Monday, 19 November 2012

Indiana Journey of Hope 2013

Back Home Again In Indiana

Monday, November 19, 2012 
By: Bill Pelke

“Back Home Again In Indiana”
By Ballard MacDonald and James F. Hanley, 1917
Verse One
I have always been a wand’rer
Over land and sea
Yet a moonbeam on the water
Casts a spell o’er me
A vision fair I see
Again I seem to be

Back home again in Indiana,
And it seems that I can see
The gleaming candlelight, still shining bright,
Through the sycamores for me.
The new-mown hay sends all its fragrance
From the fields I used to roam.
When I dream about the moonlight on the Wabash,
Then I long for my Indiana home.

Verse Two
Fancy paints on mem’ry’s canvas
Scenes that we hold dear
We recall them in days after
Clearly they appear
And often times I see
A scene that’s dear to me

Dear Folks,
The Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing will be back home again in Indiana for our 20th anniversary in 2013. The Indiana Journey of Hope in 1993 was the inaugural event in our quest for worldwide abolition of the death penalty. On February 22-March 10, 2013 we will be conducting a limited Journey of Hope with a group of speakers traveling throughout the state of Indiana and into the Chicago land area.

This Indiana Journey will be very personal for me. I was born and raised in Indiana. I retired from Bethlehem Steel in Northwest Indiana. My kids, grandkids and great grandkids all live in Indiana.

My uncle Laverne used to take me to the Indianapolis 500 time trials when I was young. Jim Nabors has opened race day festivities for many years now with his rendition of ‘Back home again in Indiana’. I appreciate his sentiments more and more each time I hear him sing it.

I moved to Anchorage, Alaska in 1999 and I love it here. I have met some of the most wonderful people in the world right here in Anchorage. Members of Alaskans Against the Death Penalty, First United Methodist Church, Alaska’s Amnesty International Program to Abolish the Death Penalty, the Alaska Innocent project, the Alaska ACLU and others have been very appreciative and supportive of the Journey of Hope. I love them all. But when I travel to Indiana I am back home again.

These Journey friends will be joining me in Indiana.

Randy Gardner is the vice-chairman of the Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing Board of Directors. Randy’s brother Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by firing squad in Utah about two and a half years ago. Randy will be sharing his family’s story. The Journey has provided a platform for Death Row Family Members since 1993.

Terri Steinberg will be there. Terri’s son Justin was sentenced to Death by the State of Virginia under the ‘murder for hire’ law. I am convinced that Justin is innocent. But innocence aside, I cannot understand why our society insists on inflicting this kind of pain on mothers like Terri. The Journey totally supports Terri as she campaigns for worldwide abolition of the death penalty. The state of Virginia wants to kill her son and we want him to live.

Randy Steidl will be joining the Journey of Hope for the first time. Randy was sentenced to death by the State of Illinois and was eventually able to prove his innocence. Randy is active member of Witness to Innocence and as a resident of a neighboring state, Randy said he would be happy to be part of this Indiana Journey. The Journey of Hope has enabled many exonerees to share their stories. These stories have inspired thousands upon thousands of people around the world. Juan Melendez, Shujaa Graham, Curtis McCarty, Ray Krone, Randall Dale Adams, Delbert Tibbs, Greg Wilhoit, Sunny Jacobs and many other exonerees have shared the Journey stage.

Bess Klaussen-Landis will be back home again in Indiana too. In 1969 Bess’s mother, Helen Klaussen, was murdered in Elkhart, Indiana. Bess will share the journey that she and her sisters have been on. She will talk about the private fears that this sort of unsolved crime creates. She has served as a board member of the Journey of Hope and has spoken at Journey events around the country. Bess is a school teacher in Vermont and has written and recorded two albums, Beauty So Close and Way up in Vermont. Bess says that the Journey of Hope helped her find her voice. It is a powerful voice, a voice of love.

George White is a cofounder of the Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing and recently rejoined the Journey of Hope board of directors. George and his wife Charlene were shot in 1985 at George’s place of business in Enterprise, Alabama. George survived, Char died in his arms. In this country, do we convict people for crimes they didn’t commit? Ask George what his family thinks about that when he joins our weekend events. George is now living in northwest Indiana and works for CR England.

The Purpose of this Journey is Threefold

  1. Help support the growth of the Indiana Abolition Coalition. We will raise the awareness of IAC, help increase their data base, and to help them in their mission to build consensus to end the death penalty in Indiana through education, collaboration and activism.
  2. To raise support for a major Indiana Journey of Hope event October 4-20, 2013. We would travel the same trails we blazed so successfully in 1993. The dates would coincide with the World Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty’s Annual World Day Against the Death Penalty October 10, 2013. The African Journey of Hope to Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya took place during World Day activities in 2010. With world-wide support we can do this major event in October and it is our goal that the limited events in February and March bring about the needed attention and support for this to happen.
  3. Seize the Day. The time is definitely right. We are starting to win. What just happened in California a few days ago was remarkable. 47% voted to end the death penalty. The percentage was much lower during the California Journey of Hope in 1995. It shows what a huge role education plays in abolishing the death penalty.
The Journey of Hope has a great board of directors. Cofounders George White and SueZann Bosler join with me to serve with Jo Berry, Esther Brown, Reece Robert, Rais Bhuiyan, Rick Halperin and Randy Gardner. These dedicated abolitionists are all making this world a better place to live. Jasmin Jenni is our webmaster and lives in Switzerland. Jasmin’s contribution and that of her predecessor Gilles Denizot has been greatly appreciated. Thanks to you both for making the Journey stories more visible with a first class web site. Your volunteer work has been very important to the Journey’s success.

George White and I had the opportunity to meet with Doris Parlette and the Indiana Abolition Coalition board of directors in Columbus, Indiana on October 13. We presented the Journey of Hope’s vision of the major event in October 2013. The death penalty has been on decline in Indiana. In the late 1980’s there were about 40 people on death row. Now there are 14. Indiana doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to kill, unlike a few states I could name. There are dedicated people in Indiana who are organizing for abolition now.

As president and cofounder of the Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing, you can rest assured I am an abolitionist. I have served on the board of directors of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP) since 1996, the board of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights (MVFHR) since 2005 and the board of Alaskans Against the Death Penalty since 1999. I am on the advisory board of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth (CFSY), Dream One World and Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty (PHADP). I am a cofounder of the Abolitionist Action Committee (AAC). The Journey will once again be a sponsor as the AAC hosts the 20th Annual Fast and Vigil in front of the United States Supreme Court June 29-July 2, 2013. I have never missed a day of these events since we began in 1994. I hope to see you in DC next year.

It was the State of Indiana that sentenced Paula Cooper to die in the electric chair on July 11, 1986 for the murder of my grandmother Ruth E. Pelke. Judge James Kimbrough’s decision that day changed my life. I didn’t realize how much until November 2, 1986. On this day, in a miraculous way, I learned the lessons of love and compassion and about the healing power of forgiveness.

I was able to visit with Paula last month after meeting with the Indiana Abolition Coalition. Paula will be released from the Rockville Correction Facility on July 17, 2013 and I will be back home again in Indiana to greet her at the gates of the prison when she is released. I believe in restorative justice.

Yes, Indiana is a special place to me. It is where I grew up. It is where my grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and many friends lived. It was in Indiana that I that I got to know my grandmother, whom we all affectionately called Nana. It was through Nana’s life and death that I learned about love and compassion, I learned about healing power of forgiveness and I learned restorative justice should be our goal.
  1. Love and Compassion for All of Humanity
  2. The Healing Power of Forgiveness
  3. Restorative Justice
The Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing has also adopted these tools for our abolition work. The Journey of Hope needs your help to help to spread these seeds of love and compassion for all of humanity. Because of you the Journey of Hope has been sowing this seed for over 20 years. We have seen this precious seed grow, mature and bring forth fruit. Can you help us sow more seed?

We need your help

Can you make a donation?
Can you organize some events?
Can you host a fundraiser for the Journey?
Would you like to be a Journey intern?
Can you think of something you could do to help make a Journey a success?

Please call me at 877-9-24GIVE (4483) toll free USA or 907-929-5808 for international calls. You can also email me The Journey has no staff, we are all volunteers. We have no major funding. We need your help!

We know we will be successful but the degree of our success in Indiana and around the world is up to you.
I can’t wait to get back home again in Indiana.

Back home again in Indiana
And it seems that I can see
The gleaming candlelight still shining bright
Thro' the sycamores for me
The new mown hay sends all its fragrance
From fields I used to roam
When I dream
About the moonlight on the Wabash
Then I long for my Indiana home

Donate Now. Thank you for your support. God Bless You!!

