Sunday, 31 August 2014

Two simple keys!!!

The Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing was published on my 56. birthday September 16, 2003. Although the timing was a coincidence, it was a wonderful gift for me. The book was named in the honor of an organization that I helped found.
I wrote about the night that changed my life in "My personal Chaos" chapter 14 and "The Epiphany in the Crane" chapter 15.

By keeping two simple keys I have been on a long and exciting Journey. Two simple keys!!!
November 2, 1986 was the night that changed my life and I will never forget it. I share with you from my book, The Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing. That night I felt like a miracle had taken place.

What do you think?
CHAPTER 14
My Personal Chaos
 
…In the crane that night, I began to think about Nana, and the tears streamed down my cheeks. I had never really broken down and cried about Nana’s death, but now the tears were rolling. I asked God why He had allowed one of His most precious angels to suffer such a horrendous death. Nana was such a good person and she had died trying to serve Jesus. Why, Why, Why?
Why did our family, a good family, have to go through the suffering and the pain, especially my father who still has scars that will never go away? Why, Why?
Then I thought about someone with many more problems than I had. I thought about Paula Cooper. I pictured Paula on her bed, slunk against the wall of her death row cell. I pictured her looking upward, to no place in particular. Tears were coming out of her eyes. She was saying, "What have I done, what have I done?"
She had ruined her life. For what?
I pictured Paula being very much alone. I knew her parents had not come to her sentencing hearing and doubted if they were supporting her now.
My mind flashed back to the day of the sentencing hearing when Paula was condemned to die. I thought about her grandfather being kicked out of the courtroom for wailing, "They’re going to kill my baby; they’re going to kill my baby."
I recalled seeing him led past me on his way out of the courtroom, with tears streaming down his cheeks.
Then I recalled Paula in the courtroom being led off to death row. Tears were streaming out of her eyes and rolling down her cheeks. And I remembered seeing Paula wearing a light blue prison that had dark blue blotches on because of her tears.


CHAPTER 15
The Epiphany in the Crane
 
And then I pictured Nana.

 
 
I pictured her in the beautiful photograph that was always included with stories about her in the newspaper. But as I sat in the steel mill crane that November evening, there was one distinct difference between what I was picturing and the beautiful photograph. I pictured Nana with tears flowing out of her eyes and rolling down her cheeks. At first I thought they might be tears of pain, but I immediately realized that they were tears of love and compassion for Paula Cooper and her family.

I knew that Nana would not have wanted the grandfather who wept, "They’re going to kill my baby!" to suffer through having his granddaughter strapped into the electric chair and electricity running through her until she was dead. I didn’t think Nana would want Paula killed for killing herNana had let Paula into her in the house to talk about Jesus.

I began to think about Nana’s faith in Jesus, and I immediately thought of three things that Jesus had said about forgiveness. The first was His words from the Sermon on the Mount. If you want your Father in heaven to forgive you, you must forgive others.
Then I thought about Jesus talking to the disciples and Peter asking Him about the number of times that we should forgive someone. Jesus answered, "Seventy times seven."
I knew that Jesus was not telling Peter that we should forgive four hundred and ninety times and then cease to forgive, but that Jesus was telling us that forgiveness should be a way of life.

And as I sat in the crane, I pictured an image of Jesus crucified on the cross. I pictured the crown of thorns dug into his brow. I envisioned His bloody hands and feet and the nails driven through them. I recalled what He said just before they killed him. Jesus said, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing."

I began to think that Paula Cooper didn’t know what she was doing when she killed Nana. Someone that knows what they are doing does not take a twelve-inch butcher knife and stab someone thirty-three times. It was a crazy, crazy, crazy senseless act. I thought maybe the right thing for me to do is to forgive Paula. I told myself that I should try to forgive her.

Once again I pictured the image of Nana, tears rolling down her cheeks. There was no doubt in my mind that her tears were tears of love and compassion for Paula Cooper and her family. I felt Nana wanted someone in our family to have that same love and compassion. I felt the responsibility fell on me.

Even though I now realized that forgiveness was the right thing to do, I didn’t have a bit of love and compassion. I thought how brutal Nana’s death was, and I could see no way to come up with any love and compassion at all. But the tears I pictured in Nana’s eyes affected me greatly. I felt that if I didn’t try to generate some sort of love and compassion, then in the future, whenever I would think about Nana, I would feel guilty.
Not knowing what else to do, as I sat in the crane cab, I started praying again. By now my tears were flowing like a river. I begged God, "Please, please, please give me love and compassion for Paula Cooper and her family and to do it for Nana’s sake."
I started thinking about Paula. I could write a letter and tell her the kind of person Nana was and I could tell her about Nana’s faith in God and her love for Jesus. I thought I could tell her about God’s love and His forgiveness. I could also tell her that Jesus loved her and died on the cross for her.

At this point, things began to sink in. My prayer for love and compassion for Paula was being answered! And at that moment, I knew I no longer wanted Paula to die; I wanted to do whatever I could do to help her.

That night in the crane, I learned the most important lesson of my life: I learned the healing power of forgiveness. When God answered my prayer for love and compassion, the forgiveness was automatic. I knew I no longer had to try to forgive Paula, because the forgiveness had already miraculously happened. Forgiveness brought a tremendous healing.

