We are traveling through Tennessee's heartland and highways, meeting folks and starting conversations about our death penalty.

Get our blog by email!
Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Click here to check out
The Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty - Nashville!

Add to Technorati Favorites

Powered by Blogger

Tuesday, October 31, 2006



Last weekend marked the end of the 2006 Journey of Hope in Virginia. The Journey which began in Indiana in 1993, and has been growing ever since, is a group of murder victims' family members, now joined by family members of the executed, family members of death row inmates, and death row exonerees. These people carry the message that forgiveness and healing are better for victims than the hatred and vengeance embodied in the death penalty.

I had the honor to travel with the Journey for five days this year and all I can say is that it was an honor and an inspiration. The power of personal stories of people who have undergone the most painful experiences that I can imagine and still come out as loving, forgiving, and beautiful people has an incredible power. These are the stories with the capability to truly change the hearts and minds of America.

Please read about this year's journey here.

Monday, October 30, 2006


Death in Texas

While we in Tennessee celebrated the stay of execution for Donnie Johnson, scheduled to die on October 24th, Texas carried out an execution the next day. TCASK Board Member, Tim McDonald had developed a personal friendship with Greg Summers and shared the following reflection. My thoughts and prayers are with Tim, Greg, and all victims of violence:

"I Appreciate it and I Appreciate You"

Greg Summers - Friend, Artist, Father, Child of God

The state of Texas knew Greg Summers only as #999010; the state of Texas knew Greg Summers as an "offender" who was expendable in the political process that serves as a poor excuse for a justice system; the state of Texas knew Greg Summers as a conviction of circumstantial evidence. The state of Texas thus killed Greg Summers on October 25, 2006 because its poor and inadequate judgment allowed it to do so.

But I knew Greg Summers as a friend who does what all friends do - asked for help, offered help, shared fears and joys, asked for and offered prayers, laughed and cried. I knew Greg Summers as an artist whose work was shared with those who appreciated it. I knew Greg Summers as a man who longed to see the children who had long ago left him. I knew Greg Summers as a human being created in the Image of God and as a Child of God for whom Christ gave His Life.

Greg and I exchanged letters for over 4 years and shared visits for 3 years. He always ended his letters with the same closing - "I appreciate it and I appreciate you." Greg's appreciation was always given to his friends. He told his friends about his parents whom he loved and the ones for whose deaths Texas made him responsible, guilty or not. Greg was not a perfect human being, as none of us are, but I do not believe he was a killer.

So, from Maartje, Kees, Ivo, Caterina, Ria & Ton, Walter, Joy, Madelene, Connie, and myself, to Greg - We appreciate it and we appreciate you, our friend. Enjoy the peace you have found and until we meet again may God hold you in the Palm of His Hand.

Tim McDonald


Planning Day

The TCASK staff is finally in the office! I know, I know, this shouldn't sound like a big accomplishment, but, as you know, Stacy Rector began her service as TCASK's Executive Director two weeks ago on the 16th. However, I have been on the road (Virginia, Memphis, McKenzie, Memphis again, Jackson, Lexington, back to Virginia) for the past two weeks, and, therefore, haven't been here at my desk. So today, with the heady experience of the NCADP Conference behind us, we're back in the office, both of us, really for the first time. It's very exciting.

But there's also an awful lot to figure out. Like, "Hey, whose job is it to take out the garbage?"

"Which staff person should be making sure that our newsletter gets out on time?"

If the bills don't get paid, who should be shamed and shunned in punishment?"

And all of those other serious questions. We need to figure out what, as a tiny staff, we can do, and who can best do it (as the underling, taking out the garbage is clearly my responsibility, by the way). And we need to plan out our work over the next weeks and months as we head for the legislative session in which we will pass the moratorium and study bill.

In fighting the death penalty, and in a great deal of other social justice work, there are always many many things that we could do and that we want to do. And there are always to few people and too little money to do it. So we need to be able to prioritize and figure out what we can reasonably expect to accomplish and then buckle down and git 'er done, and that is what today is all about.

Monday, October 23, 2006


Bethel Blitz

With a staggering fourth quarter comeback, Bethel College won their homecoming game on Saturday, defeating Shorter College 35-21. And I'm sure it was an exciting game! And while I'm positive that Bethel did unleash a devastating blitz attack, I was really talking about my trip to the college today and tomorrow morning.

Today, I'm in the process of a five-class day (with a meeting with a local minister and a school administrator squeezed in) and tomorrow morning I will be preaching at the all school chapel service. What does this mean? By the end of a day and a half of work, I will have spoken to roughly 500 students on a campus of 1000 or so students. And I get to talk about the death penalty from an array of perspectives, religious, sociological, legal, all depending on the audience.