Friday, 5 October 2012

A life and legacy

A life and legacy

Pelke's devotion to family, faith resonates decades after murder

by Sarah Tompkins

Ruth Pelke's family has fond memories of holidays in her Gary home, complete with crocheted gifts, colored cookies and "Nana salad," Pelke's macaroni salad mixed with watermelon pickles.
But in 1985 four teenage girls turned their stepgrandmother's dining room into a crime scene, leaving Pelke dead with more than 30 knife wounds piercing her 78-year-old frame.
"It went through her body, through the carpet, through the padding on the floor," said Pelke's stepdaughter, Ruth Weyhe, now 88. "There were marks in the floor."
In an infamous case that made national headlines, 15-year-old Paula Cooper, 16-year-old Karen Corder, 14-year-old Denise Thomas and 15-year-old April Beverly were arrested and charged as adults in relation to the murder.
"Christmas has never been the same, that's for sure," said Pelke's now 64-year-old grandson, Bill Pelke.
'I just loved her so, so much'

Ruth Pelke grew up and worked on a farm in Peru, Ind., doing manual labor as well as helping her neighbors with chores as the women recovered from childbirth, according to her family. She was a second or third cousin to Weyhe and Robert Pelke's mother, and they said the family would see her during trips to the countryside.
Robert, Pelke's stepson who is 92 and living in South Carolina, said he always would remember how much faith Pelke had in him. And how she once trusted him to drive a wagon full of hay as a teenager – which he accidentally flipped over after turning a corner too sharp.
"She didn't hold it against me," he said. "She treated me very good. It was just one of those things she took in stride. She was very cool. She took everything calmly."
Weyhe, who now lives in Porter County, said she recalled farm trips dating back to when she was 4 years old.
"I used to go with her out to the pasture and bring in the cows and stand there and watch her milk," Weyhe said. "I just followed her everywhere. I just loved her so, so much."
A year after her mother died from leukemia, she said her father and Pelke became an item. But before Pelke would marry Weyhe's father, Pelke said he had to first ask his children if they would be OK with it.
Weyhe said they were thrilled.
"I remember her and granddad having a wonderful relationship," said Karen, Pelke's 47-year-old granddaughter. "They would joke around and he would tease her and smooch with her. He was always very loving and she was very loving back to him."
It was Pelke's first marriage, and she never had any biological children.
"She took on a whole family," said Pelke's 51-year-old grandson, Jon. "She was the only grandmother any of us had."

The family threw her a joint 70th birthday party and "Nana's Day" in May shortly after Mother's Day, donning Pelke with a queen's robe and crown. Bill said one of the reasons for celebrating her was because she didn't stand to be honored at a Mother's Day service.
"I guess because she didn't have any kids of her own, she didn't feel like she was a mother," Bill said. "And that bothered me."

Pelke opened her arms to her nonbiological family, as well as her church family. Her relatives said she was an active member of her Baptist church and volunteered as part of a child evangelism program in her neighborhood. For about an hour sometimes five days a week, she would meet with youths and share Bible stories ranging from David and Goliath to Noah's ark.
She was known for using vibrant flannel graphs to tell those stories, her family said, sticking figures made of flannel and paper against unique flannel backgrounds propped on an easel.
"She was just a loving, caring person and she spoke positively of people," said granddaughter Dottie McKay, 67, of South Carolina. "She loved the Lord."
McKay said Pelke was killed shortly before McKay's daughter's high school graduation party, and they found the card she had prepared for her daughter after Pelke's death.
"If you had a perfect grandmother or mother, she would be the one," McKay said.

That day
Pelke had been living alone since her husband, Oscar, died in 1983, and her family members said they had been trying to get her to move as Gary's crime rate started to rise.
The day before her murder Robert had gone to visit Pelke to talk about getting the Adams Street home in Gary's Glen Park neighborhood fixed up and ready to sell. Weyhe, also a widow at the time, said she had been considering trying to buy a place with Pelke to help get her out of the area.
"She wasn't afraid to stay where she was," Robert said. "She said she'd stay there until she went to heaven."
And on May 14 when Robert went to pick up Pelke for some errands, he found her body on a blood-soaked floor with a towel over her face.
"The first thing I did was lift up the towel and I saw she was dead," Robert said. "I grabbed the telephone, and it was jerked out of the wall, and then I had to run up and down the street. I couldn't find a neighbor home or nothing."
Bill said his father flagged down a car and asked to use their phone because his mother had been killed.
"I know he had never referred to her as his mother, and that was the first time I heard him do that," Bill said.
Karen said she found out after coming home and watching it on the news, as cellphones were rare in the 1980s. Her brother, Jon, said he listened to a radio broadcast as the news broke.
"I remember hearing it on the radio and not knowing and just feeling this feeling," Jon said. "And then when I was told when I got home what had happened, you're talking about shock. It was heinous."
Karen said it was a blessing to find out who did it so soon.
"I think hearing about it and not knowing what happened, you have terrible thoughts in your mind about who did this," she said. "You don't think young girls. You think men, and what else did they do to this helpless woman?"
Bill said he remembers showing up to the house, seeing his father and another relative trying to scrub stains off the wall and carpet.
"(I) visioned her butchered on the dining room floor and it would just tear me apart," he said. "I couldn't stand to think about it.”

What's in a sentence?
Cooper was sentenced to death at age 15 for the murder of Pelke.
But through a series of events where Indiana law increased the age a child could be put to death to 16, the state Supreme Court ruled putting Cooper to death would be unconstitutional.
Her sentence was commuted to 60 years, and through credit for time served, a day off for each day of good behavior and credit for educational programming and certificates, she is scheduled to be released in 2013.
While Pelke's family members said they agree on the principals of mercy and forgiveness, they did not all have the same view of what justice is.
Bill, once a supporter of the death penalty, later became one of Cooper's biggest advocates. He said he forgave her and has seen how she's changed through their letter exchanges and visits over the past several decades.
"If she was somebody who was 30 or 40 years old, I might not have the same sentiment," Bill said about giving her a second chance because of her youth. "I figured it was up to the state of Indiana to decide when she would be eligible to get out ... so I had no problem that she would get 30 years."
Robert said that while he was a supporter of the death penalty, he was not upset that Cooper's sentence had been commuted and that she would be released in a little less than a year.
"In other words, there was nothing I could do about it," he said. "She was gone, the people were found guilty and punished according to the law. I was satisfied and that's were I left it. … If you hang onto it, it tears your life apart."
Others said they did not think the punishment fit the crime.
"At 15, you know it's murder," Weyhe said. "And (Pelke) was murdered with such force."
Jon said he would want to ask Cooper why she had to stab Pelke so many times. When told his question, Cooper said she would want to have that conversation with Jon, and that she was "very, very remorseful."
The disparity between the 60-year sentence and the less than 30 years of actual time served was frustrating for some family members, Karen said.
"You're gullible and think 60 years, she's got to be 75 when she gets out ... but that's not what they really mean," Karen said. "It's a sleight of hand in our justice system."
Randolph Stone, a clinical professor of law at the University of Chicago, said the state system does not make sentencing very clear, and that there is a movement to have more truth in sentencing where a year means a year — or at least more than six months.
"That's one of the things that needs to change about the system, is the transparency of the sentencing process," Stone said. "It's very complicated for lawyers, let alone the public."
He also said having a carrot to dangle in front of prisoners as an incentive to behave while behind bars helps wardens control the population.
For those who don't think she should be getting out next summer, Cooper said they are justified in whatever they feel, be it positive or negative.
"They are not going to understand it no matter what I say," she said from Rockville Correctional Facility. "That's just the way they feel. People are entitled to the way they feel."

Sentence breakdown

Paula Cooper was sentenced to death in 1986 for the murder of Ruth Pelke. In 1989 her death sentence was commuted to 60 years behind bars. Here is the breakdown of her sentence calculation resulting in a 2013 projected release date:
60 years minus about 29 years for good behavior with day-for-day credit = 31 years
31 years minus 4 years for time served before 1989 = 27 years
27 years minus 3 years for educational programming = 24 years served
SOURCE: Indiana Department of Corrections

A second chance at life

A second chance at life

Paula Cooper: Convicted of murder at 15, a Gary woman prepares for her 2013 release

by Sarah Tompkins

ROCKVILLE, Ind. | Paula Cooper mixed no-bake cookies, creating balls of sweet coconut and baking cocoa the size of a fist.
The 42-year-old woman was preparing meals for more than 100 prison staff at Rockville Correctional Facility -- where she has spent most of her life.
“I take great pride in what I do,” she said of cooking. “People have to trust you to eat your food. That's the most personal thing that they could do -- is taking something out your hand and believing you've done nothing to it.”
In 1985, Cooper was convicted of fatally stabbing an elderly Gary Bible school teacher 33 times with a butcher knife.
She was 15 years old.
The murder involved three other teenage co-defendants from Gary's Lew Wallace High School and left the region shaken.
Cooper was the only one sentenced to death -- a sentence eventually commuted after international attention and new state legal precedent.
Initially facing the electric chair, Cooper's sentence was commuted to life in prison.
Now, more than 25 years later, Cooper says she is a different person, tutoring inmates in the culinary arts while she is counting down the days to her 2013 release. And a second chance at life.
“Seven, eight years ago, I couldn't say I was ready to go home, and I wouldn't tell anybody that because that was a lie,” Cooper said about her rehabilitation. “My time is coming and, you know, I just hope that people give me a chance out there. That's it -- because people do change.”

