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Journey of Hope...from Violence to Healing

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How Our Work Promotes Love and Forgiveness: 

Love and forgiveness are the cornerstones of Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing. In fact, the organization’s most prominent quote from its president and co-founder, Bill Pelke is: “The answer is love and compassion for all humanity.” This message of unconditional love and forgiveness, even in the wake of the unthinkable pain and grief, serves as the foundation for every action the organization takes.

Through public education speaking tours led by murder victims’ family members, Journey storytellers recount their personal stories of losing loved ones to murder. Journey storytellers are real people who know firsthand the aftermath of the insanity and horror of murder. The Journey spotlights murder victim's family members who choose not to seek revenge and instead select the path of love and compassion for all of humanity.

Journey speakers share their stories about the process of healing through reconciliation as a way of opening dialogue on the death penalty. They call for alternatives to the death penalty and an end to the cycle of violence perpetuated by capital punishment. Most importantly, the Journey gives real, human responses to the common claim, “You’d feel different if it happened to someone you loved.” Their stories of love and forgiveness can be retold and can move away from heated debate and towards thoughtful discussions about finding more positive and humane responses to violence in our society.

Accompanying victims’ family members on the Journey are death row family members–-people whose lives have been torn apart by the violence of execution but for whom society has little empathy and no practical support. Another key group of Journey members include men and women who have been exonerated from death row. Their stories reveal how without forgiveness and love, their lives too would have been overcome by bitterness and a desire for revenge. Exonerees kept hope alive through years of wrongful imprisonment, and by sharing their stories, they continue to hope that change is possible.

Most people assume that murder victims’ family members would be among the loudest voices supporting the use of capital punishment. Journey storytellers turn those assumptions upside down and challenge audiences to consider how truly limitless forgiveness could transform the world. Countless audience members have recounted personal transformations they have undergone after hearing stories from the Journey of Hope. When they hear stories of such radical forgiveness, their own broken relationships become more easily repaired by comparison.

Speakers promote restorative justice, a new vision for the criminal justice system, which stresses the need for offender accountability and the opportunity for offenders to make amends to victims and to the larger community. Restorative justice processes allow for greater healing in the lives of both victims and offenders and promote sustainable peace in communities. Journey audiences recognize the need for love and forgiveness to become the foundation for a new criminal justice system, starting with the abolition of the death penalty, and continuing with the implementation of restorative justice in our courts, prisons, and communities.

Organizational Profile/Synopsis: 

Journey of Hope...from Violence to Healing is an organization led by murder victims’ family members that conducts public education speaking tours and addresses alternatives to the death penalty. The organization was officially founded in 1997 by five murder victims’ family members: SueZann Bosler, Marietta Jaeger-Lane, Sam Reese Sheppard, George White, and Bill Pelke. In the last fifteen years, its membership has grown to over one hundred people whose stories have touched the lives of thousands. Every year, the Journey of Hope travels to spread the message of non-violence and forgiveness to high school classes, church groups, the media, college classes, legislative settings, rallies, and civic and professional organizations. The Journey has traveled to 40 states in the U.S., as well as 16 other countries, including the Philippines, Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya.

The Journey works closely with other organizations striving to abolish the death penalty and promote restorative justice, such as Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation, the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and the World Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. It is the Journey’s hope and belief that this broad coalition will transform individuals, communities, and the whole world over into one founded on love and compassion for all humanity. Journey of Hope… from Violence to Healing will continue its work until the death penalty is abolished worldwide.

Goals: 

1. Host a 17-day tour in Indiana in October 2013, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the first Journey of Hope which took place there in 1993.

2. Help organize the 5th World Congress against the Death Penalty in Madrid, Spain in June 2013 and have several Journey speakers present.

3. Hire a part-time Executive Director.

4. Increase number of speaking events involving faith-based organizations.

5. Complete film “Step By Step,” produced by Pro Bono, Inc. featuring the story of the Journey of Hope.

Accomplishments: 
Helped the fledgling Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP) develop chapters throughout the state in the 1998 Texas Journey of Hope.
Led a march of 7,000 individuals to the Vatican, culminating in Pope John Paul II’s first public calling for worldwide abolition of the death penalty during his Christmas address to the world.
Filed an amicus brief in the Roper v. Simmons case, culminating in the U.S. Supreme Court forbidding the death penalty in cases where the defendant was under 18 at the time of the crime.
Visited and shared stories with death row prisoners in Uganda in October 2011; welcomed by prison guards and invited to return in the future.
Conducted Journey tours in New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, Illinois and Connecticut and helped their state coalitions grow into viable organizations, culminating in all five states abolishing the death penalty in the last five years.
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