Tag Archives: David Atwood

REFLECTION: Dominique – lessons in forgiveness

dave-atwoodby David Atwood, Pax Christi Texas and Founder of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

If I ever had a doubt about my work to abolish the death penalty, that doubt came to a crashing halt when the State of Texas executed Dominique Green, a young African-American man from Houston, on October 26, 2004.

I had been visiting Dominique on Texas Death Row for many years. When I first visited him, he was an angry young man – angry at his mother and father, angry at society, and angry at the criminal justice system that sent him to death row. But over the years, I saw him change. He forgave his mother who had abused him as a child and caused him to leave home and live on the streets of Houston. He forgave the gang members who had pointed to him as the person who had pulled the trigger that sent Andrew Lastrape to his grave during a robbery in Houston. He forgave everyone in his life whom he felt had failed him in some way.

Dominique Green

Dominique Green

Dominique became educated and grew to be a man in prison. In addition to myself, several people from Italy, including several members of the Sant’ Egidio Community in Rome, visited and wrote him on a regular basis. His interest in forgiveness came in part from reading Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s book No Future Without Forgiveness. He wanted to meet Tutu and this was made possible by well-known author, Thomas Cahill, who knew the Archbishop. After Tutu visited Dominique on death row, he spoke to the press and stated that Dominique was a “wonderful advertisement for God….I was very humbled to be in his presence because I felt to be in the presence of God…(Dominique) is not the monster that many would expect or think, but a human being, a human being that has grown…He’s like a flower opening and you see the petals coming up, particularly when he is speaking about his concern for others…He is a remarkable young man and it would be the greatest of tragedies if someone like Dominique was executed.”

Dominique not only forgave the people who had hurt him, he also taught other prisoners on death row that they should forgive the people who had hurt them. This extraordinary transformation caused Thomas Cahill to write a book about Dominique that he titled A Saint on Death Row .

As Dominique’s execution approached, his appeals attorney, Sheila Murphy of Chicago, asked if I could locate the family of Andrew Lastrape in Houston and ask them if they wanted Dominique to be executed. When I located the family, Bernatte Lastrape and her two sons Andre and Andrew, they all gave a resounding “no” to the question of the execution. They wanted to give Dominique a second chance at life. Bernatte actually wrote to Governor Rick Perry and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and asked them to spare Dominique’s life. Bernatte wrote, “All of us have forgiven Dominique for what happened and we want to give him another chance at life. Everyone deserves another chance.” Perry and the Board refused to do so, showing the hard-heartedness of the politicized Texas criminal justice system. As the execution date got closer, Andre and Andrew traveled to death row with me to meet and reconcile with Dominique. It was a most extraordinary experience. When Andre came out of prison, he said, “Texas is going to put a righteous person to die like an animal, putting him on a table, strapping him up, putting those needles in his arms, putting him to sleep. We’re not dogs. We’re human beings just anybody else. He’s a human being just like me, just like you.”

Andre and Andrew also attended the vigil outside the execution chamber at the Walls Unit in Huntsville, Texas, to protest Dominique’s execution. I was inside the prison attending the execution of a man who had transformed his life and had a lot of wisdom to share with society. It was very painful experience to see Dominique die before my very eyes. Before the execution, Dominique made me promise that I would fight against the death penalty until it was abolished. His last words to his friends as he lay on the execution guerney were, “Thank you for your love and support…I have overcome a lot…I am not angry but disappointed that I was denied justice….But I am happy that I afforded you all as family and friends…..You all have been there for me…It’s a miracle…I love you…Thanks for allowing me to touch so many hearts….I never thought I could do it. “

After the execution, we held a funeral for Dominique in Houston. Then my wife and I took his remains to Italy. The Community of Sant’ Egidio built a monument to his memory in Rome.

Guilty or Not?

Dominique was one of four boys who robbed Andrew Lastrape in Houston in October of 1992. He was the youngest of the four boys and the three older boys pointed the finger at him as the person who shot Lastrape during the robbery. Dominique always maintained that he was not the shooter. What I found most distrurbing about the legal proceedings was that Dominique was the only one to get the death penalty. Two of the other African-American boys in the gang got prison sentences and the one white boy in the gang did not go to prison at all although he was involved in the robbery. It appeared to me that Dominique’s legal representation had been very poor and he had been railroaded to death row.

