It is hard to say what sparked my interest in supporting the work to abolish the death penalty. Perhaps it was growing up in a Catholic Christian home passionate about Social Justice or the pin my good friend wore to school one day asking the simple question “Why do we kill people who kill people to show people that killing people is wrong?”
The moment I read it, the pin’s message from the government, “Do as I say, not as I do” hit me in my heart enough to know that I did not agree with the death penalty. It did not spark me to get involved in the justice system or become an investigative reporter, but little by little my decision attuned my awareness showing me how I could be better informed. In high school, I met a psychologist who conducted a psychodrama of the death penalty where I got to play each part of those involved. Then came Sr. Helen Prejean’s book, Dead Man Walking. From there I found myself wanting to know more. I delved into learning about the multiple layers of the dysfunction of the death penalty. I was blown away by the mere financial impracticality and saddened by how it reflected the gravity of the socio-economic and racial inequalities of our justice system. As someone who studied religion and history in college, I knew of societies like those of the Native Americans who practiced Circle Justice.
I have spent my whole life attempting as best as I can to live the teachings of Jesus. If I truly believe in the sanctity of life, as well as the power of love and forgiveness, I cannot turn the other way knowing my tax dollars go to kill people. This is what motivates me to put my money and what energy and voice I can into abolishing the death penalty. I do not know what it is like to walk in the shoes of someone convinced that they will find peace of mind or make sense of their loss by the state-sanctioned death of the one who is convicted. As an incest survivor, I have intimate knowledge of betrayal and loss. In my recovery work, I came to know that the anger I carry towards someone else, lives in me. I am clear that I do not want my level of freedom to be held by someone else – ever again.
To me, supporting the abolition of the death penalty gives me the chance to let those men and women on death row know that I still see them. I see them not as the worst thing they have ever done but as someone who still has a heart just like mine. To me, supporting the abolition of the death penalty is an opportunity to practice forgiveness because we all have dark parts of ourselves that we often wish would disappear. I believe we all will be called to face ourselves at some point, and all of us have missed the mark in one way or another along the path of life.
Supporting the abolition of the death penalty is my way of saying that I still believe in the presence of light amidst the darkness in life, and I will not stand by and pay for the taking of that light of life from anyone.
Colleen Tracy is a HealthCare IT manager and author’s a daily blog about various experiences
of God and staying connected to one’s heart.