It had been a year and a half since Nana’s death, and whenever I had thought about Nana, it had been very painful, because I always pictured how Nana had died. I pictured her butchered on the dining room floor. This was the same dining room where our family gathered every year for Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, birthdays and other special occasions. Picturing Nana’s death had always caused me great pain and sorrow. But I knew that from that moment on, whenever I would think about Nana, I would no longer picture how she died. I would picture how she had lived, what she stood for, what she believed in and the beautiful, wonderful person that she was. I knew a miracle had happened to me and I knew that I would never forget how it came about. God gave me a tremendous peace, a peace that passes all understanding.

As I sat in the crane, I began to wonder why the change in me was taking place. I thought about the media involvement in Paula’s case. I thought I might do an interview with a journalist some time about forgiveness. I also thought I might write an article about forgiveness or that maybe someday, a Sunday school teacher would tell her class about the grandson who forgave his grandmother’s killer.
I even thought about how Oprah Winfrey might be interested in a white man who forgave the black girl who killed his grandmother. I thought I might even write a book someday and it could be made into a movie to help support my grandmother’s issue of Christian education.

I began to think about family, friends and coworkers. I knew many would not understand the change I had just gone through. Yet, it was very important to me for my family to understand what had just taken place. I felt that it might take awhile, but since they were all Christians, I hoped they would eventually understand and agree. I knew my family had suffered greatly over Nana’s death and I knew Nana loved everyone in the family. I knew that whatever I would do on behalf of Paula that I would have to be careful and try not to hurt anyone more than they had already been hurt. I knew Nana would have wanted it that way.

Before I left the crane that night, I made God two promises. The first promise was that any success that would come into my life as a result of forgiving Paula Cooper; that I would give God the honor and the glory. It wasn’t anything I had doneit was because God had touched my heart.

The second promise I made was that any door that opened as a result of my forgiving Paula, I would walk through it. I had no idea what doors God might open as a result of my night in the crane, but I knew if one did, I would walk through it. I would deliver God’s message of love and compassion. I would talk about forgiveness. I would talk about healing. God would give me the words to say. He had promised me that in the Bible.

I had spent about forty-five minutes in the crane that night. The mechanics never did show up for their lifts. I walked down the fifty feet of stairs to the floor below. When I had gone up at the start of the shift, I was a defeated man. When I came down those same stairs forty-five minutes later, I felt victorious. I felt like a man with a mission! Xlibris Corporation
November 2, 1986 changed my life.
 
The two promises I made to God that night I have kept. I give God the honor and glory for any success that has come into my life as a result of forgiveness. He touched my heart with love and compassion for Paula. I can’t take credit for that, I have to give Him the honor and glory. That is how I learned about forgiveness and the healing power that it exudes. I Praise God!!!
God has opened the doors for me to speak to well over 5,000 audiences. I have never said no when asked to speak.

God has honored me in countless ways, but the organization Journey of Hope...from Violence to Healing is a direct result of November 2, 1986. Someday history will reveal the Journey of Hope’s role in the world wide abolition of the death penalty.

The Journey of Hope is led by murder victim members who promote forgiveness and restorative justice. We reject the death penalty as immoral and inhumane. Death row family members, death row exonerees and other activists join our traveling Journey tours as we strive to put a human face on the issue of the death penalty. The Journey of Hope has gone through all the doors that have been opened to it always proudly carries the message of love and compassion for all of humanity
Please Google or Bing the Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing and see what God has done.
Giving the honor and glory to God and going through the doors that God has opened are the keys to any success that I have had.

The Journey of Hope is going to Kenya and Uganda November 5-24. In Uganda we will help our dear friend Edward Mpagi launch UGANDANS AGAINST THE DEATH PENALTY. I believe this will be our most successful Journey to date

I just booked airline reservations were booked today for Bill Babbitt, SueZann Bosler and myself for 5 days in Kenya. We are going as missionaries to spread the seed of love and compassion for all of humanity in Kenya to a base of supporters we met on our initial visit in 2011. All three of us are murder victim family members. We will then go to Uganda where we will be joined by others for the Ugandan Journey of Hope. God has blessed the Journey of Hope with lots of love and understanding. When we get together it is like a family reunion. In Uganda we are planning to be joined by Scott Langley who is a professional photographer. Death row family members Terri Steinberg, Delia Meyers and Anne Stendall are planning to come. Curtis McCarty, a death row exoneree will be joining us along with Randy Gardner. Randy and Bill Babbitt (Babu) both lost their brothers to state sanctioned homicide. Marietta Jaeger lost her daughter to murder and Kristi Smith’s father was killed. Colleen Cunningham is taking vacation from her job at EJUSA to help keep us organized. Ron Carlson and his wife would like to come too.

And it is very clear we are coming to Africa with the message of love and compassion for all of humanity. This time we can take cameras on death row. We will be showing the human face of the death penalty and hope that the desire for love and compassion is stronger than the desire for revenge.
We will help Edward abolish the death penalty in Uganda.

Thank you God for November 2, 1986, it was truly the night of a miracle.

Bill

Friday, 2 May 2014

Terri Steinberg

Terri Steinberg is on the 2014 African Journey of Hope team. 

                                                                          

I will never forget the day I met Terry Steinberg. It was during our 2002 annual Fast and Vigil (June 29-July 2) in Washington, DC. 