The crime
It was a spring day when Cooper and three other teenagers decided to rob a house.
“We just had got really bored,” Cooper said. “We had started burglarizing people's houses, and that's basically got us to the point where we were at.”
April Beverly, whom Cooper said she met in person for the first time that day, lived behind a 78-year-old grandmother's house and suggested that house be their target.
Ruth Pelke lived alone in her Adams Street home in Gary's Glen Park neighborhood. Family members called her “Nana,” and she took interest in sharing Bible stories with children, including Beverly, in the Gary neighborhoods.
While accounts differ as to what exactly happened inside Pelke's house on May 14, 1985, Cooper describes the crime as a “robbery gone bad.”
“It was a murder,” Cooper said. “And it wasn't one that was planned or premeditated. It just happened.”
Cooper said the other burglaries were done at various vacant homes, and this one was different because, unbeknown to them, Pelke was there.
And she invited the girls into the house.
According to records, the teenagers pretended to be interested in taking part in Pelke's Bible classes. When Pelke let them in to write down the information, she was hit over the head and then stabbed dozens of times with a 12-inch knife.
“Once we got inside, it was like, 'What do we do now?'" Cooper said. “And everything just started happening ... It was a long time ago, and there are some things I can remember about it and some things I don't, but it just was never the intention, we just never had the intention of hurting anybody.”
While records place the knife in Cooper's hands, she said it was in everyone's at some point. The girls ransacked the house, stole about $10 and Pelke's car keys and drove away.
Cooper said they were “panicking, and then just one thing is leading to another, and everything is just moving really fast.”
Bill Pelke, the victim's grandson, said his son turned 15 the day his grandmother was killed.
“At first I thought, well, it was probably some 30-, 40-year-old drug addict, you know, trying to get money for a fix or something,” said Bill, now 64. “When we found out several days later that it was ninth-grade girls, it was just a real, just a real shock.”
Denise Thomas, then 14, Karen Corder, then 16, and April Beverly, then 15, later received sentences ranging from 25 to 60 years in prison. Thomas was convicted of murder, Corder pleaded guilty to murder and Beverly pleaded guilty to robbery in connection with the murder.
Beverly was pregnant and Corder a young mother at the time of the crime.
Cooper said she felt like they conspired against her to get favorable sentences, and that she, in turn, took the biggest fall.
“I think one of the misconceptions is that I was some ringleader of this big murder; that's not true,” said Cooper, who had no prior criminal record. “What I want people to know is that all four of us were guilty, and that's the bottom line. There was no innocent person in that house.”
After pleading guilty in April 1986 to murder, and murder while committing a robbery – without the benefit of a plea deal – Cooper was sentenced to death.
Indiana legislators later changed the law to make 16 the minimum age someone could be sentenced to death. But the law was written to exclude Cooper. International media attention and petitions for clemency on Cooper's behalf poured in from around the world, including from Pope John Paul II.
In 1989, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to sentence someone younger than 16 to death, and the high court commuted Cooper's sentence to 60 years in prison. It was the second harshest sentence for murder at the time.
“This is a difficult conclusion to reach because of the gruesome nature of Cooper's acts,” wrote Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall Shepard in the court's opinion.
And with a day knocked off a state sentence for every day of good conduct, Cooper is scheduled to be released July 17, 2013.

The time
Cooper wears a maroon T-shirt over khaki-colored pants, her daily prison garb, with a yellow I.D. clipped below her left shoulder. She has short, black hair, wears white and brown eye shadow and is soft-spoken. She describes herself back in the 1980s as “horrible.”
“I'm the type of person that I don't like to be fake,” she said. “I don't like to pretend with people. I mean, I was a very troubled person years ago. I was very troubled, had some very serious issues with myself and people, period.”
According to reports and Cooper herself, she was originally from Chicago, physically abused as a child, ran away from home starting at about age 12 and had regular contact with the Juvenile Detention System.
One report describes how Cooper was beaten with an extension cord and how a family member placed Cooper and another young relative in a car and started the engine in a garage in a murder/suicide attempt.
After years of being bitter in prison and falling into the negativity that hovers over many in that environment, Cooper said she has changed.
“If I never have hope, if I never have faith, if I never believe in anything, and I'm just sitting here moping around all day long, my life is just one ball of misery,” she said. “You have to learn how to deal with your own bitterness and anger and the things that's going on inside.”
Cooper credits her growth to God's intervention and her taking advantage of Rockville's programming after transferring nine years ago to the facility about three hours south of Gary.
Cooper was previously involved for discipline issues, but is now a leader among inmates, tutoring many in culinary arts. She said she felt like she had a lot to prove to people, and she was proud to be instructing fellow inmates on how to properly prepare meals.
“There's a lot of people in there that's never cooked before," Cooper said. “Ever.”
Her first job after arriving at Rockville was for Prison Enterprise Network, known as PEN Products, a division of Indiana's Department of Correction that manufactures various products for the state prisons and has some joint ventures with private companies as well.
Cooper said the woman in charge told her she originally never had any intention of hiring her. But after Cooper explained her past and shared her present, she was hired.
“That was my first chance, and I didn't want to let her down because I felt like she was the first person I encountered here at this facility, and if I had've disappointed her, then I was never going to be able to redeem myself,” Cooper said.
Cooper said she ended up a valued employee, pressing more than twice the daily quota of metal parts used for doors and ice machines.
And while she said she's grateful to count her mother and sister among her supporters, she has found another source of strength in an unsuspecting place: Bill Pelke, the murder victim's grandson.
“He's my -- he's my biggest encouragement,” Cooper said.
Bill Pelke, who once agreed with the judge's death-penalty ruling, became one of Cooper's strongest advocates in having that sentence commuted. They have written each other almost weekly for decades, and have in-person visits when possible.
Pelke said he realized his grandmother would have wanted compassion for Paula, and that God made forgiveness in him possible.
“We're supposed to hate the sin but love the sinner,” said Bill Pelke, who wrote a book about his experience and helps victims' families through the nonprofit Journey of Hope, From Violence to Healing. “Paula has changed. She's not the same person that committed that terrible crime in 1985.”

The future
With just about a year left of her sentence, Cooper is looking forward to giving back to society and getting a job.
But she said she is worried society will not give her the opportunity because of her past.
“We should pay for our crimes and we should, you know, take our punishment,” Cooper said. “But everybody deserves a second chance.”
That ability to find work is one factor in whether inmates return to prison, according to various studies. In Indiana, about 40 percent of the prison population released in 2005 went back behind bars within three years, according to the DOC.
“I mean, I don't care if I have to sweep floors, wash dishes or flip hamburgers, I'm going to take what I can get, you know, just to get on my feet and show people that I deserve a chance. Because I've done my time,” Cooper said.
During her decades in prison, Cooper has earned her GED, received a bachelor's degree, completed an apprenticeship program in housekeeping and collected various certificates. She said she hopes it helps her find steady work, and that regardless, she wants to talk to troubled youth and help them avoid making her mistakes.
“You know, I have a real story,” she said. “And there's somebody out there, even if it's just one kid, that will listen. And I'm hoping to get them.”


Timeline of events

May 14, 1985: Bible teacher Ruth Pelke is murdered.
May 15, 1985: Stepson Robert Pelke discovers her body.
May 1985: Four Lew Wallace High School students arrested for the murder of Ruth Pelke -- Karen Denise Corder, 16; Paula Cooper, 15; April Beverly, 15; and Denise Thomas, 14.
Nov. 7, 1985: Denise Thomas convicted of felony murder/murder on Dec. 4, 1985; Sentenced to 35 years in prison.
March 26, 1986: Karen Corder pleaded guilty to murder of Ruth Pelke on May 29, 1986; Corder sentenced to 60 years in prison.
April 21, 1986: Paula Cooper pleaded guilty to the stabbing murder of Ruth Pelke.
June 23, 1986: April Beverly pleaded guilty to robbery in connection with the murder of Ruth Pelke.
July 18, 1986: April Beverly sentenced to 25 years in prison.
July 11, 1986: Paula Cooper is sentenced to death.
July 13, 1989: Indiana Supreme Court finds Paula Cooper's death sentence unconstitutional and commutes her sentence to 60 years in prison.
July 17, 2013: Paula Cooper's scheduled release from prison.


May 14, 1985: Bible teacher Ruth Pelke is murdered.

May 15, 1985: Stepson Robert Pelke discovers her body.

May 1985: Four Lew Wallace High School students arrested for the murder of Ruth Pelke -- Karen Denise Corder, 16; Paula Cooper, 15; April Beverly, 15; and Denise Thomas, 14.

Nov. 7, 1985: Denise Thomas convicted of felony murder/murder on Dec. 4, 1985; Sentenced to 35 years in prison.

March 26, 1986: Karen Corder pleaded guilty to murder of Ruth Pelke on May 29, 1986; Corder sentenced to 60 years in prison.

April 21, 1986: Paula Cooper pleaded guilty to the stabbing murder of Ruth Pelke.

June 23, 1986: April Beverly pleaded guilty to robbery in connection with the murder of Ruth Pelke.

July 18, 1986: April Beverly sentenced to 25 years in prison.

July 11, 1986: Paula Cooper is sentenced to death.

July 13, 1989: Indiana Supreme Court finds Paula Cooper's death sentence unconstitutional and commutes her sentence to 60 years in prison.

July 17, 2013: Paula Cooper's scheduled release from prison.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Two new board members

Journey of Hope adds two new board members

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Washington DC area Journey of Hope

Washington DC area Journey of Hope June 22-July 2

Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing

Washington DC area Journey of Hope June 22-July 2

Journey of Hope speaker will be touring the DC area June 22-July 2, 2012.

Speaking events are being planned for Northern Virginia, Washington, DC and Maryland. The Journey of Hope will culminate when we join with the Abolitionist Action Committee’s 19th annual Fast and Vigil June 29-July 2 at the US Supreme Court. The Journey of Hope has been a big part of the Fast and Vigil since it began in 1994.