So how does this happen? How do we git 'er done on a college campus like this?

Well it all starts with a good student organizer, in this case, Allen McQueen (co-chair of the TCASK Student Caucus). Allen's a senior a Bethel and has built up a lot of relationships with professors here. Which means that when he asks them if I can speak, they say yes. Then he's also gotten to know the chaplain, who asked me, last year, if I would come back in the fall and preach. All that leaves us with dozens, maybe 100 Bethel students to contact, all after a one day swing. Last year, Bethel brought us six participants in Justice Day on the Hill, and hopefully this year, they can bring even more. Bethel is the core of our Carroll County organizing push, and all because one dedicated student organizer asked a few professors to take a day off and let me speak to their classes! If we can do it here, we can do it at your college too.

Also, a quick shout out to Kate Adcock, a student at Rhodes College. Kate, who interned in the TCASK office this summer, got me an invitation to speak to the Rhodes Catholic Student Association on Sunday night, and I had a great time. So thank you, to Allen and Kate. And start thinking about bringing a TCASK blitz to your campus as well!

Friday, October 20, 2006


Donnie Johnson's Execution Stayed!

Yesterday, Donnie Johnson received a stay of execution from the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. At issue was the fact that Johnson had another issue pending before the Sixth Circuit and it would probably be better to resolve that before he was executed.

Today, TCASK has learned that the state has chosen not to appeal this decision by the court, and, therefore, Johnson will not be executed on Tuesday night/ Wednesday morning. This is a particular relief since Johnson's conviction is so seriously flawed. There are questions about his guilt, issues of prosecutorial misconduct, perjured testimony, and inadequate representation by counsel. All in all, the case demonstrates once again just how broken Tennessee's capital punishment system is. But, at least for now, the broken system will not claim another life.

Have a terrific weekend!


Memoirs of an Abolitionist

I am back (for about 18 hours anyway) and it's been extremely gratifying to have had 3 whole people call or email me asking why there hasn't been any new posting to this blog in the last couple days. It's nice to know that at least a few folks are reading!

But I have been very truly on the road to abolition, and there is simply so much to say. I've spent this week traveling around Virginia with the Journey of Hope: From Violence to Healing. For those who don't know, the Journey is a group of murder victim's family members, death row family members, family members of the executed, and exonerated former death row inmates, who spend 17 days each year traveling around a given state and spreading the message of forgiveness over revenge, justice and fairness over injustice, and peace over violence. As an activist, my job was to introduce the aprticipants and to put their stories into the broader context of the inherent flaws in the death penalty.

For instance, on thursday night, I spoke with Shujaa Graham, a death row exoneree. Shujaa's story was incredible and moving for the hole audience, and there wasn't much that I had to say to convince people about the injustice. I just needed to draw the larger picture, so I got to get up and say, "I want to tell you all that Shujaa's story and situation are unique. I want to tell you that this was an aberration. But I can't, because it happens all the time."

We travelled from Fairfax, to Roanoke, then Abingdon, then Richmond in the few days that I was with the Journey, with side trips to several other cities along the way. I'm sure that it will take many more days for me to process all of the emotion that I felt on this Journey. I know that, driving away yesterday, I felt like crying. I didn't want to leave, even though I knew that I had to return to Tennessee to get to Memphis for the weekend and then McKenzie, Memphis, Jackson, and Lexington Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. The good news is that I will see most of the Journey folks again at the NCADP Conference at the end of next week. I can't wait.

Read mroe about the Journey here.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Forgiveness and Healing

The NCADP Blog has a beautiful story posted regarding the violence we've recently seen in our schools across the country and our responses to violence, particularly that of the Amish community recovering from its own horrific event. As I reflected on Bud Welch's story and on our continued, frantic pace of execution dates, this piece seemed ever more relevant. We all do have a choice, will we repay evil with evil or with good.

Read about the Amish choice here.


"We both buried a child"

That's what Bud Welch said, speaking about his meeting with Timothy McVeigh's father at the Cathedral of the Incarnation here in Nashville last night. Bud said that, in watching an interview with Bill McVeigh on tv, he, in a brief moment, recognized his own pain in Bill's eyes, the pain of losing a child.

Bud's entire story is a moving one. He's a father who says that he is blessed in getting to tell millions of people about his daughter, Julie Marie, who was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995. He's a father bragging on his daughter, who, by all accounts, was a wonderful young woman, a remarkably intelligent person who spoke 5 languages and won a scholarship to study abroad in Spain and attend Marquette University, a devoted Catholic, a loving daughter. And she was loved. You can see it in every word that Bud speaks when he talks about her.

