You are here: Who we are / Activists / Abe Bonowitz
Thursday, May 28, 2020

Abe Bonowitz, New Jersey

Dear Friends,

As many of you know, I have not always opposed the death penalty. When I tell the story of my transition, I say, "The facts changed my mind, and the people I met on the Journey changed my heart."

By 1993, I had become a fairly active anti-death penalty activist through my involvement with Amnesty International, but I would still say things like, "IF we could make it fair and equal, I would pull the switch myself." But when I went on the Indiana Journey of Hope ...From Violence to Healing, I met and learned first hand the stories of people who have been "in the fire," as Sister Helen would say. It was certainly inspiring to meet and work with people like Bill Pelke, Marietta Jaeger, Marie Deans and SueZann Bosler and so many others who have lost loved ones to murder and forgiven the perpetrator. But what touched my heart -- what *changed* my heart -- was learning the stories of people like George White (with the double whammy of seeing his wife murdered and then being wrongly convicted of the killing) and Sunny Jacobs (with the double whammy of being wrongly convicted *with* her husband, who was also wrongly executed!), and others, including Randall Dale Adams, who was wrongly convicted and was nearly Texecuted. What changed my heart even more, was meeting people like Shirley Dicks, Ken & Lois Robison, Jill Fratta, Catherine Forbes, and so many others who have had a loved one convicted of murder - rightly or wrongly - and who themselves have been put through the wringer by a society that condemns killing but ignores the collateral damage created in the process of exacting revenge through execution.

Being on the Journey allowed me to not only meet these people and hear their stories. I got to know them. And by hearing their stories several times in front of different audiences as we spent 17 days traversing a state, I got to *know* their stories. Ever since that 1993 Journey, whenever someone attempts to dismiss me by saying I'd "feel different if my loved one was murdered," I respond with, "Maybe you are right, but let me tell you about my friend Bill (or Sunny or Sam or Marietta). And I share the stories I learned on the Journey. And it works!

ALSO on the Journey, I got plenty of practice talking about the death penalty as an activist. I learned how to lead marches, how to better convey our message through the media, how to handle hate-filled opposition with a loving response, and how important it is to provide a hug for a person who has just relived the most painful experience in their life over and over again.

The Journey made me the activist I am today. There is no better training ground for abolitionists. Period.



Director Citizens United for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
Board of Directors Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing
Board of Directors National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
NCADP Abolitionist of the Year 2004
Organizer Annual Fast and Vigil (Abolitionist Action Committee)
Member of Amnesty International USA