Lessons Learned

Through my years visiting Dominique and other men on death row, I have learned many things about how the death penalty is applied in Texas. First of all, our criminal justice system is imperfect. Several innnocent people have been sentenced to death. Many factors enter into whether someone is sentenced to death or not, including the quality of the legal defense, the race of the offender and the victim, and where the crime takes place. Poor people are at a great disadvantage when it comes to avoiding capital punishment in Texas because they simply do not have the funds to hire the best defense attorneys. The death penalty is truly “arbitrary and capricious” despite attempts to improve the criminal justice system.

Second, I learned that rehabilitation in prison often occurs, but means nothing to the politicians who run the system. Mercy and clemency are almost unknown qualities in Texas. Dominique was a prime example of this, but several other rehabilitated people such as James Allridge have been executed in Texas.

Third, many families of victims do not want the death penalty for someone convicted of capital murder. The Lastrape Family is a wonderful example, but there are many people like them. They know that an execution will not bring back their loved one nor bring them the healing that they desperately want and need.

Fourth, the death penalty does not deter others from committing violent crime. I have been told this by several death row prisoners and professional studies have shown this to be true. However, what might reduce violent crime in society are more effective crime prevention measures. Many people on death row were horribly abused and neglected as children and many have untreated mental disabilities. The millions of dollars wasted on the death penalty could be better used to actually prevent violent crime as well as help the victims of crime.

A Higher Road

Although Dominique Green was involved in a crime where an innocent man was murdered, his transformation in prison has a lot to offer society. His ability to forgive, and the ability of the Lastrape family to forgive, are excellent models for society. Just because someone kills, we as a society don’t have to kill in return, and we should not. We can choose a more enlightened response, a higher road, that involves forgiveness, rehabilitation and the wise use of taxpayers’ dollars.

Dominique’s Legacy Lives On

Many people would be surprised that a death row prisoner, one that had been executed, would leave a legacy. But Dominique Green definitely has left one. He taught many people, including other death row prisoners, the importance of forgiveness. He showed people that prisoners, even those on death row, can change and contribute to society. And he motivated me to continue the fight against the death penalty until it is finally abolished. Without his example, I may have given up trying to abolish the death penalty in Texas for it is, indeed, difficult work. But in Dominique’s memory, I will never give up.

ON THE LINE: May edition features peace awards, upcoming events, and more

Compiled by Johnny Zokovitch

Each month, “On The Line” features news items and announcements from around the nation featuring Pax Christi members, local groups, regions and partners. These are gleaned from articles in local newspapers, websites, magazines, and elsewhere. 

PAX CHRISTI LONG ISLAND PEACE AWARDS: Journalist and writer Susan Perretti and Bethpage High School teacher/advisor Jacqueline Jill Rito were given the PCLI Peace Award for 2012 on April 21 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Manhasset. Susan and Jacqueline, members of PCLI, were honored for their work in bringing the message of peace from the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers to Long Island. Jacqueline first heard of the Afghan Youth from reading about them on the PCUSA website and speaking with Amy Watts who was coordinating PCUSA’s relationship with the Afghan youth. At the award event, there was a great phone conversation between people from  5 or 6 countries, moderated by PCUSA Teacher of Peace Kathy Kelly.The AYPV developed the Global Days of Listening program, which enables conversations between ordinary people from Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Israel, Egypt and an expanding list of other countries. Also honored were three students from Bethpage High School, Leila Dastgheib-Beheshti, Holly Josephs and Shawn Mehrzad for their efforts in presenting the Global Days of Listening at their high school, at Adelphi University, and at the United Nations.

Pax Christi Long Island's 2012 Peacemaker Awards

Jacqueline Jill Rito ( left) and Susan Perretti received Pax Christi Long Island’s 2012 Peacemaker Awards. Their blue scarves are a symbol of the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, reminding us we are all united under one blue sky.

PEACE AWARD PRESENTED TO PAX CHRISTI NEW JERSEY: From NorthJersey.com: “New Jersey Peace Action (NJPA) will host its 55th anniversary dinner on Sunday, April 29, at the Regency House, 140 Route 23 North, Pompton Plains. NJPA is working to end torture, close Guantanamo Bay Prison, and stand up for the civil liberties of all, including the American Muslim community. As part of this campaign, Captain James ‘Yusuf’ Yee will speak on ‘9/11 and Guantanamo: The Struggle for Justice Ten Years Later.’ David Mortensen, a resident of Rockaway Township, will present the Sylvia and Oscar Ackelsberg Peace Award to Pax Christi New Jersey at the annual dinner. He is also a member of the Multifaith Peace and Justice and Alliance and the August 9th Saving Lives Task Force, two organizations working with New Jersey Peace Action to help bring lasting peace and justice to the world. ‘I am honored to be asked to give an award to Pax Christi New Jersey, one of our sister organizations that is making a difference in the cause of peace,’ said Mortensen. Read more by clicking here.