Her 20 year old son Justin Wolfe had just been sentenced to death by the State of Virginia. Justin had been a high school football player and basically a normal, average, all American, suburban kid, and KABOOM, almost as if overnight, was on death row.  It was the beginning a nightmare for Terri, her family and friends.  When Justin became the youngest person on VA’s death row she cried the mother’s plea for help.  A friend of hers told her about a group protesting the death penalty in front of the US Supreme Court in DC.

The next day Terri drove to DC.  She was holding up a picture of Justin as she neared our group of people and tables.  I could hear her crying and asking “how could anyone one want to kill her son?”    She was beside herself. All of us at the fast and vigil gave her what support we could.  A lot of what we did for her was to give her HOPE.   She was touched by the people she met at the Fast and Vigil. 
She met exonerees. Terri is convinced Justin is innocent and this helped her to have hope and to be able to dream of the day Justin will be exonerated, and join us as a Journey of Hope speaker. What a beautiful dream.  We hope it comes true.

At the fast and Vigil she also met murder victim family members who did not want revenge, but forgave and had compassion the way her Christian Catholic beliefs taught her.
Whether Justin was guilty or not wasn’t the utmost issue to deal with.  Terri needed help more than Justin did that day.  By helping her we gave her Hope.  And we became family.
Each of us does what we do for our own reasons. 

The reason why I devoted my life to the abolition of the death penalty is because of the Terri Steinberg’s of this world.
Terri Steinberg is all the reasons why there should be no death penalty!!!

You know I believe in love and compassion for all of humanity, so of course it makes sense that I would love and have compassion for Terri.

Anyone who supports the death penalty is declaring loud and clear to me that they have no love and compassion for the Terri Steinberg’s of this world. This truly bothers me.
I have copied a part of a testimonial Terri wrote recently honoring the Journey of Hope.  Please read what she wrote and then I will add something about the terror, the never ending nightmare, the cruel and unusual punishment this thing called the death penalty, has inflicted on her.
If we had compassion for Terri Steinberg there would be no death penalty.  The answer is love and compassion for all of humanity.

With her testimonial you will get both our points of view.

My name is Terri Steinberg. I live in Fairfax, VA with my husband and I am a mother of four wonderful children. I have worked in Labor and Delivery at the local hospital for the past 30 years. A community and school volunteer, I was your average ‘mom’ driving a minivan. I never gave the death penalty much thought because to me, it did not make any sense to kill another human being. But I also did nothing about it. That was then.

                                                                        
                                                                         


In July 2002, my oldest child, Justin Wolfe was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit. Justin had just turned 20, and was the youngest person on Virginia’s death row. I was in shock and devastated, determined to ‘fix’ this horrible mistake, but I needed help. I did not know where to turn or how to begin to save my son’s life. Two days after he was sentenced, I got a call from a friend who told me there was a group of people protesting the death penalty on the front of the Supreme Court steps. I thought surely someone there would be able to help me, to guide me on what to do next. It was, at least a place to start. Little did I know how much my life would change.
As I ran up to the crowd carrying a picture of Justin holding his baby brother, I remember thinking these people must think I am crazy! I remember saying “Please help me. They want to kill my son. Does he look like a monster to you?” It was there in front of the Supreme Court that I first met Bill Pelke. But he did not treat me like I was crazy. He fully understood my pain; my desperation to find help. He embraced me in my pain, and told me about the Journey of Hope, from Violence to Healing. He told me there were many murder victim family members who opposed the death penalty in all situations. He introduced me to a man who had also been sentenced to death, but had been exonerated and I began to have hope that one day my son could be proven innocent and again be free. He told me they would do all they could.


A short time later, Bill called me and asked if I would join him for the Journey of Hope in Ohio. He said he would take care of everything I needed; all I needed to do was to get on the plane and join him. I had children at home that needed to be cared for, so I told him I could not be away from them for 17 days, but he said he would love to have me join them for as many days as I could.
What was I thinking? I was going to get on a plane and go to a place I had never been before and sleep with a group of strangers? But I knew I had to open every door that came my way. I had to try everything I could to save my son, so I agreed to go. To be honest, I was not even sure I would recognize this man. I had only met him once. But as I got off the plane, there he was carrying a sign with my name on it, wearing a Journey of Hope t-shirt and a huge smile on his face. I immediately felt safe and among friends. I knew that this trip was one of the best decisions of my life.


In Ohio, I met a mother whose son was on death row in Ohio, also wrongfully convicted. When I met her, she walked using a cane, her head hung low, and she seemed very fragile. During the 4 days I spent with this woman, I watch her begin to stand tall, give up the cane and find the strength to continue to fight for her son. I saw her again a few years later at a death penalty conference and I barely recognized her as she seemed whole again and was actively fighting for abolition, not only for her son, but for all on the row. I knew it was the Journey that gave her that strength.

It is through the Journey of Hope that I, too found the strength and the hope to fight for my son. It is through Bill Pelke that I learned the power of forgiveness, and that love and compassion is the answer to the pain and suffering brought on by violence. Bill and the Journey has given me the strength to carry this cross and hold my family together. Through the journey I am able to give purpose to the pain my family suffers in the fight for their brother. I have been able to share my son’s story and hopefully make a difference in the lives of others so we will not have suffered in vain.

