An article published yesterday in the online journal Campus Progress, about people who correspond with prisoners on death row, has this section about MVFHR member Bonnita Spikes:
Bonnita Spikes, the field organizer for Maryland Citizens Against State Executions, considers the prisoners on Maryland’s death row to be her personal friends. She attended Wesley Baker’s execution in 2005 and keeps in touch with his mother. Spikes is a mother of four boys and a grandmother of ten; she has traveled across the country, from Miami to Atlanta to College Park, Md., to advocate against executions. However, Spikes, 54, is also an active member of another organization—Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights.
In 1994, Spikes’s husband Michael was shot to death. His killers were never found. Spikes’ son attempted suicide after his father’s death. But rather than seeking vengeance for her husband’s death, Spikes turned to causes she thought Michael would have wanted her to support. She worked with those in hospices and those suffering from homelessness, eventually turning to working against the death penalty. She believes forgiveness is essential to breaking cycles of hate and crime, cycles that won’t be broken by just locking people in the Supermax to await lethal injection. “I understand. I really understand because I lost my husband,” she said. “But I just don’t think that executions are the way to go.”
When dealing with other victims’ families, Spikes acknowledges that not everyone can forgive the way she did. “I say to anybody, I’m not trying to tell you how you should feel about this,” she said. “I’m just saying if you knew the way it’s handled, it’s not handled right. It’s flawed,” she said. “The list of exonerated alone that should let you know there’s something wrong with our system.”
The families of the offenders are also victims and deserve help and support, said Spikes, who plans to write her master’s thesis on helping the families of both murder victims and offenders. “Once people hear how some have actually lived, it gives them food for thought and starts the process of, ‘Okay, maybe I need to change my mind about this,’” Spikes said.
After working with death row inmates, Spikes says she has seen the humanity of the offenders she once hated. She says her relationship with death row inmates has freed her to love her family and her life. “I wanted to find the killers that killed my husband and wanted them to be [imprisoned] and really suffer,” Spikes said.
She believes that holding onto a lust for revenge kept her, and her family, from healing. “Letting go,” she said, “I just wish more people could know that feeling because it’s just not fun living with hate, waking up to hate every morning.”