But I was particularly moved, after hearing this father talk about his love for his daughter, to hear him talk about Bill McVeigh. Bud says that Bill will never be able to say any of the good things that he knows about Tim in public. He'll never be able to tell the cute stories about his little child that Bud gets to tell the world. He can't stop loving his son, but he can't say that out loud, and that pain could be a consuming one.

So often, people tell me that if I lost I loved one, I'd feel differently about the death penalty. So often I hear that if I lost someone, I wouldn't care about the murderer's family. I don't know if that's true or not for me, but I know that it isn't true for Bud. And that truth is an inspiration.

You can still hear Bud speak at MTSU this morning at the KUC theatre at 9:10 and 10:20.

At 7:00 pm Bud will speak at UT Chattanooga

Thursday at 12:30 he will speak to the Episcopal Peace Fellowship in Sewanee.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006



Now I know, sitting somewhere in Tennessee, we all feel lonely - like we're the only person out there who opposes the death penalty. But today is World Day Against the Death Penalty! And it's a good time to remember that we are not alone. In fact, in the industrialized world, we are in the majority by far. Let's remember, the U.S. is the only Western democracy that uses the death penalty. If we were a European country, we would not be allowed to join the European Union because of our country's violations of human rights (aka our use of the death penalty).

When you check out Amnesty International's World Day Against the Death Penalty page, you'll see actions listed for five countries - China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, and us. Now, when talking about any subject regarding human rights, I'm not sure that is the exclusive list that we should want to be a part of.

Of course, a lot of people, my favorite Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia included, will say that other countries don't get to write America's laws. People will say that we should be leading internationally, not following a worldwide opinion poll. But I wonder how legitimate our calls for respect for human rights around the world sound to people in England or Germany where they consider the use of the death penalty a human rights violation.

And be sure to catch Bud Welch speaking in Tennessee this week. His schedule in the post below.

Monday, October 09, 2006


Bud Welch Arrives Today!

Bud Welch, whose daughter Julie was killed in the Oklahome City bombing is 1995 and who later befriended Timothy McVeigh's father and opposed McVeigh's execution, will be arriving in Tennessee this afternoon. Bud's story is an inspiration, a story of the power of forgiveness over revenge and love over hate. If anyone has the opportunity to hear him speak, take advantage of it. Bud's Tennessee schedule includes:

Trinity United Methodist Church in Rutherford County at 7:00pm Monday, October 9th

The Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville at 7:00 pm Tuesday, October 10th

KUC Theatre at MTSU at 9:10 and 10:20 am Wednesday, October 11th

Vanderbilt Divinity School at 12:30 pm Wednesday, October 11th

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga at 7:00 pm Wednesday, October 11th

The Episcopal Peace Fellowship in Sewanee at 12:30 Thursday, October 12th

We hope to see you all at one of these events!

Friday, October 06, 2006


A life is a life, isn't it?

Anyone who isn't blind and deaf probably knows that we are in full election swing. There are yard signs, TV ads, campaign blogs and emails. It's all around us. In this time, I've received a number of emails asking about TCASK endorsements for candidates, etc. As a 501(c)3 organization, of course, TCASK does not endorse candidates. And we don't believe that the death penalty should become a partisan issue. We are about public education and organizing, demonstrating the inherent flaws of the capital punishment system, and finding common ground with as many people as possible.

But not everyone feels that way. Lots of bigger organizations do make candidate endorsements, donations, etc. Which brings me to the subject of today's post. One email I got, from a Catholic friend of mine included the following:

I continue to get information from "pro-life" organizations on candidates who support the "pro-life" message - many even including voter guides (like this one)

It seems inconsistent to me that many of these same "pro-life" candidates are also "pro-death", supporting capital punishment.

Now, while TCASK doesn't endorse candidates, I find myself agreeing with the overall sentiment of this email. Some of the candidates who bill themselves as "pro-life" are also "pro-death" when it comes to executions. Tennessee Right to Life has maintained a position of being against the taking of "innocent" life. I wonder what they would say about the execution of Paul House? Or Ruben Cantu? How about Carlos De Luna?

One of the candidates that TN Right to Life endorses is Matthew Hill, from the 7th House District. Representative Hill is a "pro-life" candidate who has sponsored legislation to expand the use of the death penalty. Expand a system that we know threatens innocent lives, costs tax-payers money, target the poor, and fails to deter crime.

As abolitionists we should be concerned that the pro-life mantle is so easily assumed by so many cheer leaders for state-sponsored killing. Because let's remember, the official cause of death for a person who has been executed is homicide. It's hard to reconcile "I'm pro-life" with "I support homicide."


