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