LETTER TO THE EDITOR ON THE DEATH PENALTY: The Catholic Sun featured a letter from Deacon Paul Hursch expressing the sentiments of Pax Christi-Phoenix members who pray and witness for the abolition of the death penalty.  Deacon Hursch wrote, in part, “I was heartened to see the article affirming our Church’s position on capital punishment (‘Forgive us as we forgive others,’  The Catholic Sun, March 15). Many Catholics do not consider these state sanctioned homicides as an affront to our Church’s prohibition against the unnecessary destruction of human life.  Most Catholics affirm the sanctity of human life from conception until natural death, but make an exception for the people on death row.  Somehow these lives don’t merit God’s forgiveness, but rather the most severe punishment. My firsthand experience has proven this wrong.  The three men whom I have visited on death row over the past 10-plus years are men whose lives have been changed through the power of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God…”

PC-Arizona members against the death penalty

PC-Phoenix coordinator Dan Wolford tables at a vigil against the death penalty.

PAX CHRISTI METRO NEW YORK COORDINATOR ADDRESSES THE PAX CHRISTI AGENDA: In an op-ed piece for The Huffington Post, PC-Metro NY coordinator Rosemarie Pace wrote about the Pax Christi Agenda:” In the April 14 issue of The Tablet, the newspaper of the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens, there was a letter in the ‘Readers’ Forum’ that was titled ‘The Pax Christi Agenda.’ Having been a member of Pax Christi for nearly 25 years and having been Director of Pax Christi Metro New York for nearly 12 of those 25 years, I thought I was pretty familiar with Pax Christi’s agenda, but I could not recognize it in that letter. It made me realize that there’s an awful lot of misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Pax Christi out there that begs to be informed. Consequently, I offer this description of the Pax Christi ‘agenda’ for all who might be curious. Pax Christi was founded by Bishop Pierre Marie Theas and Marie-Marthe Dortel Claudot in France at the end of WWII for reconciliation between France and Germany; hence, its first and foremost agenda item to this day is reconciliation… Read the entire article by clicking here.

Mary Lea Palo Zamora

Mary Lea Palo Zamora

PAX CHRISTI FLORIDA STATE COUNCIL MEMBER PASSES: From the PC-Florida website: “It is with a very heavy heart that we inform you that Mary Lea Zamora, long-time member of Pax Christi Florida and Pax Christi Northeast FL and former member of PCF’s council, entered into eternal life Tuesday, April 24th at 9:45 a.m. Ron, her dearest friend and devoted husband, was at her side. Mary Lea showed all of us not only how to live well but also how to die with great acceptance, courage, and grace… We, who knew and loved this exceptional woman, are certain that the gates of heaven were flung wide open at her arrival. Until we meet again gentle and holy woman: Mary Lea Zamora … Presente!”

PAX CHRISTI TEXAS REMEMBERS LONG TIME MEMBER: David Atwood wrote the following tribute to Dr. Ellen Burns who died in Houston on December 5  at the age of 91. “I first met Ellen when she moved to Houston to work in the Catholic Archdiocesan Youth Office in 1992 (at the age of 72!). She soon joined the local Pax Christi group and later helped found the Houston Peace and Justice Center.  Ellen’s activism included protests against nuclear weapons, advocacy for Latino immigrants, stronger gun control laws, abolition of the death penalty, and protests against the School of the Americas.  She set a shining example of putting one’s faith into action. When Ellen retired from the Catholic Archdiocese in 2002, she said, ‘I was never inactive….I don’t know how God gives me all this energy.’ We will miss Ellen’s energy, determination and courage.  Read more on the PC-Texas website.

Upcoming Events:

PC-Arizona will be holding the first Regional Dialog with members of PCUSA national leadership on May 12 at the Phoenix Archdiocesan Pastoral Center. Contact Margaret Wolford for more information at wolford2102@centurylink.net

May 17 is DREAM Day of Action, sponsored by United We Dream in support of the DREAM Act.

PC-Illinois will be participating in the Unity March for Justice and Reconciliation at the NATO Summit in Chicago, May 20. PC-Illinois will host a Mass and a meet-up to march together. Contact PCUSA Ambassador of Peace Tom Cordaro at tomcordaro@juno.com for more information.

PC-El Paso hosts PCUSA Ambassador of Peace Fr. John Dear, SJ on May 24 at St. Pius X Catholic Church Community Center. Click here for more info.