This fight for my son’s freedom wears heavily on me and my family. Though my cross is a heavy one, my life has been richly blessed through my friendship with Bill Pelke. We have traveled together every year since 2003, and my spirit is renewed and at peace after each visit. I have no doubt that I would not be who I am today if not for the support and friendship of Bill. I know that my son would not be alive today if I did not have the strength to fight that comes from time spent with my “Journey family”, and I pray for the day that Justin can join us on a Journey of Hope. Bill gave me the hope that this can happen.

Sincerely,
Terri Steinberg


 
      
Terri shares this painful story over and over and over again.  It is a nightmare roller coaster ride and it never ends.    Pictures are worth a thousand words. You can see the agony as Terri speaks alone, and with Delia Perez Meyer at front of the steps of the United States Supreme Court during a Fast and Vigil event. Delia’s brother, Louis Perez, is on death row in Texas.  Delia is also a member of the 2014 Africa Journey Team and her story will be upcoming in this blog as well as Therese Bartholemew, Marietta Jaeger, Scott Langley, Kristi Smith, Colleen Cunningham and Anne Stedell hopfully in the near future. 

This is a powerful team.  Look who has been introduced already.  Two men, whose brothers were executed, Babu Bill Babbitt and Randy Gardner have seen the death penalty up close and personal.  Curtis McCarty was exonerated from OK’s death row.  Hey folks, on top of what all else is wrong with the death penalty, we make mistakes.  Curtis will join Ugandan death row exoneree Edward Edmary Mpagi in letting everyone know that as long as human beings are making decisions about who lives and dies, we are going to make mistakes. When it comes to the death penalty there is absolutely no room for mistakes.

SueZann Bosler’s powerful witness was on the last post. I can’t wait for everyone to meet the rest of the team and to keep you abreast of our progress.  Hopefuly scores of abolitionists will be able to join up our core group in Uganda. 
It is my belief and that of others that this 2014 African Journey will be a great event.  I want this blog to be a history of that success!  Of course everyone now knows why Terri is on the Africa Journey of Hope team.

                                                                            
                                                                           

                                                                       
AZ Death Row Exoneree Ray Krone and Terri joined me on a 22 day Journey of Hope in Germany in 2008.  It was on that Journey when Terri got the news that Justin was going to get a new hearing.  She was laughing, crying, shaking so much, that I literally had to hold her as she got out of the car in which we had been riding as she talked on the phone with Justin’s lawyer.
 
On the nightmare of the roller coaster ride it was one of the rare good turns.  Justin’s case goes up and down in the system.  As it does so do the emotions of those who love him and want justice.  Terri will be in court next Monday on the 28th when they should announce his new trial date.

http://www.insidenova.com/news/local/article_730385fa-55f7-11e2-aab7-001a4bcf887a.html. This article highlights another day on the nightmare rollercoaster called the death penalty. Terri and her family were en route to the jail, 45 minutes from bringing her son, their brother home when the stay was issued. “I will never forget the looks on my family's faces.....” Terri has shared.
Don’t we have laws in this country that forbid cruel and unusual punishment? 
Is not torture a human rights abuse?

Could you imagine the terror you would be going through if it was your son on Death Row?

Could you find yourself then seeking love and compassion?  It is the answer.

                                                                           

Till next time,
Peace
Bill


                                          We are family;  Kathy Harris, Terri Steinberg & SueZann Bosler               
                                                                  

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

SueZann Bosler

SueZann Bosler                    2014 Team Africa

On December 22, 1986, SueZann Bosler and her father, Rev. Billy Bosler, were attacked in the church parsonage by an intruder. Rev. Bosler was stabbed 24 times. SueZann, in an effort to help him, was herself stabbed in the back and head and left for dead. While lying on the floor pretending to be dead, she heard the intruder ransack the house as she watched her father take his last breath.
As a Brethren minister, Rev. Bosler had been an opponent of capital punishment, and had once told SueZann that if he was ever murdered he would not want his killer to receive the death penalty.

 On her father's behalf, SueZann worked for 10 1/2 years to spare the life of his murderer, James Bernard Campbell. She voiced her opposition to the death penalty throughout three trials and two sentencings. Her efforts put her at stark odds with Florida prosecutors and judges, who at one point threatened her with contempt of court if she revealed her views to the jury considering Campbell's fate.

 

"Being able to point to him and express my forgiveness, was like having a weight lifted from my shoulders," she recalls.

SueZann devoted many years to seeking commutation of Campbell's death sentence. On June 13, 1996, her efforts were successful and his sentence was commuted to three consecutive life terms.
I met SueZann when we were guests on the Oprah Winfrey Show.  It was a segment called “Forgiving the Unforgivable.  We were in the second set and when it opened I was between Oprah and SueZann.  Oprah introduced us to the audience and SueZann told her story.  I was amazed as she told it, it was extremely powerful.   When it was time for me to tell my story, I almost forgot that I had one.

After the program my cousin Judi and I were able to have lunch with SueZann and do a little shopping   before she flew back to Florida.
We were reunited on the 1993 Indiana Journey of Hope through the efforts of Bob Gross who organized that inaugural Journey.   That is also where she met Marietta Jaeger.  In 1994 Marietta’s, SueZann’s and my story were the focus for the Discovery Channel’s documentary "From Fury to Forgiveness" narrated by Susan Sarandon.  In 1997 SueZann, Marietta, George White and Sam Reese Sheppard joined me in the founding of Journey of Hope...from Violence to Healing as a nonprofit organization.

