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.

First visit after 14 years.