The War at Home

As usual this week, we've been fighting the death penalty here at TCASK. On Monday, I traveled to Memphis to facilitate the renewal of the TCASK Memphis chapter. On Tuesday, I was in Crossville doing a talk with Hector Black and Joyce House. On Wednesday I went at spoke at Glendale Baptist Church (it was a fun talk). But all that time, I've also been having another fight - fighting a very annoying head cold and cough. It's been a real pain.

One of the problems with having only one person in the office is that there aren't a lot of people to delegate work to if you aren't feeling very good. My momma has told me to stay in bed for a day and get healthy. And I wanted to, but there just hasn't been the time this week, so I've been trying to keep my energy up for talks at night and then get some sleep so I can be in the office and be moderately productive.

So, if anything come up tomorrow . . . DON'T CALL ME!!!

Because tomorrow I intend to sleep in and take it easy so I can be healthy next week when Bud Welch comes to town! It's hard to abolish the death penalty if you aren't healthy.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


Go, Bill, Go!

Bill Redick, the director of the Tennessee Justice Project, had a terrific guest commentary in The Tennessean last week, which I meant to post earlier. It's still a good read, even a week later, though. Bill focuses on the targeting of people with mental illness for execution in Tennessee, and issue that we at TCASK have also been focusing on, particularly considering the recent near executions of Paul Dennis Reid and Daryl Holton.

You can read Bill's whole column here.


Strategically Speaking

Strategy is a word that we hear a lot about in social justice movements. In TCASK we have developed a strategic plan to reach our goal of a moratorium on executions by 2008. But what is strategy really and what does it all mean?

When we talk about strategy, I think we can get very confused, because it's a word that we hear so frequently in so many different contexts. In the world of social justice activism, strategy means the method of achieving a public policy goal - a distinct change to the status quo that would not occur without your efforts. When we form a strategy, we have people that are against us and we have targets that can give us what we want. We deliver messages to our targets through the use of various tactics (a sit-in, petition drive, media campaign, etc.)

But that's not what I came to write about.

I came to write about gaining the skills to do good strategic planning. See tonight, I'm going to be doing a workshop on strategic planning for the Leadership Institute over at the Nashville Peace and Justice Center. Two days ago, the Nashville TCASK Chapter did an internal assessment of the chapter to move toward an official TCASK Strategic Planning Training Session for the November meeting. At that meeting, we will not only go through the process of forming a strategic plan, but we will actually develop a strategy for the chapter over the next 6-12 months. Our activists get a chance to not only build their skill sets but also to move our chapter forward in an effective and strategic manner.

Now on Tuesday, 10 stalwart TCASK activists came together to do a true assessment of the resources and gaps of the Nashville Chapter - you can't know where you are going until you know where you're starting from - and now they'll be ready, next month, to make a plan building on those resources and filling in those gaps.

Eventually, we hope to do this training in all of our chapters, building a better understanding of the strategic planning process and getting a better sense of how each chapter's work plugs into the statewide strategic plan. And we're happy to do this, or any other TCASK training, with any of our chapters or proto-chapters around the state, just like I'm thrilled to get to do an altered version with the Leadership Institute tonight. What we don't lack, in social justice movements, is passion. But passion is only one of the ingredients necessary for a successful campaign. We still need to find the best and most effective way to channel that passion to achieve success. We need some strategy!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Wisconsin Update

The fight over the non-binding referendum to reinstate the death penalty after 153 years in Wisconsin is still on. Recent polls show that the race is close, although conservatives have been touting a mythical 80% margin in the votes, probably to decrease turn out from opposition forces and make people feel that their fight is hopeless.

The Sheperd-Express ran a terrific an truly insightful article on the battle and the lies that go into arguments in favor of the death penalty. We need more truly investigative and in-depth media work like this.

Check it out.


Dream Team

I've been dreaming about last night's panel presentation since I came to Tennessee. Leading off, Hector Black, with his powerful story of forgiveness and compassion as he rose above hatred and vengeance toward healing after the murder of his daughter Patricia in 2001. After Hector, Joyce House, the mother of Paul House, who has been on death row for 20 years and is innocent. Even the Supreme Court says so, but the state of Tennessee doesn't want to admit it's own deadly mistake. And then I got to talk. I mean what an act to follow. I have no amazing personal stories to tell. But I can at least put the stories in context. No, Paul House isn't the only innocent person sentenced to death; sadly, there have been a lot like him. No, Hector isn't the only family member of a murder victim to turn away from revenge; there are whole organizations made up of people like Hector. No, all those other lies about the death penalty, that it saves money, deters crime, is fair, etc, aren't true either.