                                                                             

Not only is SueZann Bosler a Cofounder of the Journey of Hope, but after a short hiatus SueZann returned to the Board of Directors several years ago.  SueZann has traveled internationally on behalf of the Journey and is often a guest speaker for the Church of the Brethren's program "On Earth Peace”.

The First United Methodist Church Foundation of Anchorage, Alaska awarded the Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing $2,500 for the 2014 African Journey of Hope.  In 2013 the FUMC Foundation gave $1,000 for the Journey’s World Day Against the Death Penalty Tour in Indiana.  The Pastor of FUMC, Reverend Ronald Myers is a great personal support, for me and for the vision of the Journey’s mission.  He, along with other members of First United Methodist Church, knows the power of the Journey’s message of love and compassion for all of humanity. 
Upon hearing the news of the award I told Pastor Ron about SueZann.  He has met different people from the Journey but not her.  I told him SueZann’s story.  Ron has two young daughters not far from SueZann’s age at the time her father, a fellow minister, was murdered. I know he was touched by her story.  I told him SueZann wanted to go to Africa and that the award would go for her travel to Kenya and Uganda.

He was touched, and pleased. 
SueZann was, and remains elated.
SueZann is the first, of what we hope to be 8 more, to be able to join Curtis, Randy, Babu Bill and yours truly for the Africa Team of 13.  George White and I have always called her Little Sister.  It has stuck and she will always be our Little Sister.  Not sure if she will go along with the Papa Bill tag or not.  It might just stay at big brother. 

I asked SueZann about her thoughts on going to Africa.
She told me she has been interested in going to Africa, ever since meeting Edward Mpagi and Ronald Katongole on the Indiana Journey of Hope last year.  She told me that she had secretly wished that at some point in time she could go to Uganda and be involved in helping in any way she could.  She loves the incredible work they are doing.  She also recently reviewed some video of our visit to Edwards’s school in 2011 that is provided by Kathy Chism’s Dream One World.   http://dreamoneworld.org/  Kathy started the Uganda School Project and helped Edward build his school.

SueZann wrote this:

“The images of those beautiful smiling faces I saw on the video was the final straw.”
“At first I was excited in sharing what I have experienced; my story, a message of forgiveness and my convictions in which have been strengthened by working with other “victim survivors” in addition to what I have learned about life, humanity, compassion and forgiveness. I quickly realized that I would not be just sharing/educating the Ugandans they will be sharing/teaching me about life, humanity, compassion and forgiveness.”


“I not only wantto be there to reunite with old friends/colleagues I am eager to meet new allies. I personally want to be there to expand my inner passion of restoring humanity to those not only on death row, but victims (families & friends) on both sides. To merge worldwide organizations working together (strength sometimes comes in numbers), share our resources, to move toward something we all have in common, Our Universal Goal, to abolish the death penalty, violence, brutality and torture. We are coming closer to renewing life and hope, to those whose souls are being damaged, belief system broken-down, and hope trampled upon, and life taken with a stroke of a pen.”

“I will be taking home a heart full of unconditional love, promise and compassion, with help of the humble spirits of Uganda, who will rejuvenate my faith in humankind.”

“I already want to thank them for giving us the chance to be involved and empowered with Be the Change and Dream One World , we are truly blessed in assisting this to come true. “
 “I am so honored that the First United Methodist Church Foundation of Anchorage has awarded this Africa grant to the Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing to help sow the seeds of love and compassion for all of humanity.”
 

Amani (Peace)

As I stated once before, a friend asked me to write how the African team of 13 came to be.  I think this is one that needs no further explanation although there are many more reasons I could give.

                                                                            

SueZann is a hairdresser.  If you live in the Fort Lauderdale area contact her through Facebook if you need a do
SueZann is the fifth member of the team to be introduced.  Terri Steinberg is next.  Then we will be half way there.
Please feel free to share this blog with others or make a comment in the provided box.

BWANA ASIFIWE 
Bill

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Randy Gardener and Curtis McCarty

Today’s blog is about Randy Gardener and Curtis McCarty.


 
                                                           


Randy Gardner:

Randy’s brother, Ronnie Lee Gardner, was executed by firing squad by the good people of the State of Utah on June 18, 2010 after spending 25 years in prison.  About six months after Ronnie’s death, Randy did a google search about the death penalty and called the Journey of Hope office.   He told me he wanted to get active in the movement to abolish the death penalty.  He wanted to tell people what he seen and what he had heard.  He felt that if people really knew what was going on with executions, they would withdraw their support of this barbaric practice.    One of the things Randy saw was the bullet holes in his brother’s chest.  When he describes what he saw when he viewed the body and the way he forms his fingers picturing the bullet holes in the heart area, like the holes in a bowling ball, he puts himself right back to that moment. 

It is a sight that he will never forget. 

It is a sight that he hopes no other brother, sister or loved one has to see again.  Ronnie Lee went through a transformation while in prison.  He was guilty of the crime of murder, but he changed and did his best to pass on to Randy what he learned.   He encouraged Randy to do the right things and impressed on him the importance of forgiveness.  Randy told me he wanted to be able to help make a difference in the abolition movement and asked if the Journey could help him?  Of course I said yes.
We talked about the Abolition Action Committee’s Annual Fast and Vigil at the steps of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC June 29-July2.  I have been going since it began in 1994.  Randy began to make plans to attend.  When Babu Bill Babbitt and I started planning to go to Africa in 2011, I asked Randy if he wanted to go with us. 

