Friday, April 22, 2011

Remembering Marie Deans - Part 1

Sister Helen Prejean sent us this poem that she wrote when she learned of Marie Deans’s death:

Oh no.
We have lost Marie.
We mourn our loss,
But God has gained her,
wrapped her round in luminous
darkness. Now, in faith we know
she abides in the hearts of us all.
Now, in hope we work and strive
In her zesty, indomitable spirit for
Justice to come to the downtrodden,
the despised, the disposed of in prisons
Across this land. Thank you, Marie, for
the gift of your precious life.

Sending us the poem, Sister Helen wrote, “Add to the list of downtrodden, etc, what she has done to help give victims' families a voice. She was one of the first to do that in honor of her mother-in-law Penny.”

Todd C. Peppers’s piece, “Celebrating the Life of a Death Penalty Pioneer,” was posted on the Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty site earlier this week. It begins:

On April 15, 2011, the death penalty community lost one of its pioneers with the death of Marie McFadden Deans. For three decades, Marie fought on multiple fronts – from working to bring basic conditions of decency to the men who inhabited Virginia’s death row and refining the use of mitigation evidence in death penalty trials to struggling to exonerate factually innocent men. Her contributions to the fight against the death penalty cannot be exaggerated.

A native of Charleston, South Carolina, Marie came to social activism at an early age as she joined protesters who dared to integrate lunch counters in the South. Her devotion to abolishing the death penalty was sparked by the brutal murder of her beloved mother-in-law Penny Deans by an escaped convict. In the face of such a horrific loss, Marie responded by founding Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation, an organization, in Marie’s own words, designed to give those who opposed the death penalty “a voice” and “a safe place from which they could speak out.” Marie also joined Amnesty International and toured some of the more notorious death rows across the country - documenting the widespread abuses and providing needed data to litigate the cruel and unusual conditions routinely imposed on the rows’ forgotten inhabitants.

Read the rest of the piece here.

MVFHR board member and Journey of Hope co-founder Bill Pelke posted a remembrance on the Journey of Hope blog, looking back at Marie’s involvement in the Journey’s first speaking tours.

Victim’s family member Aba Gayle, who remembers speaking together with Marie on one of those early Journeys, writes now:

Marie was without ego and was reluctant to take credit for her work. I remember when we were in the Cathedral in Richmond, Virginia. The place was jammed. Marie was introduced and the place went wild. She just stood there humbly and accepted the applause. I am very sad that we have lost such a beautiful light. I will always remember Marie for her courage and love for all of us. The world is a far better place because Marie Deans was part of it.

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