If you are interested in hosting a speaking event for your church, school, college and/or community group during these dates, please contact the Journey at

The Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing is led by murder victim family members who are opposed to the death penalty. We travel around the country and around the world sharing our storiesce to Healing and talk about how the death penalty has nothing to do with the healing that murder victim family members need when a loved one has been killed, but how in fact it continues the cycle of violence and creates more victim family members. We say stop the killing. We have seen enough. Death row family members, exonerated and other abolition activists join our Journey speaking teams to help put the human face on the issue of the death penalty.

Speakers include Shujaa Graham, Terri Steinberg, Charity Lee, Randy Gardner, Scott Langley, Art Laffin, Bill Pelke and others. Speaking events are free, although love offerings or honorariums are welcomed. The Journey of Hope is a 501 c 3 non-profit organization.

Events will be scheduled on a first come, first serve basis.

Rachel Lawler has volunteered to help coordinate the DC Journey. Please contact Ann Feczko for possible DC events, John MacDiarmid for Northern Virginia or Rachel for Maryland and all other general questions. Brian Evans has offered to help with Amnesty groups that might want to organize an event.

In addition to telling our stories we will be promoting the fast and vigil and encouraging attendance of our audiences to visit our actions at the court. June 29th is the 40th anniversary of Furman V. Georgia, a decision that temporarily halted executions in the US until the July 2, 1976 Greg V. Georgia decision that allowed executions to resume. June 29th is an important landmark and it is a day that will be widely observed. There will be a rally that day at the court plus speaking teach ins at the court each evening.

5 states have abolished the death penalty in the last five years. California voters can replace the death penalty with life without parole in the upcoming November election. Since the Troy Davis case media has given a lot of attention to the abolition movement. It would be helpful to our cause if media would be invited to Journey speaking events.

Please let us know what we can do to help make the Journey of Hope a success in your area.

Bill Pelke, President Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing
Cell phone 305-775-5823 a

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Trusting in God`s Terri Steinberg

Trusting in God's plan
By Terri Steinberg,
Mother of Virginia Death Row Inmate Justin Wolfe

I knew that we had a death penalty in this country, but being a busy mom, I never did anything about it or gave it much thought. I was raised to believe that all life was sacred. Our Fifth Commandment says "Thou shalt not Kill" and there were no footnotes or exceptions. I knew that the two greatest commandments were to love God and love your neighbor, and I believed that meant I could not kill them. The death penalty just did not make sense to me. Then one day, the death penalty came into my home and threatened the life of my oldest child, and destroyed the childhood for his siblings.
My oldest son, Justin Wolfe, had gotten involved with selling marijuana when he was in high school. He bought marijuana from a young man named Danny and sold to another named Owen. One night, just before Justin's 20th birthday, Owen shot and killed Danny. Owen was arrested in California three weeks later and brought back to Manassas, where he was questioned every day and threatened with the death penalty. At the end of two weeks of questioning, he was convinced that the only way to save himself from the death penalty was to say that someone asked him to do it. So he blamed Justin.
When Justin called to tell me he was turning himself in, I collapsed to the floor. I have to admit, I respected him for accepting responsibility for his actions in order to clear his name of this horrible crime. He assured me, “Mom, they think I had something to do with Danny's death, so I am going to turn myself in. Now, I may have to face some drug charges, but it will be a first offense marijuana charge. I should be home in a few days. I just have to clear my name of this murder. Please, don't worry.” We trusted the system and believed the truth would set him free. But after a trial that lasted three weeks, the jury deliberated just one hour and found him guilty of murder for hire. Justin was sentenced to death. 
I could not go out of the house for many weeks. I was devastated, exhausted, embarrassed and so very sad. As a mother, I had failed to protect my children. I couldn't face anyone. I went to different grocery stores, a different church. The murder trial was all over the local papers, which said horrible things about my son. It seemed like there was no place that I could turn where I wasn't bombarded with it. Before the arrest, I had always been very active with the kids - volunteering, coaching, room mom, and whatever else needed to be done. Now my job as mother is consumed with protecting my children from the horrible truth that our state is working really hard to kill their big brother, a brother they love and looked up to; trying to help them grow up to be normal” when the death penalty has stripped "normal" from their lives.
My time is consumed with saving Justin's life, and the fight to end the death penalty. I travel often with a group called the Journey of Hope, from Violence to Healing; a group consisting of murder victims' family member who oppose the death penalty, family members of the people on death rows from across the country, and men who lost years of their lives to the death penalty - exonerated of their crimes and now finally free. We talk about how the death penalty does not bring the healing that someone needs after losing a loved one to murder, and how the death penalty only creates more victims.
We have many in the community that support us; yet it still hurts that there are those former friends that no longer want anything to do with us. We were not welcome at some neighborhood functions and some people blatantly looked the other way as we passed. In some ways, I understand. It was hard for me to talk about it, so I can imagine it would be hard to know just what to say. But I always felt a simple "hello" would have been nice.
Last July, a Federal court judge finally recognized that Justin is innocent of this crime and vacated his sentences. Unfortunately, the state is appealing this decision, so he still sits on death row, in isolation, where he has been for 11 years now, and will celebrate his 31st birthday on March 17. The Fourth Circuit Court hearing is scheduled for May 17, and we continue to hope.
I know God has a plan for Justin and our family. I pray every day that I can follow His lead and do as He asks, to be His servant with this cross He has given. Each day, I pray the Our Father and focus on and sometimes struggle with the words – "Thy will be done." Those words carry so much meaning and responsibility for me. But I have to believe that God will carry us as we carry this cross. I know that one day Justin will come home; he will be free of that place. What I don't know is who will he come home to - me, or our Father in heaven. I hope he will get another chance at life here with us, but I know I have to trust in God's plan, whatever that is.
I know that we do not need to become the murderers we lock up to protect ourselves. People who commit crimes need to be held accountable, and society deserves to be protected. But our prisons are capable of doing that without taking another life. Justin's story is a prime example of how the system does not work. There are many days I stop and wonder how this happened in our lives. I know this cross was given to us for a reason and I pray I carry it well. I hope we can use our situation to help other young people make better decisions for themselves. I hope somehow we can help demonstrate the flaws of our system and prove that the death penalty is cruel, unnecessary and only creates more victims of violence. We can only hope somehow we can make a difference. 
Maybe His plan is for Justin's story to make a difference in the lives he touches. I know he has made a difference for the men on the row, as he tries to make the best of each day, positive and upbeat and is always looking out for the weaker ones there. As we head into the feast of the most famous execution of the innocent, may we reflect on the death penalty, and the lessons Jesus came to teach us: "Love one another as I have loved you" and "Whatever you do to the least of our brothers, you do to me."
I have stood in the field, holding hands with the mother or family member as their loved one is being killed by our state. No family should have to endure that pain. I have looked into the eyes of "the least of my brothers," and I know the person I see is more than the person who committed a horrible crime. He, too is a child of God, loved by God, and his family. And the question should not be "do they deserve to die for what they did," the question is "do we have the right to kill them?" I believe we are called to do better, and I pray you will join me in the fight to end this cycle of violence we call the death penalty. 
Please let your legislators know that you respect life - all life - and we do not need or want a death penalty in our beautiful state. Let them know you would prefer your tax dollars to go to supporting life, not death, to supporting victim's families, not creating more victims. And I ask you to please keep my family in your prayers, along with our lawyers, the students and professors at The Innocence Project at UVA and the judges that hear his case on May 17.

In hope, 

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Your help is needed!

Dear friends of Journey of Hope

we're reaching out to you to ask for your support and thoughts. Since months we're working hard to get the new website done. The good part of this story is that we’re ready for getting it online.

Our new provider is located in Germany called Flexinetz: they are supporting human rights! Since more than 25 years the owner of Flexinetz Internet Service is a supporting member of amnesty international, being active on individual cases some years as well. A small percentage of the income of Flexinetz goes to ai by yearly donations of the owner. They even offered Journey of Hope their support by a monthly discount on the webserver-package.
This and the incredible work they had done in the past with helping us with the new website showed us that this is the right move.

The sad news is that 1&1, our current provider, seems to have an opposite opinion about moving our website.  In order to make the provider aware about the switch, the domain owner needs to call up and confirm the cancellation by phone. As 1&1 officially says on their website: “Our service team will process and confirm your termination.”
Yes, that’s what they did, but Bill Pelke, founder of Journey of Hope and domain owner never asked for deleting the whole site. As asked by 1&1 he called up and asked for the transfer to another provider. The cancellation of the contract was for „move to another provider (KK)“, not „delete“, so that’s where the damage began. The contents cannot be backuped anymore, because 1&1 deleted them unexpectedly and without prior notice.

Unfortunatly the Journey of Hope website can’t be reached since that phone call. No e-mails are being sent nor forwarded. So that what is going on right now with the Journey of Hope website.
Now we’re asking you for your help and support. Please write to 1&1 and ask about the following:

Dear 1&1

I’m a visitor and supporter of and it’s organization Journey of Hope.

It is now more than a week ago that you made the domain unavailable and did not keep it ready for a transfer.
It is now more than a week ago that you made the email-address unavailable.

I’m strongly asking you to do the following immediately:
  • make all domain contents publicly available under
  • give us back the access to all former mailboxes *
Thank you!