Hector, Joyce, and I spoke at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church in Crossville last night to a small but incredibly appreciative audience. They didn't all come in that way. The Social Justice coordinator at the church told us before the talk that people didn't want to deal with the death penalty. But stories like Hector's and Joyce's have a way of changing people's minds. After we all finished talking, three different audience members announced publicly that we had turned them around on the death penalty.

This is a panel that I'm hoping to have speak in many more venues. Hector and Joyce break down the two pillars of support for capital punishment: that it brings healing to the families of murder victims, and that it is just. Hearing a man whose daughter was murdered speak about the power of forgiveness is a rare and beautiful experience. And seeing Joyce House stand up ("I'm not a speaker, I'm a mother," she declares) and talk about her innocent son confined to a wheel chair on Tennessee's death row, has power. Enough power to shine a clear light through the murkiness of the lies we're told in support of capital punishment. On the headstone of Patricia's grave on Hector's farm the following words are written: "All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle." These two people are the truths that will shine through the darkness of our state's continued pursuit of vengeance in all of our names.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Welcome Back, Memphis!

The Memphis Chapter of TCASK is back! After a separation of several years from the state-wide organization, the Memphis Chapter officially re-formed (not to be confused with "reformed" which I originally typed and then realized that the implication was no good). The chapter is meeting on the first Monday of the month and next month will elect board representatives for the December board meeting.

I was in Memphis last night to facilitate a meeting with some old TCASK stalwarts and some new recruits. We targeted a number of faith communities for National Weekend of Faith in Action events (I'll be spending the weekend in Memphis to help the work in that city) and recruited people to join us for the NCADP conference October 27-29.

It's exciting to have Memphis on board again! With 40% of death row inmates coming out of Shelby County, trying to abolish the death penalty in Tennessee without a Memphis chapter is kind of like trying to put on "Hamlet" without Hamlet appearing in the play. Now our efforts can truly focus state-wide! So we'll gear up for the NWFA and then get set to pass a moratorium in the Memphis City Council!

Monday, October 02, 2006


Farewell, Mr. A.G.

On Friday, Paul Summers ended his eight year term as Tennessee's Attorney General. I wish I could say that I am sorry to see Mr. Summers go, but his reign has been a bad one in regards to the death penalty. Before Summers assumed office, the last execution in Tennessee occurred in 1960. Sadly, Summers bookended his term with executions, Robert Glen Coe's in 2000 and Sedley Alley's in 2006. And Summers sought many more execution dates. Abu-Ali Abdur Rahman, Philip Workman, Daryl Holton, and Paul Dennis Reid have all come within days, or even hours, of death under Summers tenure.

Summers even named arguing against Abu-Ali's challenge to Tennessee's lethal injection procedure in the U.S. Supreme Court as one of the high points of his term in an article in the Tennessean. Summer's office has maintained that Paul House is guilty, despite DNA evidence pointing to his innocence and the recent Supreme Court ruling that no reasonable juror would have found Paul House guilty. Summers rejected allowing DNA testing for Sedley Alley which would have provided conclusive proof of his guilt or innocence prior to his execution, even though such testing could have been done at no cost to the state and with no delay to an execution should it have proved Alley's guilt.

Summers has also been particularly aggressive in pursuing execution dates for people suffering from mental illness. I was recently reminded of the case of Greg Thompson, diagnosed with schizophrenia, schizo-affective disorder, and bi-polar disorder. Thompson, for those unfamiliar with the case, believes that he has written every song on the radio, has won two grammy awards, can survive execution and go to Hawaii afterwards, and that he is a Klingon (an alien from Star Trek). He even believes that Brenda Blanton Lane, the woman he murdered, is alive and working in Riverbend Prison. In 2000, Summers, claiming that Thompson was "incapable of making rational decisions" asked that the Tennessee Supreme Court place a conservator on Thompson to medicate him. Sadly, this medication was only to make him "sane enough" for execution. In 2004, while admitting that Thompson's mental state had continued to degrade, Summers asked that the Court remove the conservator so that he could seek an execution date.

I don't know enough about Paul Summers' service as Tennessee's A.G. outside of the death penalty; I've only been in the state about a month. However, when considering the death penalty, Summers has been a leading proponent of more and more executions. " . . . the death penalty has been activated twice since I've been attorney general, and probably should have been activated more than that," Summers said upon leaving office. Considering that the two execution including a man with clear mental illness and a man with questions as to his guilt, I think I'd have to quarrel with the Attorney General's assessment.