Journey of hope speakers ask students to reconsider the death penalty


Terri Steinberg was one of the Journey of Hope speakers that spoke about her son being on death row. | Pablo Milanese/The Cougar

The Law Center, in conjunction with the Graduate College of Social Work, hosted a talk on the death penalty Monday at the University Center to promote forgiveness during times of loss and hopelessness.

Members of Journey of Hope, an organization led by families of murder victims, shared their stories with students in hopes of ultimately altering the government’s system of capital punishment.

UH professor of law, David Dow said this event focuses on a different way of responding to violence — through healing instead of revenge. He believes students can benefit from this program in part because they are not immune from violence.

Larry Hill, research professor at the Graduate College of Social Work, talked about why this conversation about healing and mercy in the face of death is important.

“When you’re talking about the death penalty, it centers on restorative justice,” Hill said. “So, I want students to understand really what that means. If someone commits a crime, what kind of punishment should they get? Does the punishment fit the crime?”

Journey of Hope member Terri Steinberg’s son was falsely accused of murder and has been on death row.

“Can you imagine what it’s like as a mom to get that phone call that says we’re going to kill your son on Oct. 28?,” Steinberg said.“The death penalty is a cruel, degrading, merciless act. It’s a pre-meditated murder in its worst form. If we get it wrong, we can’t undo it.”

Shujaa Graham, another Journey of Hope member, shared his story of being exonerated on death row after he was framed for the murder of a prison  guard. On his fourth trial, after spending three years on death row, he was found not guilty.

“All I can do with my final days is make sure what happened to me, will never happen to another citizen as long as I live,” Graham said.

President and Co-founder of Journey of Hope, Bill Pelke said he forgave his grandmother’s murderer that he chose the road to healing instead of vengeance.

“When my heart was touched with compassion, the forgiveness became automatic,” Pelke said. “When forgiveness took place, it brought tremendous healing.”

Human development and family studies junior Mary Ifebuzor said what intrigued her to attend the event was the aspect of healing and forgiveness relating to the death penalty.

“I saw a video about forgiving those people that show violence,” Ifebuzor said. “So, it makes me realize, maybe I should go and check this out; see what they will really talk about.”

Dow said the goal for the event is to focus on how to alter punishments for crime in the U.S. and that students can play a large role in.

Journey of Hope stressed the importance of raising awareness, and providing education about America’s justice system as it pertains to the death penalty.

“The answer is love and compassion for all humanity,” Pelke said. “And, if you have love and compassion for all humanity, you’re not going to see anybody put into the death chamber, and their life taken from them.”

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