Messages of solidarity from around the world

‘‘Let us celebrate what we achieved’’

Zolo Agona Azania
Arizona death row prisoner

"Freedom is never given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed." --Martin Luther King Jr.

A firm clenched-fist salute to you and warm salutations for a successful struggle for liberation and real justice for all, from the grassroots up, in the new year. Let’s give another clenched-fist to George Ryan! He did the right thing, but not without first receiving a lot of organized and solid urging from the people in constant struggle.

Renaldo Hudson
Former Illinois death row prisoner

What can I say to the Campaign to End the Death Penalty? You all worked diligently to save so many people, and we--the men and women on Illinois death row--can say we reaped the harvest. Some were pardoned, some received 40 years, and the rest of us received life without the possibility of parole.

So in my heart, I’m able to freely say: the Campaign to End the Death Penalty deserves our praises for its efforts. You laid down in the mud with us. So please take a moment to breathe, exhale--even do the happy dance.

Now we must get back on the horse. Because the fight isn’t over, and we must make the pledge that no true soldier can leave any soldier behind. "Life without the possibility of parole" isn’t the best we can do. That is mental torture.

We must be dedicated to seeking ways to help each other in our goals. We are facing hard days ahead. We must keep our eyes open. Freedom, justice and equality are in our reach. Keep the faith, we are winning.

Stephen Bright
Director of the Southern Center for Human Rights

What a wonderful and historic day it was yesterday in Illinois. What a great speech by Gov. Ryan. What great work you all did to help make it happen. A great milestone on the road from barbarism.

Ronald Kitchen
Former Illinois death row prisoner

My name is Ronald Kitchen, one of the Death Row 10 members. I wish I could be out in the world to speak at a rally with you in person with the rest of the brothers who have recently been pardoned and released from death row. I’m so sorry to say that I’m not--I am just one of the many that have been left behind. But not forgotten.

Let us celebrate the wins that we have achieved--the moratorium, the commutations and the four pardons of Madison, Stanley, Leroy and Aaron. And let us not forget that the fight, the struggle, has to continue.

Listen people, life is good whenever we can save an innocent man or woman’s life. Life is good whenever we can win against corruption--especially when we are ! going up against a Goliath system, like this thirsty-for-blood, flawed death penalty system.

Let us remember the four pardons and the blanket commutations. People, that doesn’t mean that it’s over--because it’s not. Remember the struggle that goes on for fairness, equality and justice.

Nicole Reigelman
Former intern for the Campaign

Congratulations!! I was so excited when I heard the great news. I was on the treadmill and about fell off. On to bigger and better things! Lets look positively and hope this creates a chain reaction, or at least that Illinois will be more apprehensive to so nonchalantly sentence people to death knowing the spotlight is on them.

Rita Barker
California death penalty lawyer and activist, and a close friend of Tom Thompson, a California death row prisoner who was executed in 1998

A million congratulations! There are no words to tell you how proud I am of all of you tireless workers, and how elated I am at what you have accomplished in Illinois. It is a wonderful victory, and it will propel the movement to abolish the death penalty in this country ahead several steps.

Perhaps this little anecdote will help convey to you what it means. I believe you may know of Greg Wilhoit, who served five years on Oklahoma’s death row before he was exonerated.

When I woke up Saturday morning and heard what had happened, I called Greg, who lives here in Sacramento and is a friend of mine. When I heard Governor Ryan’s speech (which I taped), I was so moved and so impressed with the miracle achieved that I decided the best way to celebrate was with Greg.

I bought a good bottle of champagne, cooked Greg dinner, and then we sat and watched Ryan’s speech together. Greg and I were both moved to tears. This lovely man, who was victimized and so traumatized by the system, who during his incarceration made many dear friends on the row--which is the only way a human being can survive such a nightmare--and who since hi! s own exoneration has had to endure those friends being murdered by the state, sat on my sofa and sobbed as he listened to Ryan’s great speech.

That speech was vindication for Greg, one of the innocents, but also vindication for the guilty, who have also been arbitrarily and unfairly treated by such a shameful system.

Tom Thompson’s mother, Inge, also called me that night, overjoyed at what happened in Illinois; hopeful that the enlightenment which has blossomed there will spread, and that the truth will come out about other states and other victims of the system, such as Tom. It broke my heart all over again to listen to her pain and her fervent prayer that, although Tom is gone, we can somehow, someday, obtain justice for him.

Jed Stone
Death penalty lawyer and board member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty

What wonderful news. People, ordinary people, fighting for justice have made this possible. The Governor is a pharmacist, not a lawyer. The Campaign is an organization of people struggling against racism and injustice. This victory is for the people.

Victor Safforld/Cortez Brown
Former Illinois death row prisoner

I could not pass up this distinguished opportunity to share words of happiness at this very special event. We have been very successful at convincing the Governor George Ryan to pardon four human beings and empty death row of every single death row inmate.

Wonderful it would have been to completely abolish capital punishment in Illinois, however, our collective efforts have brought the death penalty debate to international attention. We have also been just as successful at bringing the torture issues to international attention; Jon Burge has been exposed for his inhumane and terrorist tactics against human beings, like never before.

So this is a very good moment to celebrate--our accomplishments should be celebrated. Nevertheless, with every war, there are also casualties! Let us never forget those of us who were ! left behind, because to the mothers and the family members and friends of those left behind, there is still much pain and much grief.

Understanding this, let us work 10 times as much harder to help those who were left behind, as well as their mothers, family members and friends, to one day join in on the full celebration of a full and complete victory!

Bill Keach
Professor at Brown University

We’ve felt tremendous excitement and pride here in Boston at the news stories coming out of Illinois the past two days. Lawyer Johnson, Mary Rogers, Sue Fitzgerald and I have hardly been able to contain ourselves. Please tell everyone associated with the Campaign in Chicago that they’ve set an example of sustained and determined activism for the entire movement to follow!

Peter Jauernig
From Germany

Dorothea and I happened to meet some people of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty in Chicago in the beginning of September 2001, who were collecting signatures to free Madison Hobley. In our slide show, we reported on this, and someone in the audience had the idea of passing the following resolution:

In their slide show on January 17 about their vacation in the United States, Peter and Dorothea Jauernig reported on your efforts for the abolition of the death penalty and to free Madison Hobley. We have also learned that M. Hobley and other prisoners have been released from death row. Certainly this is also the result of your courageous effort!

We send our greetings of international solidarity to you, to M. Hobley and to all the other former death row prisoners.

Mike Stark
Campaign regional organizer for Maryland/Washington, D.C.

This is an incredible victory--and should build our confidence and expectations for the fight in Maryland and nationally. This has been the result of years of hard work by abolitionists from many organizations in Illinois and across the country. Also, the CEDP can be especially proud of its leading role in Illinois! . This shows that activism works! Onwards to abolition!

Howard Wiley
Former Illinois death row prisoner

In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation of confusion, misery and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever-approaching thunder, which will destroy us, too.

I can feel the suffering of millions, and yet, if I look into the heavens, I think that it will all come right--that this cruelty, too, will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.

Joy Major Hoop
Ohio prisoner with a life sentence

Congratulations!! I just heard the good news for the death row inmates in Illinois. I’m hoping that Maryland will follow, and that more and more attention will be given to the problem on a national level.

Paul Linczak
Member of Amnesty International in Rochester, N.Y.

I want to say congratulations on all the hard work that helped lead to Gov. Ryan’s recent decision. All of the Rochesterians who were with me in Chicago for the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty conference were elated to hear the news. It’s truly an important step in the right direction.