Together we are able to make up their mind. Thank you very much for your time and support in helping us in this cause

Webmaster of Journey of Hope

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Please pray for me.... by Bill Pelke

Please pray for me.
by Bill Pelke

The next two weeks are very important.
Tomorrow night I fly to Washington, DC for the United States Supreme Court
to attend oral arguments in the case of Jackson & Miller.
I will be the guest of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth (CFSY).
I am part of an amicus brief in this case.
At issue is the case of juvenile Life without Parole (JVLWOP).
There will be several meeting before and after the hearing, with great networking possibilities and media opportunities.

While in DC I will also be involved in planning for a DC Journey of Hope in June,
prior to the Annual Fast and Vigil.

I return to Alaska for one short day and fly to Sonoma, California for the lauch of;
Fellowship for Death Penalty Abolition Leaders.
I am honored to be selected to be a paricipant in this program.
It is designed to support a multiracial munity of longtime and emerging leaders
engaged in work to end the death penalty - including litigators, communications leaders,
state organizers, national leaders and other advocates.
There is so much I need to learn to make my work with the
Journey of Hope ... from Violence to Healing more effective.

I will also be able to spend several days with Kathy Chism, founder of Dream One World.
Kathy is a global advisor to the Journey of Hope and a big part of the African Journey of Hope.

Again, please pray for me during the next two weeks.

Please pray also for the family of Journey of Hope board member Randy Gardner. His brother Billy Joe passed away last night. It is the fourth brother of Randy’s to die in the last 20 months.
His brother Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by the state of Utah in 2010.

Thank you,

God’s Peace,

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Alabama X; Author visits with message of forgiveness

Author visits with message of forgiveness
Penny L. Pool: Staff writer for the Randolph Leader
February 8, 2012

Bill Pelke told the story last week of the brutal killing of his sweet, white haired
grandmother and how her death made a life change for him.
As he travels across the United States and the world he is sometimes joined by those
who have had family or friends murdered, or by the family members of those whose family
members have been executed. In some cases he is joined by former prisoners who have been
exonerated for the crimes they were convicted of committing.
He used to live in Indiana, now lives in Anchorage, Alaska, where he is president and co-founder of the
Journey of Hope...from Violence to Healing
The death penalty was re-established in 1976 and since then 140 people have been
exonerated after being sentenced to death for crimes they were convicting of committing.
The death penalty means human beings make decisions on who lives and who dies, he said.

May 14, 1985 was his son’s birthday, but it was also a day he will never forget for other reasons.
Four ninth grade girls decided when they went to lunch to play hooky the rest of the
day. They went to the home of one of the girls where they drank beer, wine and smoked
some marijuana. They wanted to go to the local arcade and play games but did not have the
“Three of them knocked on my grandmother’s door, we called her Nana. She was a
very religious woman. She loved God very much,” he said. Nana was constantly at church and
did visitation, along with his grandfather until he died. She told Bible stories to children using
a flannel graph board and cut out pictures of Bible figures.
As she went to get information from her desk, one girl grabbed a vase and struck the
78-year-old in the head. Someone stabbed her repeatedly while others searched the house
for money. They came up with $10 and the keys to her old car, which they stole and took on
a joy ride. She died on her dining room floor where the family had held Christmas, Easter and
Thanksgiving get-togethers.

Pelke’s father found her the next day after Nana didn’t answer the telephone. Law
enforcement quickly found the culprits after finding one of the girl’s jackets with her birth
control prescription inside. One of them was 16, two 15 were and one was 14.
Anytime anyone 10 years or older in Indiana kills someone they can be tried as an
adult. About a year later the main culprit went to trial, Paula Cooper. The four girls got
varying sentences from 25 years for the girl who set her up but never went into the house to
60 years. Cooper, who was believed to be the ringleader, got the death penalty. Pelke took
off from his job at Bethlehem Steel to go to court.
The judge said when he graduated from Loyola Law school he was against the death
penalty, but he sentenced the 15-year-old to death. When the press asked what he thought of
it, Pelke said, “The judge did what he had to do, but it wouldn’t bring Nana back.” Cooper was
sentenced to death July 11, 1986. The following November Pelke was at work and asked God
why he let one on his most precious angles go through this and why his family had to suffer
through this?

When Cooper was sentenced a wailing began from an older man crying, “They’re
going to kill my baby.” Pelke watched as the man was led from the courtroom. When Cooper
was given the opportunity to speak she said she was sorry for what she did, then added but
they are doing the same thing to her that she did to Pelke’s grandmother.
At work that November night he felt Nana wanted him to share the love of God. He
thought about the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew where Jesus said if you want your
father in heaven to forgive you, you have to forgive others. Then Pelke thought about how
Jesus said to forgive seventy times seven. He thought about how Jesus forgave while on the
cross being crucified.
He knew his faith was calling him to forgive. He thought someday he might forgive.
He talked to God, asking Him to give love and compassion. He cried. Then he wrote a letter
to Paula Cooper. He learned the most important lesson of his life that night about the healing
power of forgiveness and how it brought a tremendous healing. For a year and a half he had
pictured his grandmother battered on the dining room floor. After forgiveness, he lost that
picture, now seeing her as she lived.

His friends and co-workers didn’t understand. He left work that night feeling God had
given him a mission.
He found out Cooper’s grandfather’s name, the man who cried in the courtroom,
and went to visit him. He wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper because a lot of
people were writing in with their opinions for and against the death penalty. Some said she
was too young. Pelke wrote about forgiveness.

People in Europe were interested in the Paula Cooper situation and were fascinated
that he forgave. Several reporters came to Indiana for interviews. They could not picture
Americans as being forgiving, he said. They visited, then later he flew to Rome to do an
interview but there was a wildcat strike and it could not be done. He decided to stay until the
strike was over and then tell his story. He spent 19 days there traveling around speaking at
high schools, colleges, and churches, including on Vatican radio. He didn’t know much about
the death penalty but knew about forgiveness and his Nana’s faith. When he came back he
did all the TV shows and a number of magazine interviews.
In the fall of 1989 there were more than two million signed petitions asking for mercy for
Cooper, including Pope John the second. Indiana became so concerned the age was raised to
16 years old for the death penalty. The case went to the Indiana Supreme Court and Cooper
was removed from death row.

At a march against the death penalty he met Sister Helen Prejean, who wrote “Dead
Man Walking.” She has since written the foreword to his book “Journey of Hope…from
Violence to Healing.”

There was a talk at these meetings about the fact there are no rich men on death row,
the racial imbalances, and how it costs more to execute someone than keep them in prison.
He along with others, advocate for a moratorium on executions for three years while
an impartial study is conducted into the fairness of applying the death penalty.
He said that Alabama has the highest per capita death row population and leads the
nation. Per capita Alabama executed more people in 2011 than any others state and with six
executions ranked second in the nation after Texas.
Among some other statistics is that death row is 50 percent white and 50 percent
black although the state population is 70 percent white and 26 percent black. White victims
account for 35 percent of murder victims, yet 80 percent of those on death row have been
convicted of the murder of a white victim. Of the 55 executed in Alabama since 1986, 44 had
been convicted of killing a white victim. Less than 5 percent of the judges presiding over a
capital case in Alabama are African American.
Post-conviction DNA testing is often denied in Alabama. The state is the only one not
providing attorneys for post-conviction appeals. The Alabama legislature refuses to enact
laws enforcing the U.S. Supreme Court prohibition on the execution of mentally retarded
individuals. More than a dozen men on death row are now without an attorney and 70
percent on death row had lawyers who were only paid $1000 for preparation of trial.
He has carried this message in 14 Countries and 40 different states, he said. The death
penalty is viewed in other countries as a human rights abuse, he said.

He was there at the Vatican with thousands of others when the Pope addressed the
world on Christmas day in 1998 and for the first time called for worldwide abolition of the
death penalty.
“It’s cruel and barbaric,” Pelke said. “It is barbaric for a Christian society. Pope Paul
said it was cruel and unnecessary and it is. We can put someone in prison for a lifetime if that
is what is necessary, where they will never hurt another person. We are raised to hate the sin,
but not the sinner,” Pelke said. Most people want the death penalty for revenge.
Paula Cooper is not the same person she was at 15. She was raised very abusively.
Five or six people shared love and compassion with her. She knows she took someone
valuable out of life. She got her GED and her college correspondence degree. After eight
years the Discovery Channel asked why he couldn’t visit her and for the first time he was
allowed to visit. In the 1990’s he visited her multiple times before moving to Alaska. He
recently visited her. She’s 42 now and a wonderful young lady, he said. She is facing release
July 1, 2013; he said, 17 months to go.

“I assured her when she gets out I will be there to meet her. My daughter lives in
Indianapolis. I told her I would help her find a place to live, a job and help restore her to
society,” he said.

“When I think of Nana I picture her smiling, very happy with what I am doing. I know I
am doing the right thing. The reason the death penalty is in this country is because Christians
allow it to happen,” he said.
People quote the Bible but then they did to support slavery too. There was the Old
Testament law, but the law was fulfilled when Jesus came and now people need to live under
Jesus’ grace, he said, adding Jesus said “Who is without sin throw the first stone.”

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Letters from John Carroll Catholic Highschool

Letters from John Carroll Catholic High School Birmingham, Alabama
I just recently completed a speaking tour for the Journey of Hope in Alabama. One of my stops took place at John Carroll Catholic High School on January 18.