Quicklinks:

Pax Christi Metro New York coordinator remembers support of Mary’s Pence … Mary Mitchell promotes Pax Christi in a letter to the editor on Afghanistan … Reddit post from a workshop presenter at Pax Christi Michigan’s state conference … CatholicCulture.org featured a story on PCUSA being a signatory to a letter asking the President Obama to ban land mines … Central MA Pax Christi held a retreat with the theme “The Power of Forgiveness and Reconciliation” on April 14 with Marie Dennis, director of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns … Pax Christi International Co-President Marie Dennis featured in Catholic Free Press article on war with Iran … Read Pax Christi International’s May newsletterJustFaith Ministries in collaboration with Pax Christi USA just released a special 12 session module for small groups on “Just Peacemaking.” There is a special discount for Pax Christi local groups wanting to purchase the module … PCUSA is seeking an Associate Director of Development

  • Send your news items, announcements, photos and links to stories about Pax Christi groups or members to johnnypcusa@yahoo.com.

ON THE LINE: February edition features PC members and groups in the news

Compiled by Johnny Zokovitch

Each month, “On The Line” features news items and announcements from around the nation featuring Pax Christi members, local groups, regions and partners. These are gleaned from articles in local newspapers, websites, magazines, and elsewhere. 

HAITI PROJECT UPDATE IN THE DIGITAL JOURNAL: Our colleagues in Haiti were happy to share this story with us: “The “Jaden Tap Tap” (Tap Tap Garden) urban community garden was proudly inaugurated on January 22, 2012 in Cite Soleil, Haiti. The Tap Tap Garden is Haiti’s largest urban garden containing more than 500 brightly painted tire gardens, flower garden, and a nursery of 1,000 trees. Nearly 600 community members, NGO’s, and government officials joined Bochika, SAKALA-Pax Christi Ayiti, and SOIL in celebrating the inauguration of the garden, as well as a new community Eco-San Toilet. The crowd was delighted to participate in the daylong event that featured a “farmers market”, agricultural demonstrations, musical and dance performances by local youth, and special appearance by internationally recognized Haitian recording artist, BelO.” Read more: http://www.digitaljournal.com/pr/568647#ixzz1lo5f8Z8H

Megan McKenna wins Hecker Award

Megan McKenna, PCUSA Ambassador of Peace, with godchild Megan, receiving the Hecker Award.

PCUSA AMBASSADOR OF PEACE WINS ISAAC HECKER AWARD: Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace Megan McKenna was honored in January in Boston with the Isaac Hecker Award, presented by the Paulists. At the award reception, it was stated, “Grounded in and informed by the meaning of Scripture, Megan’s writing tackles many of the issues of our day – much like the call of the 99% to reorder priorities, redistribute wealth, and attend to basic human needs.  She addresses the ever-widening economic and resource gaps nationally and internationally, the role of women in church and society, and the global challenges for use of our natural resources.  She offers a blueprint for contemporary analysis and action for social justice.” Read more at http://paxchristiusa.org/2012/02/08/ambassador-of-peace-megan-mckenna-receives-isaac-hecker-award/

FORMER PCUSA ED FEATURED IN THE ERIE TIMES: “Dave Robinson lectured on global poverty as executive director of Pax Christi USA. His job took him to places like Iraq and Haiti, where he got an up-close look at the effects of poverty. But poverty was never too far from home for Robinson, who lives in Union Township. ‘You get past the beautiful landscapes and the friendly people, and we’re suffering out here in this rural part of the county,’ he said. ‘We have disproportionately high poverty rates. Lack of jobs, lack of transportation, pretty much any social problem that you want to focus on, we’ve got it right here.’ So when it came time for Robinson to decide whether to follow the national Catholic peace and justice movement from Erie to Washington, where Pax Christi moved its headquarters over the summer, he chose to stay in an area he loves while focusing his efforts on helping people in need in southeastern Erie County.” Read more at http://www.goerie.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2012301299819

Dave Atwood of Pax Christi Texas

Dave Atwood of PC-Texas speaks at a press conference in Houston for the Campaign to Promote Permanent Residency for Temporary Protective Status Beneficiaries from Central America. Photo courtesy of PC-Texas.