At that time, Randy’s daughter worked for an airline and Randy could fly anywhere that her airline or their partners flew.  We just had to pay 10% of the ticket, and the tax.  The trip to Africa opened a new world to Randy and he made the best of his opportunities.  He did make a difference.

In 2012 I asked Randy if he was interested in joining the Journey of Hope Board of Directors.  He was and the board unanimously elected him.  I know that Randy has been a bit disappointed lately because of the lack of speaking opportunities. To have a powerful story to and not have a platform to share it can be very frustrating.   I knew that a trip back to Africa is just what Randy needed, so I helped give him a boost.  I knew that Randy is struggling financially.  His daughter no longer works for the airline so we lost that perk too. I told Randy his expenses would be covered through the Journey or by me but that he was covered.

Another driving force that Randy also hits home with is how it affected Ronnie Lee’s daughter Brandi. Babu Bill and Randy both have nieces whose father was executed.  It affected both daughters greatly when the state killed their daddies.  Love and compassion for all of humanity applies to Desiree and Brandi too.  If you have love and compassion for all of humanity you will not want to see anybody put into the death chamber and their life taken from them.  It is impossible.  Don’t kill anymore daddies.  Don’t kill them; let the daughters visit their daddies in prison, not the death house.
 Randy is from Salt Lake City, Utah.  One of the high ranking officials in the Mormon Church there took a special interest in his brother’s case. The Bishop’s counseling was a great source of inspiration, comfort and peace for Ronnie Lee. 

Randy has 40 acres of land in a remote part of Utah that he plans a “Back to Basic’s Ranch” for troubled youth in Ronnie’s memory.  Ronnie Lee was to say the least, a troubled youth.    I hope the Journey will someday see him fulfill his “Back to Basics Ranch” dream.

 I know the thought of going back to Africa has been very stimulating for Randy.  He knows the answer is love and compassion for all of humanity.  I love his philosophy.

One of my fondest memories of Randy in Africa at was at Edward’s school in Uganda. We spent one afternoon there and Randy was having the time of his life with all the children.  Randy would be sitting in the grass with the kids playing with the kids, grinning ear to ear.  The next minute he would be carrying one or two little kids around and showing them each love and affection. 
Randy is raring to take his message of love and compassion for all of humanity back to Africa.  He knows we can, and will make a difference.

                                                                        


Bill and I selected Randy as 2014 Team Africa member number three and Curtis McCarty is number four.  This is how we became the core of four.


                                                                          
                
  Curtis McCarty:

 “I am free physically, but mentally I am not. I am always there and I am always with the men I left behind and the men who died there, men whom I am certain are innocent.”

Curtis McCarty was exonerated in 2007 after serving 21 years – including 19 years on death row – for a 1982 Oklahoma City murder he didn’t commit. McCarty was convicted twice and sentenced to death three times based on prosecutorial misconduct and testimony from forensic analyst Joyce Gilchrist.

When 18-year old Pamela Kaye Willis was raped, stabbed, and strangled in her Oklahoma City home on December 10, 1982, Curtis McCarty became a suspect because he was acquainted with her.  Soon after the murder in 1983, forensic analyst Joyce Gilchrist examined hairs from the crime scene and found they did not match McCarty’s.  Police interviewed McCarty several times over the next three years, but he was not arrested until 1985. During the three years of Police questioning, Gilchrist secretly altered her notes to declare that the crime scene hairs could have been McCarty’s.  Attorneys for McCarty did not discover the change in Gilchrist’s notes until 2000, when she underwent investigation for fraud in other cases.  When the defense requested retesting of the hairs, the evidence had either been lost or destroyed deliberately.  Gilchrist, implicated in two other cases that sent innocent men to death row, was later fired from her job with the Oklahoma City Police department.

I met Curtis in San Jose, CA at the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty’s Annual Conference in January, 2008. It was eight months after his exoneration and release from death row. 
I will always remember that conference.  It was my fourth and final conference as Chair of the NCADP Board of Directors. They honored me with a plaque for my service to the board as Chair.  Many of my Journey friends were present at this conference and it included a number of exonerees. It was there that I got to know about Curtis and the man he has become.  Curtis is the first to admit that he had done some terrible things in his life, for which he is very sorry.  He is very honest and transparent about his past life. 

When he came to the conference he was amazed and thrilled when he realized that there were so many people in the outside world trying to end the death penalty.  He had been unaware of that support while he was on death row.   It was a matter of life or death for Curtis.  He takes it very serious.  Curtis was also intrigued with our message of love and compassion for all of humanity.
Curtis joined us for the Montana Journey in 2008 and Texas in 2010, and we have traveled to Switzerland and Italy and several other ventures in Chicago and Texas together.


              
                                                                         
Exoneree Curtis McCarty with Angie Agapetus and Green Party candidate Art Browning on Texas Journey


Edward Mpagi and Curtis have a unified message, “No matter where you live in this world, human beings are going to make mistakes, and when it comes to the death penalty there is no room for mistakes.”

 Babu Bill Babbitt, Randy Gardner and Curtis McCarty have all been to Alaska on behalf of Alaskans Against the Death Penalty and the Journey of Hope.  They have all stayed at my house at one time or another when they were here.  They are my friends, I love them all dearly.  What a great team to go to Africa with!

