Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Letter to Claudia

Hi Claudia,

Thanks for the email.

I don't know the whole story yet and may never in its entirety.

It is quite sad.

She did have good support, but something went wrong and she didn't reach out to the tons of people who would have helped her, including Monica Foster, who was Paula's appeals attorney while she was on death row.  Monica was with Paula on Friday at the Indiana's Federal Public Defenders Office and everyone said she seemed to be happy.
On Tuesday morning she killed herself.  EVERYONE who knew her and was in contact with her said she was doing well.  It is a total shock to everyone who knew her or knew of this case. It has been billed as the case that brought worldwide attention to the United States treatment of juveniles.  The United States certainly at that point did not look like the human rights leader they proclaimed to be to the rest of the world. 
The United States looked very backward and uncivilized by many.

That attention and its momentum led to the United States Supreme Court ruling that states can no longer execute anyone for crimes committed under the age of 18.  Those same human rights activists have used that same momentum that carried our friend Brian Stevenson to eloquently argue 2 cases on the same day in front of the US Supreme Court about Life without the possibility of Parole for Juveniles. They ordered favorable decisions.  I had the privilege of sitting in on both cases.  Paula Cooper's case started a lot of that momentum.
Hers was a big case.
Her life was spared, because of millions of people signing petitions, mostly in Italy, but throughout Europe and some from the US.

Amnesty International got involved. That was important.   It was Paula’s case that got our friend Carlo Santoro of the Sant Egidio Community in Italy involved in the issue.  As a high school student he signed a petition to spare Paula’s life and he has been involved ever since. He is now a great leader in Italy’s abolition movement.   Carlo called me several times the day Paula died.  He met Paula once while she was in prison, and once since she was released.

I have heard from so many people, mostly by Facebook, but it is hundreds and hundreds.  And I try to respond to each comment.  And a lot phone calls.  Two especially heartwarming calls were from Diann and Renny.  I was in tears as they talked with me.  The beautiful Bishop Sisters both called and scores of others. Sister Helen called…and I cried some more.  My breaking heart has certainly been smoothed by many, many people and yet, pain is still there.

So many dreams: such a great shattering.  I just need to find a better dream.  I know I will mourn for a while.  As a Christian I can picture Nana and Paula together wrapped in the loving arms of Jesus.  I think this will help the mourning process.

I wonder what they would want me to do next?

I am determined to make something good of this.  I believe a person with shattered dreams can dream again.

We have been friends for many years because of the abolition movement.  I have met some of the most wonderful people in the world doing this kind of work including to Nobel Peace prize winners, celebrities and thousands of people I consider friends, like you and Rich, and friends I have met along the journey.

This is all because the state sentenced a fifteen year to die in the electric chair. Because she was sentenced to death, human rights organizations grew and began to work together.  So something good may have happened because of the death sentence. 
But what damage did that do to the mind of a person who was already deeply troubled?  Damage that led to her last act?

It was wonderful to visit your home in Colorado last fall.  Hope to see you on the Texas Journey of Hope’s World Day Against the Death Penalty Conference in October.
Thanks for letting me vent,

Since November 2, 1986 it has been a wonderful, remarkable, beautiful ride.  And now this.  I am still in shock, waiting to hear more about what might have gone wrong.

Love to you and your wonderful husband Laird,



  1. Beautiful letter. Thank you so much. I saw one of the Facebook comments the day she died with something like, "maybe she couldn't live with what she had done". I hope that wasn't the case. Forgiveness is an amazing thing and, surely she knew you and your family had forgiven her. It is certainly possible she couldn't forgive herself, but my guess is that it had a lot to do with how hard it has become for so many people to live in this world in recent years. There is a lot of anger and mean spirit despite the wonderful things that many do and certainly the many friends we have involved in the movement. I work with so many people who think that leaving prison will end the torture of their lives and when they get out, there is a different sort of torture, or at least a different struggle, and much of it doesn't live up to their dreams. And, of course, they have lost so many years of the maturation process because prison doesn't make it easy for anyone to grow. It is truly hard to step out of life as we know it and then, 20 or 30 years later, to step back into it, especially because it isn't the world we knew back then. We will probably never know what happened to her, but she may have been a person susceptible to bouts or rage or hysteria just like the one that took your wonderful grandmother. While in prison, she was forced to keep that party of her personality under control. She may have been fine on Friday and overcome with anxiety or some other huge mood swing on Friday. We will never know but what you know is that you did the right thing. You gave her back the chance for a life. You organized so many people who are now committed to the fight. You gave her your support and your love. Maybe this was the best she could do in this life. What we all know is that the cycle of love was part of her experience and that it will continue and that even this sad ending was not in vain. She is part of your story and your life forever and the story is a huge part of why we are all so committed to ending the death penalty and, hopefully, life sentences for children. Paula will not be forgotten. I send you love and support. Claudia

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  3. I feel a deep sadness for what has happened to Paula, and the needless tragedy behind it. People shouldn't be made to suffer in jail like this – not just in terms of physical abuse, but also in terms of all their options being taken out and pushing them to such a brink. Prisons are supposed to be rehabilitative, if one is found guilty beyond all doubt. If they're not, then they should be released, though with the bond that they will return upon court summons. In any case, thank you for sharing this lovely and insightful letter.

    Eliseo Weinstein @ JR's Bail Bonds