Tuesday began in the rain - and ended in the rain. Following breakfast, in Plenary we heard an address by Vicki Shearer. Here daughter Shannonwas raped and murdered on May 7, 1998 while finishing her first year of graduate school on a full scholarship at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
Shannon’s killer was not arrested until 2002. He is serving several life sentences without parole in Colorado and Pennsylvania not only for Shannon’s rape and murder but for 13 other sexual assaults as well.
In a very emotional account filled with details about errors the police made and the way that the criminal justice system re-victimized her and her family she told her story and Shannon's story. She has taught many high school and university classes on abolition, run workshops at state conferences, and published op-ed pieces in newspapers including the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Washington Post. She also has met with and testified before state legislators in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Vicki is a vocal in opponent to the death penalty, and was long before Shannon’s murderer was apprehended. The Schiebers fought the district attorney and the prosecutors to keep the death penalty from being applied to their daughter’s killer. “The death penalty is against our religion, a belief system in which life is held to be sacred...”
Vicki is an advocate for restorative justice and is awaiting a restorative encounter with the man who raped and killed her daughter. Thanks for sharing so openly Vicki!
Following coffee it was time for the first workshop session of the day: Religious Accommodation for Minority Faiths offered by the equivalent of an Assistant Warden for Interventions in a County Jail - with 1200 inmates. The workshop was a confirmation of much of the good work that we are doing in Canada in recognizing religious rights and accommodating religious practices and the challenges that local jails are facing with diminishing faith communities. Following Lunch I attended and a presentation by CURE: Advocacy for the Abolition of the Death Penalty offered by Charlie and Pauline Sullivan. This was a very informative time for me as I was made aware of some of the criminal justice policies in the USA - policies that CURE is working to reform. One of the hugh issues they are working on now is the location of a Federal Prison. Plans are underway to open a Federal Faciiity in Alabama to which all Federal female offenders along the east coast would be sent. This would mean that female Federal inmates could end up being as far as 600 or more miles away from their home and family.
Supper included another great meal and lots of great conversation. After supper some participants when off to the local prison to hold a prayer vigil outside the gates. I opted to do some laundry and begin to pack for the ride home before the last plenary session.
We were supposed to have seen a play performed by some female inmates about life in a women's prison, but the director had a personal emergency and was unable to pull it off. In place of this we gathered for a plenary discussion that was to begin with a video Fr. Greg Boyle, author of Tattoos on the Hearth: The Power of Boundless Compassion (a book I read on my Sabbatical last year) as he spoke at Scranton Unversity upon being awarded the Pedro Arrupe, S.J., Award for Distinguished Contributions to Ignatian Mission and Ministries. The video failed to work - but you can watched it here on Youtube as I did - a powerful and well spent 20 minutes! Start at about the 10 minute mark to hear Fr. Boyle.
I finished off the evening watching the basetball game between Oklahoma and Miami with a couple of diehard fans and wondered off to bed just as the fourth period started... they thought I was nuts... "Aren't you going to see how this ends!?!?" Nope - I needed some sleep as the road would beckon tomorrow!!