Families of Murder Victims Speak Out Against the Death Penalty
In another case, Linda White forgave Gary Brown, who is serving a life sentence for the imprisonment, rape and murder of White's daughter Cathy. Cathy's death spurred White's decision to become a psychologist. All of White's subsequent experiences finishing her doctoral dissertation, teaching in a Texas prison, becoming a volunteer mediator in a restorative justice program and befriending the young man responsible for her daughter's death — showed that a major tragedy can mark a new beginning for finding meaning and direction in one's life.
Each of the stories in this book is passionate, gut-wrenching and inspiring. The stories show us a way to transcend bitterness and resentments and to forgive the seemingly unforgivable. In one of the stories, the prisoner showed no remorse or interest in meeting with his victim's family. But even in these situations, the book conveys the message that forgiveness is not necessarily something you do for someone else, but something you do for yourself in order to have peace and serenity in your life. Forgiveness is, indeed, an important part of the healing process.
The author, a legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington national office where she lobbies on crime policy, says that "within the death penalty debate, we hear a lot about family members who support the death penalty. In fact, one of the reasons most frequently given for supporting the death penalty is that it helps the victims. It is important that people hear about the fact that many victims do not believe this to be true. In fact, they believe that supporting the death penalty harms victims and society at large. I don't know if the book will change people's minds about the death penalty. I will consider it a success if people who support the death penalty are willing to read the book and open themselves to listening to this other perspective."
Although Don't Kill in Our Names deals primarily with the experiences of families of murder victims, the author also advocates restorative justice— usually involving a meeting between the victim and the offender, often with a third party present, which results in a commitment by the offender to make some type of amends to restore the victim - in less serious crimes. King cites a 1994 study by Mark Umbreit of restorative justice programs in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Austin, Texas, Oakland, California and Minneapolis, Minnesota. The study found:
In her Afterward, King admits that "I, for one, find it very difficult to practice forgiveness in my daily life. It is more common for me to feel resentment toward those I believe have harmed me. However, as a byproduct of writing this book, I have been forced to consider forgiveness as an option in responding to the daily injustices of life."
Forgiveness does not remove the offender's accountability. With the exception of the case of Gary Gauger, who was actually innocent and who was eventually exonerated, the families of the murder victims did no-t advocate that the people they forgave should be released from prison or pardoned.
Over the years, I have met many people imprisoned for murder. Some of them have become friends of mine. But could I consider them as friends if their victims had been members of my family? Could I be forgiving under those circumstances? King has written a book that invites questioning and self-examination by the reader. I found that precisely when parts of the book caused me to be introspective and questioning, that the book was working the way the author meant it to work: stimulating an examination of my own beliefs and value system.
In the Lord's Prayer, we ask our Higher Power to "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." All too often, we want forgiveness for our own transgressions, but how difficult it is to forgive those who have harmed us!
Here is a book that, beyond speaking out against capital punishment, also confronts us with a vision of a better world in which forgiveness and redemption can bring out the best in human nature and potential. As King notes in her Preface, the people in this book who found it in their hearts to forgive those who killed their spouse, parent, sibling or child 'are models of how to live.'Don't Kill in Our Names offers us a better understanding of what Alexander Pope meant when he wrote, "To err is human, to forgive divine."
royalties go to:
Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights