Activists, Peacemakers and Rabble Rousers

Okay, now that I’ve “vented” a little about some of the dissenting voices I heard last week, I’d like to tell you about some of the other wonderful and inspiring people I’ve met who are dedicated and passionate activists, peacemakers and rabble-rousers, each “troubling the waters” in their own way.

John Gehrett (age 88!!), and his “organizing committee” of Lynn Clanton and Jan Hoaglin, worked tirelessly to organize a very well-attended event for me. At the beginning of that event, John offered a very moving story of how Marie Hamilton’s stories of compassion and forgiveness brought John to a place where he was able to sit down and write a letter of apology and forgiveness he’d needed to write for several decades but hadn’t been able to bring himself to do until now.

Over breakfast the next morning, John told me, “This topic has got me stirred up, Melanie!” He said his mind had churned all night wondering what they might do to start addressing some of the issues we had discussed the night before. John and his wife, Jean, asked how they could get a good “primer” on victim offender mediation and how the process works. I recommended Howard Zehr’s “Little Book of Restorative Justice.” One of John’s parting comments before I left their home was, “We may be old, but we’re not so old that we can’t be doing SOMETHING!” What a blessing to have people of John’s and Jean’s wisdom and life experience so committed to taking action!

In Charlotte, I met Dan and Donna Kroener who have been dedicated anti-death-penalty activists with Amnesty International for years. They led the effort to organize the “Execute Art Not People” event there on Saturday night. They’ve both got hearts a mile wide and their passion for the death penalty abolition cause is so inspiring!

At the Charlotte event, Therese Bartholomew shared her story of tragedy and forgiveness with incredible grace, strength and even a bit of humor. Her brother was murdered in 2003 and since then, Therese has become a dedicated restorative justice advocate, has written a memoir titled Coffee Shop God and is now making a documentary film titled The Final Gift in which she hopes to share not only her own and her brother’s story, but to give a voice to the man who killed her brother as well. Therese has also been fighting for years to be allowed to meet with him in the South Carolina prison where he was sent and she’s close to getting approval to do so. Amazing and very cool woman! We concluded that we need to join forces to go out and do some rabble-rousing together someday!

On Sunday morning, I talked with a small but committed group at First Presbyterian Church in Asheville. They’ve undertaken a several week study of prison issues and are exploring how they might then take action. A special bonus was meeting and spending time with Bruce and Judy Greenawalt, members of First Presbyterian. Bruce is Mary Whitacre’s brother and a retired history professor at UNC-Asheville. And Judy is a terrific cook and gracious host. They’ve extended their warm hospitality to me for a few days here in Asheville.

At a book signing and author talk at Blue Ridge Osondu Books in Waynesville, I met a group of sisters whose mother was a prison chaplain for years before she died recently of cancer. They said the memorial service held for their mother at the prison was one of the most meaningful moments of their lives, as one incarcerated woman after another told them how much their mother had helped them by showing compassion and respect.

A man who’s been a volunteer in a nearby state prison for over 40 years, and several others deeply involved in prison ministries were at the Blue Ridge event as well.

I also met a husband and wife who are fighting for changes in how the criminal justice system deals with people who are mentally ill. They, along with Kim Crespi, who I’d met at the Charlotte event, have a passion for this issue based on painful experience with their own mentally ill family members being incarcerated.

Senator Joe Sam Queen came to the Waynesville event too and said the state of North Carolina is now working with the Pew Center on the States, which published the “1 in 100” and “1 in 31” reports, to examine issues in the state’s criminal justice system and help map out needed improvements. The Pew Center has worked with several other states over the past couple of years, including Kansas and Texas. This is huge for North Carolina and very, very encouraging.

This is just part of the list of great people I’ve met in the last few days…I’ll continue the list in my next entry.

Peace out,

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Name one inspiring person you’ve met recently. What made them inspiring?

Posted by Melanie Tagged as: grace goes to prison restorative justice criminal justice book tour death penalty

Next: The list goes on

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