I didn’t really get to the read the letters until today. What a wonderful Valentine’s Day gift they have been. Many tears were shed as I read the jottings to me. Many of the kids got it. I would have been happy if my talks changed one persons life but as I read their notes I got the feeling that it may be more than one.
Please let me indulge myself to a point on this Valentine’s Day and let me share with you what some of the kids said.
I have edited their responses . I spoke to five classes for Mike Bouton, the teacher who arranged my visit.

I can't thank you enough for making the arrangements to have Bill speak.  The kids and I were riveted.  I am still trying to figure out a way to compensate him.  So many of our kids are not pro-death penalty but are rather lukewarm because it isn't in their reality.  It made a strong impact.
Mike Bouton

The death penalty can be a very touchy subject. Hearing your story makes me realize how real the death penalty is. I realize now that it is not up to us to decide when a person should die, no matter how grave their crime may be. No one should have to die. There are other options. The longer time one has to live, the longer the time is for Christ to come into their lives and save them. Thank you again.

Wow, things like that are great to hear. That is my compensation.
Yesterday Feb 13 I picked up mail at the Journey of Hope Post Office Box for the first time in the week I have been home. When I checked our box there were two checks for the Journey of Hope from past Journey participants and supporters Tom & Jeanette Block and Leslie Lytle. A booklet from the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, a stipend of $50 from John Carroll Catholic School, and a large white envelope that contained letters and notes from the students I had talked to at John Carroll.
The large white envelope had a personal note from Mike Bouton.


Dear Bill,
I’m working on a stipend.
The evaluations speak for themselves. I’ve taught for years and have never read such glowing evaluations.
Thanks for coming to Alabama and sharing your story.

You’ve given us tremendous hope and renewed courage.
Mike Bouton.

Sean wrote: Dear Mr. Pelke, The talk you gave us about your fight against the death penalty was very moving and understanding. The story you told us touched me deeply and further inspired me to be against the death penalty.Jalen wrote: I admire Mr. Pelke’s love for Paula Cooper. I could not forgive someone if they had done that to my grandma. He is also very strong to be able to talk about this. I think what he I doing by trying to reach out to others is very commendable. T thoroughly appreciate him taking his time to talk to us.

 Jack wrote: Mr. Pelke’s talk about his grandmother and his work regarding the death penalty made a huge impact on me. As he was talking about the details of his grandmother’s murder I could only think of how I would feel if the same thing happened to my little brother. I thought of how hard it would be for me to forgive, to ask for help to let go of the hatred that is so easy to get lost in. I was inspired to deepen my spiritual relationship with God so that it will be easier to ask for His help if I ever find myself in a similar situation.

 Marcy wrote: Mr. Pelke’s talk was very enlightening and inspiring. It was one of those talks that you hear about but you don’t really expect to be true. I took me the rest of the day to realize that actually happened. Mr. Pelke comes across as a very strong man. His story was very touching. It made me think about what I would do if put in that situation. I think it crazy that he can tell his story so many times and still be able to touch so many people.

 Grace wrote: Bill Pelke is a rare kind of man. After having his grandmother cruelly ripped from him, he was practically handed the opportunity to get "justice" for her. However, he learned that this justice was not justice: it was cold hearted revenge. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. He realized that this isn’t what Jesus wanted or what he stood and died for. What a rare kind of person: fighting to save the life of a person who took his loved one away from him forever. Well…not forever…But at any rate, this is what Jesus stood and died for. Forgiveness and Life. That is Justice.

 Carla wrote: Dear Mr. Pelke, I absolutely loved your talk about your Nana and your journey with the Journey of Hope foundation. You story was very inspirational. For something so tragic to happen to you and your family, yet you still forgave the girls that brutally murdered you Nana truly touched my heart. Your love, forgiveness and compassion inspires me to love and forgive those who hurt me as well. Thank you.

 Collin wrote: The presentation was great and very life changing, because I didn’t know that kind of stuff happened in real life. I think that you should speak at other schools to spread it around.
 Katie wrote: Dear Bill Pelke, I enjoyed you coming to speak to us. Your story inspired me and helped me believe that the death penalty is wrong. Hearing a story first hand seemed very special to me and gave me insight on a family member’s way of seeing it.

 William wrote: Your talk to us was different from any other I have heard this year. You are proof to us that these unique events happen to people. With the story you presented to us gives a strong message that if you can have the change of heart to object to the death penalty then so should we. I appreciate you time is sharing your story with us. In Christ,

 Marc wrote: Dear Mr. Pelke, Thank you so much for coming to my 6th period Theology and talking to my class. I think it must be hard forgiving the girls that killed you grandmother and it is amazing that you were able to forgive them. If I was put in your position before you talk I do not feel I would be able to forgive them but after hearing your story I will now be more forgiving to everyone around me. Thank you again for sharing your story about your grandmother and how God made you more forgiving.

 Nick wrote: Dear Mr. Bill Pelke, I was quite moved by your presentation and the way that you presented the topic of capital punishment. Moreover, the way that you reached out to Paula Cooper and not only forgave her but stayed in contact with her. You are going the extra mile by wanting to help het her life back together and that is the most beautiful part about it. Please continue you work and calling. God Bless.

 Roxy wrote: Dear Mr. Pelke, Thank you so much for coming to speak for our class. Your talk really made me think about the power of forgiveness. It made me reflect upon the grudges I no longer need to hold against people who have treated me wrongly. I respect you greatly for the amount of compassion you have shown towards the girls who treated your grandmother so badly. I hope you will continue to share your story to the nation.

 Kat wrote: Mr. Pelke, Thank you for coming to speak to our class about something
 Virginia wrote: Dear Mr. Pelke, your speech last week was very inspiring. I loved hearing someone’s opinion who has been a part of the death penalty. You really made it easy for teenagers to understand. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I know that isn’t easy, and I admire you for your courage.

 Lindley wrote: Dear Mr. Pelke, I am a student in Mr. Bouton’s 6th period Social Justice Class. I am in compete agreement with your stance on the death penalty. It was so inspiring to listen to you talk. You are a true example of forgiveness. Your ability to forgive Paula Cooper truly shows us that we are able to forgive anyone. Your perseverance in keeping up with Paula Cooper is incredible. Not only did you forgive her, but you are also helping her to turn her life around. Thank you so much for coming to speak to us. It was truly inspiring.

 Mary wrote: Dear Mr. Pelke, I am one of the students in Mr. Bouton’s Theology classes and I would like to thank you for coming to tell your story about your Nana. She sounded like a very holy women who loved God so very much. During your story, I started to tear up because my grandmother’s name is Nana and she is a very holy woman also, like your Nana. I started to put myself in your and your fathers place, and how I would feel. That’s why I started to cry. I am very impressed with how you handled the situation. You have me a great answer/reason why I don’t believe in the death penalty. I would like to thank you gain for your compassion towards mankind.

 Tatum wrote: Mr. Pelke, Thank you so much for sharing your story and stand on the death penalty. I have always been against the death penalty, but hearing how you feel about it truly influenced me. I’ve never really known what it means to be truly anti-death penalty. Your courage to help the person who killed someone you love showed me that everyone truly has the right to live no matter what they have done. Thank you so much for spending your time with us. God Bless

 Lauren wrote: Bill Pelke, Your speech really touched me. I am very sorry for your loss. I as well am against the death penalty. Everyone deserves a second chance. If someone commits murder then why murder that person as a punishment. We are doing as much wrong as they did. Thank you for giving your speech to our class.

 Clay wrote: Bill Pelke, You really touched me with your story of your grandmother. It really helped me realize that I am against the death penalty. I never thought to think of the accused. The family of the accused suffers as much as the family of the victims. Thank

 Anonymous #1 wrote: Dear Bill Pelke, Your talk was very inspirational. I was extremely pro death penalty, but your talk has made me change my mind about that.

 Joe wrote: Dear Mr. Pelke, I thought your talk really inspired and changed my opinion on the death penalty. When you said you opened up to Paula Cooper with love and compassion it really made me think. When you hear a speaker come and talk about the death penalty, they generally didn’t go through it. It really made an impact on my opinion about the death penalty. Thank you and God bless.

 Evan wrote: Thank you Mr. Bill Pelke for taking the time to come by our class. I am against the death penalty and always have been, but if I were put in the same situation as you were put in, I do not know if I could forgive someone. So you really taught me the valuable lesson of forgiving those who hurt u and showed me how God can truly have such a huge impact in our life. Thank you for everything.

 Anonymous #2 wrote: Bill Pelke changed my view on life, the view that made me realize how important life is. I really didn’t even care about the death penalty or its issues. But after your talk I am truly and 100% behind stopping capital punishment.

 Catherine wrote: Dear Mr. Pelke, Thank you so much for coming and speaking to our class. I really enjoyed hearing the opinion of the death penalty from someone who has dealt with it first-hand. I find it very inspiring that you are so passionate in ending the death penalty and that you speak in so many different places. The forgiveness and compassion that you experienced and shared with our class has helped me become more forgiving in my everyday life. Thank you again.

 Anonymous #3: Bill Pelke is great speaker. I was moved by his story and the way it changed his life. Everything he said was just heartfelt to me. There was never a boring moment in his speech. I really loved his talk and I am glad he is going to see Paula Cooper when she gets out of jail. Not only is he going to pick her up but he’s going to get her back on her feet for the new life she has ahead of her. It really was a powerful story and I liked it a lot

Anonymous #4: Bill Pelke was probably the most influential and interesting school speaker I have ever heard. He taught me a lot and shard a very moving and inspirational story. To be honest I dread school speakers but was pleasantly surprised by Mr. Pelke. What amazes me most is that he not only had the courage to forgive the girl, but to become friends with her help her when she is free.

