:  Bill Pelke’s talk was very interesting.  His story was very eye opening and it was good to learn the facts of the death penalty.  I believe you can change while in prison and that God is the only one who should take a life.  If someone kills somebody and then you give them the death penalty, you are doing the same thing.

Anna wrote:  My name is Anna and I am a student in Mr. Bouton’s 6th period social justice class.  I would like to thank you for coming and sharing your story with us.  It was very inspirational and eye opening.  I learned that just because a person did something horrible does not mean they are bad, and that compassion is everything when you forgive someone.

Le Monte wrote:  Thank you for coming to our class and sharing your story with us.  You are a true example of how we should forgive those who wrong us.

Anne wrote:  Mr. Bill Pelke’s talk was really enjoyable.  I really liked the way he made the story completely about his grandmother.  I felt like that aspect made it more relatable, and it made me really sad because it made me think of my Nana.

Anonymous #17 wrote:  Bill Pelke’s talk was very touching.  It showed how he was able to forgive the person who killed his grandmother, someone who was close to him and very special to him.  You could tell that God was truly working with him and was able to help him gain the strength to help him fight to get one of the girls off death row. That was a very strong and brave move he did, and was able to go through with it all because of God.

Anonymous #18 wrote:  Mr. Bill Pelke, I really enjoyed your speech that you gave our class because it opened up my eyes.  I never looked at the death penalty like you do.  You honestly changed the way I view it because now I view such a decision as a matter of love, compassion, and forgiveness.  I would really like to thank you for coming and sharing your story to us.  Your story changed my opinion, and now I am against the death penalty.

Alex wrote:  Mr. Pelke’s talk was a very life respectful speech, in the sense that his grandmother was murdered, but he didn’t want revenge.  Paula Cooper, the murderer, has met with Mr. Pelke and they get along extremely well, considering the circumstances.  His speech kind of opened a door of compassion towards those on death row that are sorry for what they did…

Anonymous #19 wrote:  Dear Bill Pelke, I enjoyed your speech because you were able to connect with our class through a real life experience involving capital punishment. You were an excellent public speaker, and your speech kept my interest the entire time.  I would definitely listen to one of your talks again.  I hope everything works out with Paula Cooper, and I wish you the best.

Naiya wrote:  Bill Pelke has a wonderful spirit.  The affect that Bill Pelke had on me was very spiritual.  I really did enjoy the fact he feels revenge is not the answer.  Pelke feels that no matter how bad something or someone has hurt you, you learn to love, have compassion, and help that certain tribulation in their life as well as yours.

Came wrote:  The talk from Mr. Bill Pelke was amazing; he gave me a better understanding of FORGIVENESS.  I mean I already understood the meaning - like you forgive and that’s it - but when he explained why he could forgive this girl after all the pain she caused, I understood forgiveness better.  I am glad he overcame something as tragic as that.  I enjoyed listening to his speech, and I’m glad I got to hear him, because if I didn’t, I would still be holding a grudge with some of those who have hurt me throughout the past.  Thanks.

Anonymous # 20 wrote:  Dear Mr. Pelke, I really enjoyed your talk on forgiveness you gave to Mr. Bouton’s first period class.  I thought it was very inspiring.  You taught me a lot about forgiveness and why the death penalty is not just.  If you can forgive someone for murder, then I can forgive anyone for the small things that happen in my life.  I think the work you do is great and you are really making a change in the world.

­­­On the Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing we plant good seeds.    
John Carroll students were fertile soil. 
For a movement to be successful the young people must be involved.


A farmer went out to plant some seeds. 4 As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them. 5 Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. 6 But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. 8 Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted! 9 Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”
  Matthew 12:3-9  (New Living Translation (NLT)


God is good. God is great.  Amen, Amen, and Amen

This is my Valentine's gift to Nana.