Upon being hired at IJPC in late July, my training involved a lot of reading. I grew up in NJ (last execution – 1963, repeal of statute – 2007) and went to school in Pennsylvania (last execution – 1999), so admittedly, I had little familiarity with the complexities of the death penalty. I scoured the Ohioans to Stop Executions website, read the book that IJPC put together for the Families that Matter program where families shared their own story, and read op-ed upon op-ed about the unfairness of this policy. Academically, I could have listed off a few reason to oppose the death penalty. The Walk to Stop Executions necessitated me to stop reading and start moving – literally, putting boots (well, comfortable and supportive sneakers) on the ground.
I was scared and unsure. I had the opportunity to be in the room and part of a group of people who have dedicated years of their life to speaking out about this cause. I sat shoulder to shoulder with an exoneree – a man whose very life was impacted by this broken system. I shared breakfast with a man whose spiritual journey calls him to meet with Death Row inmates in Texas to provide an ear, kind words, and a hug. I felt like maybe I didn’t deserve a place there with this small but powerful group – I was learning and so new to the issue but if the team had room for an extra body, I figured I could participate for a few days.
I could not imagine how deeply impactful even just 3 days with the Walk to Stop Executions would be. From our opening program where we received a call in from a choked-up emotional man on death row giving his support, to getting the opportunity to hear Terry Collins share about his thoughts of driving up to the death house 33 times, I had to step outside reading and just be. I listened. I asked questions. I empathized. I didn’t read a darn thing for those 72 hours but I learned more than the days I spent combing the web.
I realized something. It didn’t matter if I wasn’t one of the people who had spent their lives being activists regarding abolition – I could step in. This movement needs more voices. It needs more open minds who are willing to learn and willing to stand up. Who are willing to say that a state sanctioned killing is wrong for any of the multitude of reasons – its cost, impact on the victim’s families, value of each human life, that we cannot ensure that an innocent man is not murdered or that race, socioeconomic status and geography play an absolute part in something that is not “equal justice under law.” It needs people who are willing to connect a face and a story to the death penalty. The Walk to Stop Executions inspired me to come back to work and continue doing what we do at IJPC – education and advocacy in the hopes of connecting with people who did not have the opportunity or the privilege to walk miles up State Highway 23 and bear witness to this issue. Because, truly, abolition of the death penalty in the state of Ohio and in every state needs all the voices possible.