 Andrew wrote: Thank you so much for the talk. It was great to hear from someone with direct influence on the death penalty. Hearing a real life story definitely affects my opinion on the death penalty. The fact that you went through so much hardship and forgave is astounding. I once again really appreciate your time sent at John Carroll and I hope your meeting with Paula Cooper goes well.

 M.D. wrote: Dear Mr. Pelke, thank you for coming and talking to us. Your story really hit home for me. When I was younger my uncle was trying to commit suicide to save my aunt and their son from losing their house so that they’d have his social security money to live on but my aunt found him and tried to save him but he accidently shot her when they were fighting over the gun. My cousin never forgave my uncle. My uncle was very upset over what he did and said he was guilty. He was put on death row. My uncle and aunt were the closest thing I’ve ever seen to true love. My cousin is the only one in our family that never forgave my uncle. Because of this my uncle died never having had an actual chance to apologize or receive forgiveness from him. To this day it still hurts me to think about the last thing my cousin said to my uncle when my cousin was testifying for my uncle’s prosecution. Forgiveness is one thing, compassion is another. With you as an inspiration I hope to mend my family. Thank you.

 Mauro wrote: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day o come and speak to us. Your talk with us was very inspiring and allowed us to see that compassion and love can overcome any obstacle. You are truly continuing Christ’s mission of forgiveness and mercy. I hope that when you visit Paula Cooper that everything goes well. Your mercy and kindness astounds all of us.

 Aru wrote: Mr. Pelke was a great speaker and had a lot of very powerful points. I was shocked of his acceptance and compassion towards the young ladies and he has taught me a valuable lesson. While I am still a believer in the death penalty, I have had more light on the subject, and I have learned the concept of the compassion of forgiveness. I am very lucky and thankful to have heard this man speak.
Porter wrote: Dear Bill Pelke, Thank you so much for coming to our school to speak to us. You revealed first hand to our class the power of compassion. I also came to realize how unjust the death penalty is. PS I hope your visit with Ms. Cooper goes well.Conner wrote: Dear Mr. Pelke, My name is Conner and I am a student at John Carroll Catholic High School. I heard your talk on the death penalty and I would like to thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience with me and my classmates. I was moved by the way you stood up and believed in love, compassion and the healing power of forgiveness. Thank you for your insight and your time spent with us.

 Anonymous #5 wrote: Mr. Bill Pelke, Thank you for letting me relieve your grandmother’s life through your eye opening speech. It made me aware of the evilness of some people and their ability to change. Your grandmother was a very kind and caring person and I know it was very difficult to forgive Paula Cooper for her violent acts. Your openness to the will of God really impresses me also, but you took that calling and helped other families affected by the death Penalty. Thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to our class.Anna wrote: Mr. Pelke, I really enjoyed your presentation. Coming from someone who has lived through this experience, the story really affected me more than hearing a teacher talk about it. I think that you should come every year because you really help me understand forgiveness. Thank you for your time.

 Anonymous #6 wrote: Dear Mr. Pelke, Your speech and passion for love and compassion was very moving. It is amazing that you were able to forgive Paula after only a year and a half. There are still things that I have not forgiven people for and that was much longer ago; so now I have examined my mind. And I found all of the anger that I used to have for people has changed because now I know that you could forgive a teenager of murder, I ill absolutely be able to forgive someone of the hurt they have caused me. Thank you, and God Bless.

 Kathanne wrote: I liked Bill Pelke’s talk! I learned a lot about why you should forgive and not favor the death penalty. I think everyone should have the right to life even if they have made a mistake in life. I felt that his talk was more real because he actually went through the pain, instead of just being someone that studies about the death penalty.

 Anonymous #7 wrote: Hearing Bill Pelke’s story was very helpful to me, as well as others I’m sure, in being able to understand the widespread and long term effects of such a tragedy. The forgiveness and most especially devotion is a key point which was ultimately inspiring as well as respectful. Though this nation is so great, and is truly the greatest nation on Earth, it has always been last in the world’s great moments of change. I’m afraid that despite all efforts it will take not only may decades but also an impending event to cause America to change its ways, most especially with the death penalty and even abortion. I believe this because of America’s freedom, and the conflict of opinions which delays immediate action. I am therefore glad to see a man such as Bill Pelke try and reach out to the masses concerning these conflicts, and try to be a great example and leader in the move, for all who are for these changes.

 Rachel wrote: I loved Bill Pelke’s talk, first off. I have a great deal of respect for his power to forgive and go out of his way to help someone. I was in –tune with his talk maybe because for once it was real, it wasn’t on TV, I wasn’t reading it in a book. I was witnessing a man who went through the pain of loving somebody who killed someone he loved and killed her for zero reason at all. And he didn’t want revenge or for her to suffer. He wanted her to do well, live, change, and help her. Not everyone could do that. I’m not even sure I could do that.

 Anonymous #8 wrote: The talk about the death penalty by Bill Pelke was a very interesting one. He is a very good story teller and kept everyone interested in what he had to say. If I had been in his shoes, I don’t think I could have had the strength to stand up for Paula Cooper and try to get her off of death row. Looking in as an outsider though, I can agree with the choice he made. Paula Cooper should not have been given a death sentence for many reasons.

 Trey wrote: Dear Bill Pelke, Your talk was really great and I feel that way about the death penalty. The victim dying is bad as it is and other life taking would be tragic. I would like to be a public speaker as well and your talk showed me that you can even talk about personal things as well as non-personal.

 Anonymous #9 wrote: Bill Pelke, Hello, I really enjoyed your talk. It really gave me a visual of your life, and why you choose to do the job you do. It really excites me to hear about your relationship with God and also how close you are to Him. I would love to have one of those types of relationships. I wish you would of gave more insight of other criminals you are involved with, but I understand you ran out of time. Thanks for coming and Pease come again.

 Anonymous #10 wrote: Dear Bill Pelke, I felt like you were a wonderful speaker and I think it is great that you can go around and tell others your story. I‘m so sorry that happened to you and your family but I believe you’re right. One person is dead, why should another have to be? It’s also very big of you to have forgiven her for what she did. I really hope your visit with her on Saturday went well. I will keep praying for her and for you and her family. Thank you so much for coming and talking to us!

Anonymous #11 wrote; I enjoyed your talk about forgiveness and restorative justice. It definitely made me think about my stance on the death penalty. I’m still in favor of the death penalty, but now I feel there needs to be changes made to the capital punishment system. The statistics you gave about people that are put to death and later found innocent was eye-opening. I think in some cases we are too fast to hand out the death penalty. They system needs to be fixed, so that innocent people are never put to death.

Robert wrote: Bill Pelke’s talk on the death penalty was very informative, and it made me think about it in a different way. Before, when I thought of the death penalty, I would only think of serial killers and gangster type people being on death row, but I had never thought of how it could change the life of a child my age in a matter of days. He also explained cost benefits and technicalities that were positive to his campaign. I thought about how the death penalty is not only wrong, but insufficient as well.

 Anonymous #12 wrote: Dear Bill Pelke, I enjoyed your speech about forgiveness that you gave to my social justice class. Hearing how you forgave a group of girls that took the life of your grandmother really helped me learn how God does certain things for a reason. I now know how to reflect and ask God for guidance and help before trying to seek revenge. Thank you for coming to speak to my class and teaching us how to forgive.

 Nick wrote: Dear Mr. Pelke, Thank you for coming to speak with our caused. Your speech was very moving and even caused me to reevaluate my belief on the death penalty. At first, I held the position that the price for murdering someone else was their own life; however, I now see things differently. Not only did you speak to us students on a spiritual level, but on an economical level as well, which is vital when speaking to someone who isn’t a religious participant. Not only did you give a variety of reasons against capital punishment, but you also were completely composed and unbiased against the murders. This made your answers very convincing. Thanks again.

 Anonymous #13 wrote: Bill Pelke – * I thought his speech was very intriguing. *His story kept my attention. *made me want to help out in some way – Inspirational. * I like him * Picture of Nana was so cute – made more personal * 5 starsJohn wrote: The speech that Mr. Pelke gave was incredible. The way he presented himself and spoke was very impressive. On top of that the speech was touching in every way possible. I never thought someone could be so forgiving and caring, or at least I never thought I would have the honor to meet such a great person. I look up to Bill Pelke, and I will never forget his story or his name.

 Christina wrote: Bill Pelke, I found your talk and story very interesting and inspirational because it inspired me to forgive those who have hurt me. When you showed the picture of your grandmother I almost started crying because she was so kind and sweet and I wish I could have met her. I will never forget you and how you inspired me to be a better person. Thank you.

 Katherine wrote: Bill Pelke was a great speaker! He kept us engaged, which is pretty amazing. He was passionate, which in turn made us enjoy his speech. It was inspiring to hear all that he did. You should try to get him to come again next year.

 Ariana wrote: I thought Mr. Pelke was a great speaker. The manner in which he presented his story really captivated the classroom. His theme "the healing power of forgiveness," called our summer reading book to mind, "Left to Tell". I honestly believe his story needs to be told because there is no legitimate reason for capital punishment. Just like our summer reading story, he was able to move everyone who listened and left an impression we could never forget. Mr. Pelke made me very aware of my blessings and everyone’s right to life and forgiveness.