The four of us were the first to commit to going to Africa and we have asked the following nine people to join us: SueZann Bosler, Marietta Jaeger Lane, Therese Bartholomew, Kristi Smith, Terri Steinberg, Delia Perez Meyer, Ann Stendel, Scott Langley and Colleen Cunningham.  They all want to come.

This is the African Team of 13 members.

Over the next several weeks I will be blogging about each of the nine and why they were asked to join us.  If you can’t wait, feel free to google any of them.

The next blog will be about SueZann Bosler.

Peace, Bill

                                                                        

 Randy Gardner, Ronald Katongole, Babu Bill Babbitt, Edward Mpagi, Papa Bill Pelke in Rwanda 2011

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Members of the Team Journey for Africa; Bill Babbitt

I was asked by a friend if I would write about how Team Journey for Africa was selected.
When Bill Babbitt and I committed to going to Africa, things began to fall in place very quickly.

 
 

So first of all I would like to tell you a little bit about Bill Babbitt. 

Bill Babbitt supported the death penalty until it came knocking on his door.  Bill Babbitt turned his brother Manny over to the authorities when he realized his brother was involved in a violent crime.  Instead of Manny getting the mental health treatment he needed the State of California executed him.  Bill Babbitt watched his brother die in the San Quentin death house.  Bill feels like he has Manny’s blood on his hands.  Many have seen the picture of their mother Josephine at the execution vigil.  That photo was on the cover of Capital Consequences: Families of the Condemned Tell Their Stories, a book written by Rachel King who was a friend of ours.

Bill joined us for his first Journey in Texas in 2005 and brought his niece, Manny’s daughter Desiree.  In 2008 Bill committed to joining us on the Montana Journey of Hope.  He received a phone call from someone inviting him to Jamaica for a speaking tour taking place at the same time as the Montana Journey. Bill had always wanted to go to Jamaica, but because he wanted to keep his word to me, he declined their offer.

The main reason Bill wanted to come on the Montana Journey in the first place was that David Kaczynski was also going to be on it.  David gained international attention when he turned his brother in after realizing that his brother Ted could have been the Unabomber. Instead of getting the mental health treatment Ted needed the government decided to seek death.  Ted ended up with a life without the possibility of Parole (LWOP).   David befriended Bill and campaigned with Bill unsuccessfully to try and get Manny’s death sentenced overturned.

Bill and David became good friends and as a team of speakers they are the best. We have always referred to them as the Journey’s A Team.  They were also together on several Texas Journeys and this past year in Indiana. 

In 2011 my good friend Dirk Sisson said he would send me to Uganda with his frequent flyer miles when he found out Edward Mpagi had invited the Journey to help him in his lonely battle against the death penalty.  In turn, the first person I called was Bill Babbitt and asked him to join me in Uganda by using frequent flyer miles I had accumulated during my travels.
We met Edward’s friend Ronald Katongole in Uganda.  Edward had suffered a stroke a few weeks before we arrived but did not tell us for fear we would not come.  Edward knew that Ronald would take great care of us as host and he did. 

Ronald is a wonderful young man.  On this Journey Ronald will be our host, chief organizer and friend.  The Journey of Hope has a special relationship with Ronald.  We were able to bring him to Indiana last year to help Edward, who was sent to join us by the World Coalition to Against the Death Penalty at our request.  

The 2011 African Journey also went to Rwanda and Kenya. 

The trip to Africa changed Bill Babbitt’s life.  Bill is a Christian man with a strong faith in God.  He feels God’s hand is leading him back to Africa.  Many in Africa call him Babu, a sign of honor.
Babu feels that Uganda is very close to abolishing the death penalty.  It is on the books, but it is de facto, because they have not used it since 1999.  Bill feels like with a little nudge from the Journey that the death penalty in Uganda can be abolished.
 
Babu is going to Africa with the message of love and compassion for all of humanity.  The death penalty is inhumane and if anyone is an eye witness to that fact it is Bill Babbitt. 

Bill told me that since I took him to Africa the first time he would raise money and/or use his credit card to pay for the two of us to go.  How could I say no?  That is what I call an open door.   With Bill and I committed to going, I knew we would have to make it another Journey of Hope.  We both knew there would be something special about this Journey.

I told him I would raise and/or use my credit to bring Randy Gardner to Africa.  Randy went in 2011 and it was a life changing experience for him too.  Bill was 100% in agreement that it would be great to have Randy go again.

Randy and Bill have several things in common.  Randy’s brother was also executed. Both executions drew wide media attention.  Manny had been a hero in the Vietnam War and Randy’s brother, Ronnie Lee Gardner, was shot through the heart by a Firing Squad in the State of Utah.

A few days later after talking per chance with my friend Curtis McCarty, I told Babu that I would do the same for Curtis as I had pledged for Randy.  Curtis is a death row exoneree like Edward.  Curtis and Randy have powerful stories that give great witness the need for abolition.

I knew we had a great core of four to start the Journey with. In my next blog post I will share more about Randy and Curtis and how their powerful stories are an important part of the message we are taking to Africa.
 .
I know we all have each other’s back.  That is such a blessing.

In following blogs I will be sharing who the other team members and why they were chosen.  We will all complement each other on team Africa.

