Written by Michael Fones
Saturday, 05 January 2008 11:27
Often I hear people complaining about the prison system in the U.S. Prisons are generally overcrowded, the recidivism rate indicates that little rehabilitation is happening, the majority of inmates are members of racial minorities, and too often they become "classrooms" for learning new criminal skills.
But today I came across a remarkable outreach from death row inmates that is facilitated by members of St. Rose Parish, in Perrysburg, OH, where I helped give a Called & Gifted workshop last year. It's a newsletter called, "Compassion," and the first of the bi-monthly publications was produced in 2001.
The main page of the website states the objectives of the project:
Compassion newsletter is written by death row prisoners in the United States and distributed without charge to all 3400+ inmates in this country currently under the sentence of death. Subscriptions are also available to those on the outside.
Compassion focuses its efforts on publishing compassionate and introspective articles written by death-row prisoners. Within its pages it also works to develop healing communication between capital punishment offenders and murdered victims’ families.
Under its self imposed guidelines Compassion directs that half of all its subscription and donation funds be awarded as college scholarships to family members of murdered victims. To date $21,000 in scholarships have been awarded to seven individuals from around the country.
Compassion urges prisoners to set a new moral decency for themselves. Through its pages, death row prisoners take an active role in restorative justice and reconciliation. Prisoners are encouraged to genuinely foster reconciliation between themselves and immediate family members of murdered victims.
The current editor of Compassion, Dennis Skillicorn, is on Missouri’s death row. He views Compassion as “an opportunity for us to have a voice and express our overwhelming desire to give back to society. In the process death row prisoners are able to work toward restoring some of what we’ve torn down.”
The project began in response to a suggestion by Siddique Abdullah Hasan, who is on death row in the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown. Through a mutual contact, Hasan connected with Fred Moor of St. Rose Parish, who agreed to oversee publication. According to the website, "the glossy, eight-page newsletter focuses on positive contributions by death row inmates and their desire to help others. It does not print accounts of individual cases, complaints about prison or the judicial system, or opinions on the death penalty."
Skillicorn has recently collected contributions from prisoners throughout the country and produced a book of essays, poems and artwork chronicling the choices that brought prisoners to where they are today. With the help of volunteers at St. Rose, "Today's Choices Affect Tomorrow's Dreams" is being distributed in juvenile detention facilities around the country to remind young people about the importance of their decisions. The book, written by death-row inmates and prisoners serving life-without-parole sentences, is distributed through Compassion, and can be ordered using this form.
Kudos to the parishioners at St. Rose, who are supporting this attempt to bring some healing to families devastated by violent crime. Compassion demonstrates that God's grace is at work even in the lives of those we might like to think are beyond hope - and that we can not simply turn our backs on them, as tempting as that might be.