 Emma wrote: Mr. Pelke, I loved your story of love, compassion and forgiveness. You kept all of us students very engaged. You taught me that I need to love my neighbors, no matter what they do to hurt me. I must try harder to live as Christ did and as you have – loving each other through the eye of God. Thank you for teaching us that life is short and we should try to touch as many people with Jesus-kindness as we can in the meantime.

 Olivia wrote: Dear Mr. Pelke, Thank you so much for speaking at our class at John Carroll on Wednesday, January 18th. I was very moved by your grandmother’s and your story. I had expected someone to show up and give us a bunch of facts about social justice and the law, but I loved the way you expressed your opinion through your own experience. I am inspired to live my life with love and compassion for others. You are a wonderful speaker Mr. Pelke. Thank you for sharing your time and talents with us. God Bless.

 Regan wrote: Dear Bill Pelke, Thank you so much for coming to our school and talking to our class. You really influenced me and my thoughts on the death penalty. It made me think about other things and how everyone has a right to life! Thank you again.

 William wrote: In my opinion Bill Pelke’s speech was great because he actually gave a true encounter with the death penalty. Also he told us how God spoke to him and instilled faith in him that really spoke to me.

 Anonymous #14 wrote: I found Mr. Pelke’s talk very intriguing that someone who lost someone so close to them could still find the ability to forgive the killer. I’m glad people like Mr. Pelke are standing up against the injustice of the death penalty.

 Merritt wrote: I thought that Bill Pelke was a very powerful speaker. I really liked his message about not only forgiving, but having compassion for those who have hurt us. I agree that the death penalty should be abolished because I do believe it is cruel and that god is truly the only one who can controls life and death.

 Anonymous #15 wrote: Mr. Pelke is a phenomenal speaker. He had great emotion in his voice and his story was very strong. He left leaving a sense of accomplishment. He made a goal and strove until he met it. It was an amazing speech. 

 Anonymous # 16: The talk was great. I learned a lot to not have revenge on people that have killed innocent people. Thank you, Mr. Bouton, for inviting him.

 Megan wrote: I thought that Bill Pelke was interesting because of the story he told about his grandmother until he told us. I liked how he let us ask questions at the end of the speech because it was interesting to know what happened to the other 3 girls who participated in the murder of Nana. Because Bill continued to save the life of some who killed his grandmother, I thought that he served as a great example for forgiving others. 

 Davena wrote: The Bill Pelke presentation was very interesting. I thought it amazing that Mr. Pelke could stand in front of us and tell us about the awful way his grandmother died. I also think it is amazing that he can forgive people especially those who might do the worse to him. I hope that one day I can be as forgiving and loving as Mr. Pelke. I admire ho he can be ready to visit the lady who killed his grandmother with an open mind and a big heart.

 Medina wrote: Dear Mr. Pelke, Your talk was very touching. The fact that you had the courage and the strength to forgive our grandmothers murderer is amazing. That step is not easy to make and I admire the fact that you did forgive. You are a great role model to may now. Another fact about your talk that surprised me and interested me was that you said you would be waiting outside the prison in order to help Paula Cooper, proceed with her life in the best way. You never getting tired, or show any anger for repeating yourself over and over again about the story. It takes patience, of which you have and are admired.

 Trevor wrote: Thank you for coming to our class and telling us about your story of your grandmother. Your story is very inspirational how you could forgive the girls who did such a cruel thing to such a sweet lady. Hope everything goes well with helping the girl get back on her feet after being in jail such a long time.

 DJ wrote: Bill Pelke’s presentation was very good. He captured the audience and told an inspiring story. He did a good job of expressing his beliefs while, at the same time, allowing the audience to decide on their own what stand they take on the issue of capital punishment.

 Alex wrote: I really enjoyed Bill Pelke’s talk and his ability to forgive someone who did such a terrible act to his grandmother. Forgiveness is difficult alone, but he also developed compassion for her. I honestly have no clue what I would do if I was in that situation. I live with my grandmother and I would be out of a home if she was killed. I hope that I would have at least half of the ability to forgive that he had.

 Quinn wrote: Dear Mr. Pelke, The speech you gave to us last week was extremely thought provoking. I enjoyed hearing the viewpoint of someone who has had such a difficult and trying experience with the death penalty. I found it very brave of you to be able to forgive someone who caused your family so much pain and then be able to share that story thousands of times. 

 Delore wrote: Dear Mr. Pelke, I loved your talk. You shared your story and your struggles with yourself and with your family with your decisions. People hear about you but don’t see how you can let people who have committed horrible crimes live, but when you explain in person it makes it seem possible. Thank you for coming and telling your story and your beliefs.

 Katie wrote: I think the speech that Mr. Pelke gave to our class was very inspiring and honest. I think that his story about how he forgave Ms. Cooper is amazing and I think that it takes a very strong person to do all that he has done. I believe it take the will of God to see what he sees in that 15 year-old and to be able to get past it all and keep going and grow stronger I believe that all people have the right to live and nobody should die by judgment of another human.

 Steven wrote: Dear Mr. Pelke, Your speech last week was inspiring. The way you forgave the girls even though they ruined such a big part of your life. Your story is so moving; if everyone could have half of your ability to forgive this would be such a great place.

 Nicole wrote: Bill Pelke’s talk was very interesting to listen to. His story was very eye-awakening and good to know the facts of the death penalty. I believe that you can change while in prison and that God is the only one who takes life. It someone kills somebody and then you give them the death penalty; you are doing the same thing.

 Anna wrote: My name is Anna and I am a student in Mr. Bouton’s 6th period social justice class. I would like to thank you for coming and sharing your story with us. It was very inspirational and eye opening. I learned that just because a person did something horrible does not mean they are bad, and that compassion is everything when you forgive someone.

 Le Monte wrote: Thank you for coming to our class and sharing your story with us. You are a true example of how we should forgive those who wrong us.

 Anne wrote: Mr. Bill Pelke’s talk was really enjoyable. I really liked the way that he made the story completely about his grandmother. I felt like that aspect made it more relatable, and it made me really sad because it made me think of my Nana.

 Anonymous #17 wrote: Bill Pelke’s talk was very touching. It showed how he was able to forgive the person who killed his grandmother, someone who was close to him and very special to him. You could tell that God was truly working with him and was able to help him gain the strength to help him fight to get one of the girls off death row. That was a very strong and brave move he did and was able to go through with it all because of God.

 Anonymous #18 wrote: Mr. Bill Pelke, I really enjoyed your speech that you gave our class because it opened up my eyes. I never looked at the death penalty like you do. You honestly changed the way I view it because now I view it as a matter of love, compassion and forgiveness. I would really like to thank you for coming and sharing your story to us. Our story changed my opinion, and now I am against the death penalty.

 Alex wrote: Mr. Pelke’s talk was a very life respectful speech, in the sense that his grandmother was murdered but he didn’t want revenge. Paula Cooper, the murderer has met with Mr. Pelke and they get along extremely well considering the circumstances. His speech kind of opened a door of compassion towards those on death row that are sorry for what they did…
Naiya wrote: Evaluation: Bill Pelke has a wonderful spirit. The affect that Bill Pelke had on me was very spiritual. I really did enjoy the fact he feels revenge is not the answer. Pelke feels that no matter how bad something or someone has hurt you, learn to love, have compassion, and help that certain tribulation in their lives as well as yours.

These letters from the students at John Carroll made a wonderful Valentine’s Day gift for me. I hope that their words will help open doors in more Catholic schools. No movement has ever been successful without the involvement of youth. On the Journey of Hope we plant seeds. John Carroll students were fertile soil and the letters show that some of the seeds planted are indeed bringing forth fruit.
God is good.

Came wrote: The talk from Mr. Bill Pelke was amazing; he gave me a better understanding of FORGIVENESS. I mean I already understood the meaning, like you forgive and that’s it; but when he explained why he could forgive this girl after all the pain she caused I understood forgiveness better. So I am glad that he overcame something as tragic as that. I enjoyed listening to his speech and I’m glad I got to hear him, because if I didn’t I would still be holding a drudge with some of those who’ve hurt me though out the past. Thanks.

Anonymous # 20 wrote: Dear Mr. Pelke, I really enjoyed your talk on forgiveness you gave to Mr. Bouton’s first period class. I thought it was very inspiring. You taught me a lot about forgiveness and why the death penalty is not just. If you can forgive someone for murder, then I can forgive anyone for the small things that happen in my life. I think the work you do is great and you are really making a change in the world.

On the 20th    , two days later he sent an email to Shelley Douglas. Shelley was the reason for the Alabama Journey of Hope. Shelley had an idea that had a great appeal to me. It was a chance for the Journey of Hope to do something that could help make an impact for little or no expense to the Journey. What she really wanted was to be able to use the Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing name for anti-death penalty events her organization JAM (Justice and Mercy) wanted to do in conjunction with abolishing the death penalty.
I didn’t really get to the read the letters until today. What a wonderful Valentine’s Day gift they have been. Many tears were shed as I read the jottings to me. Many of the kids got it. I would have been happy if my talks changed one persons life but as I read their notes I got the feeling that it may be more than one.
Please let me indulge myself to a point on this Valentine’s Day and let me share with you what some of the kids said.
I have edited their responses
. I spoke to five classes for Mike Bouton, the teacher who arranged my visit.