Peace,
Bill

Friday, 28 March 2014

Time to start blogging again!


Hello everybody,


I guess it is time for me to start blogging again.   Thank Angela Grobben for your blogging help.
I will be blogging about the November 2014 African Journey of Hope for everyone interested.
Today’s blog is for team Journey

Team Journey has 13 members:
Anne, Therese, SueZann, Colleen, Kristi, Terri, Delia, Marietta, Scott, Curtis, Randy, Babu Bill, and me Papa Bill

Colleen is constructing a fundraising page on Facebook and Therese is working on several other fundraising methods.  This is for all thirteen of us and will be used on the Journey website, Facebook and other sources.  You will be able to share your link with any of your friends.  We want each of you to come.

I am convinced we have a great team.  I have been asked how this team was selected.  The answer is simple.  When I put out the notice that the four of us (Babu, Randy, Curtis and myself) were going to Africa, you were the first ones who responded with definite interest in joining us.  Most of you indicated you needed financial help. We are going to help you all to try raise the funds you need in order to be able to go.

When Kristi Smith let me know she was definitely interested I was aware that the list was at thirteen people.  I said “that is enough. It is a great team, I hope they all go”.  That is  all I can justify to the JOH Board as far as obligations, for me personally and for the organization. 
Other people may join us in a second group, but they will be totally responsible for all of their expenses although we will help them in other ways.

Colleen needs your information for the Facebook page.  See what she has done with Delia and Therese’s segment. 

https://www.causes.com/campaigns/75414-send-journey-of-hope-speakers-to-africa-november-2014?new_post_id=904483

I am a member of the First United Methodist Church in Anchorage, Alaska.  Some years ago some of its members began the First United Methodist Church Foundation.  The foundation awarded the Journey $1000 for the 2013 Indiana Journey of Hope’s World Day Against the Death Penalty Tour.  This year I requested $2500 for traveling expenses for the African Journey of Hope.  On Saturday I received a check for $2500.   This award was designated to SueZann Bosler to enable her to take her powerful story to both Kenya and Uganda. SueZann is Journey of Hope Cofounder and also a sitting board. We are estimating about $2500 for those going to Uganda and $3000 for those going to both. 
Here is what we know so far.

Kenya:
The reason we are going to Africa in the first place was because Babu wanted to watch Evangelist Martin Ndolo graduate from Diguna Bible College on November 8.
I talked with Martin today by Facebook SKYPE.  While we are in Kenya, we will stay in college dorm rooms.  It is clean and a very reasonable price.  I have the name of their director I need to contact about speaking venues. 

Pastor George Thiongo was the reason we went to Kenya in 2011.  He has an elementary school and church in the slums of Nairobi and we are more than welcomed back there.

Carlo Santoro, a great friend from Rome has informed us that the community in Nairobi also wanted to have a service with us.  We expect more events to come up.  All Team members that are going to Kenya, will fly to Entebbe, Uganda around March 5.  Ronald Katongole will rent a van and drive us to Kenya.  We return to Uganda around the 12th where the rest of team will join us.  We will be in Uganda until the 24th.  A few may stay longer.

Uganda:

I have noticed that on flights to Uganda, JFK New York a round trip ticket was something like 850 for a round trip.  For most people going it might be much cheaper to book through JFK when the time comes.

You will need to make sure you have a current passport.  For those wishing to go to the death rows in Uganda need to have a copy of your passport that we can send to Edward Mpagi to apply for visits.  Because we want to bring cameras they want us to apply 6 months in advance.  Please send me an electric copy of your passport ASAP.  If you have an idea on how many days you will be with us please indicated that also.

During our Uganda stay the guys will stay at Kathy Nicolas’s home, two with Kathy and her friend (Marietta and SueZann most likely) and the rest at an apartment nearby that Bill Babbitt has volunteered to pay for.

I at least want to try to use this blog to communicate so please feel free to add your comments and we will see how it works.

I am very excited about us going to Africa with a united message of love and compassion for all of humanity.  We are going to continue to spread good seed.

I am going to be posting more about Edward Mpagi.  He is the hero in all of this.  We need to help his voice be heard.  We will stand at his side and we will have his back.  I would like for us all to know his story well.  We will also speak in high schools and colleges while in Uganda.

Thank you for being part of the team.

Have a wonderful day.  Bill


 

Thursday, 27 March 2014

African Journey of Hope

African Journey, November 2014

We are planning a trip to Kenya and Uganda this November!
 
After an incredible trip to Uganda, Rwanda, and Kenya in 2011 we are going back!  We will visit schools, churches, and prisons - it is sure to be an amazing experience and opportunity to share the message of the Journey of Hope!

 

Support our efforts!

 
More details will be forthcoming, for now, we greatly appreciate your support in terms of prayers, positive thoughts, and if you are able, financial contributions.
 
 
We have heard interest from many Journey of Hope speakers to attend and expect to have at least a dozen make the trip.  Already, Bill Pelke, Bill Babbitt, Randy Gardner, and Curtis McCarty are confirmed to attend.  We've been blessed by gracious hosts and accomodations once we arrive, but airfare will be expensive.  Any help you can give is most appreciated! 

 

African Journey blog post from Bill Pelke

 
For more information about the 2011 African Journey, and details about this year's trip, click here to read a letter from Journey of Hope co-founder and President Bill Pelke.