Changing Hearts and Minds in N.J. Prisons
By Eddie Hicks, Galloway, New Jersey, and Lorry Post, Cape May, New Jersey
We are men. One white, one African-American; one a lawyer, the other a fire fighter - different in many ways. But we share a bond that transcends all differences. We each lost a precious daughter to murder.
Coincidentally, each of us felt compelled to honor his daughter's memory and, somehow, lighten the pain we feel every day.
We both chose to join the struggle against capital punishment, because we knew our daughters wouldn't want anyone killed in their names. They believed, as we do, that every life is sacred, and we are confident they would encourage us in this work.
We became active members of three anti-death penalty organizations: New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (NJADP), Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation (MVFR) and Amnesty International USA (AIUSA). And then, we became volunteers for Focus on the Victim, a program overseen by the New Jersey Division of Corrections, Office of Victim Services.
Focus on the Victim volunteers are survivors of violent crime and the loved ones of murder victims. We visit state prisons to talk with violent offenders who volunteered for sensitivity training. The objectives are to help us express our loss and pain, and to help offenders recognize and repent the harm they inflicted on victims and their loved ones. So far, we have spoken at seven New Jersey prisons and a Boot Camp for young offenders.
We explain to inmates that the victim of their crime was not the only one they hurt. We describe the deep pain and anguish family members and others endure. We lay out before them the many lives that they changed forever, because of one senseless act. We implore them to think before they act in the future, whether behind bars or on the outside.
At least 80 percent of the offenders we meet demonstrate that they are
profoundly affected by confronting the suffering of those they have harmed. After we speak, their many questions and comments suggest true concern. These offenders are amazed that we oppose the death penalty, despite our loss. Many say they have children and would want revenge. But they seem hugely affected by listening to our views on foregoing violence in return for violence. We tell them our daughters deserve better memorials than two more murders in their names.
We can only pray that, when they reenter society, these men remember the depth of the suffering they caused and the price they paid, when they are tempted to react violently.
Like most volunteers, we get as much as we give, and we highly recommend Focus on the Victim to other survivors. We can testify that working for Amnesty International, Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation, New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, and Focus on the Victim makes our grief bearable, gives purpose to our lives, and honors our daughters.
Wednesday, October 06, 2004
Changing hearts and minds
My friend Celeste up in New Jersey sent this wonderful essay to me. It was great timing on Celeste's part because yesterday I had someone tell me that we death penalty opponents don't care about crime victims. Fact is, many death penalty opponents are crime victims.