PC COLLEGE OF HOLY CROSS MEMBER DONATES HAIR: “Kenilworth native Marielle McKenna is an active fundraiser for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, an organization that funds pediatric cancer research grants. Recently, she decided she wanted to do something more for children with cancer. ‘A friend of mine shaved her head for St. Baldrick’s foundation and I thought she was crazy,’ McKenna said. ‘I thought donating her hair was going far enough and shaving was an unnecessary extreme. I thought I could never do something like that. Then after reflecting on it for a while and seeing how happy my friend was, I asked myself why couldn’t I do something like that? I went online to the Web site and signed up as a shavee.’”  Read more at http://wilmette.patch.com/articles/bald-is-beautiful-for-kenilworth-woman

PC TAMPA BAY COORDINATOR JOHN STEWART FEATURED IN COUNTERPUNCH ARTICLE ON NASA MISSION: “John Stewart of Pax Christi-Tampa Bay maintained before the Curiosity launch: ‘NASA is planning a mission that could endanger not only its future but the state of Florida and beyond. The absurd—and maddening—aspect of this risk is that it is unnecessary. The locomotion for NASA’s Sojourner Mars rover, launched in 1996, and the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers, both launched in 2003, was solar powered, with the latter two rovers performing well beyond what their engineers expected. Curiosity’s locomotion could also be solar-powered. NASA admits this in its EIS, but decided to put us all at risk because plutonium-powered batteries last longer and they want to have the ‘flexibility to select the most scientifically interesting location on the surface’ of Mars.’” Read more at http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/01/16/the-toxic-crash-of-phobos-grunt/

LONGTIME PAX CHRISTI MEMBER MARY ALLICE PRATT DIES:Mary Alice Pratt, a longtime Central Kentucky social activist, died January 12. She would have turned 83 the next day. Ms. Pratt had worked for decades on social justice issues with the University of Kentucky Newman Center-Holy Spirit Parish; was active in the Central Kentucky Council for Peace and Justice; and once wrote and performed a one-woman show on the life of Dorothy Day, a co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, whose work greatly influenced Ms. Pratt.” Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2012/01/12/2026248/mary-alice-pratt-central-kentucky.html#storylink=cpy

TIFFIN AREA PC MEMBER GOES TO TRIAL FOR HOUSE ACTION: Josie Setzler, a peace activist and grandmother from Fremont, is one of five people on trial in D.C. Superior Court this week for disrupting congressional hearings to protest government treatment of Guantanamo Bay detainees. Ms. Setzler was one of 14 members of Witness Against Torture who stood up in the citizens’ gallery of the House of Representatives during deliberations June 23 on the defense authorization bill. It contained a measure to eliminate funding from any efforts to repatriate Guantanamo detainees… Ms. Setzler, 58, is charged with unlawful conduct, a misdemeanor. In addition to her membership in Witness Against Torture, she heads Tiffin Area Pax Christi and People for Peace and Justice Sandusky County. Read more at http://www.toledoblade.com/Courts/2012/01/04/Fremont-woman-among-5-on-trial-for-House-protest.html

Upcoming Events

  • PC-Minnesota’s winter gathering with PCUSA Teacher of Peace Bill Quigley, March 3, at St. Frances Cabrini Church in Minneapolis. For more info, click here.
  • PCUSA Ambassador of Peace Rev. John Dear, SJ will speak at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Atlanta, March 14. For more info, click here.
  • PC-Florida will host their Spring Retreat in Parrish, FL on April 14 and 15. Retreat leader is Sr. Paula Gonzalez. For more info, click here.
  • PC-Michigan’s 31st annual state conference, “Power: Who Lies? Who Dies? Who Pays? Who Profits?” will be April 21 at St. Anastasia Church in Troy, MI. Pax Christi Ambassador of Peace Tom Cordaro and PCUSA Executive Director Sr. Patty Chappell are featured speakers. For more info, click here.

Quicklinks

PC-Illinois World Peace Day event

Religious leaders hold a paper chain at PC- Illinois' World Peace Day event. Photo courtesy of PC-Illinois.

Blue Water (MI) Pax Christi’s Michael McCarthy on “Drones Come Home To Roost”… PC NJ coordinator Kathy O’Leary featured in Change.org article on one individual’s unjust detention … PC St. Francis Church (MD) coordinator Susan Kerin had a letter on Israeli-Palestinian issues published in the Washington Post … Pax Christi New York City launched a new website last month … Great online interview with former National Council member Donna Grimes … Art Laffin reviews PC NM co-coordinator Bud Ryan’s movie The Forgotten Bomb in Tikkun … Interested in joining the Pax Christi Anti-Racism Team? … Nominate someone for the Pax Christi USA National Council. Deadline is March 5 … An interview with Pax Christi member Sr. Rita Clare Gerardot was featured in NCR …

  • Send your news items, announcements, photos and links to stories about Pax Christi groups or members to johnnypcusa@yahoo.com.