Monday March 5th, PJALS’ Inland Northwest Death Penalty Abolition Group (INDPAG) hosted a panel/Q&A discussion at Liberty Park United Methodist Church that addressed many reasons why Washington needs to abolish the death penalty. The panel was moderated by Sara Schmidt from Amnesty International and included five local panelists: Nancy Nelson, longtime abolitionist and member of PJALS, Cly Evans, corrections officer, Victoria Thorpe whose sister is currently on death row in California, Reverend Deb Conklin, host pastor and former deputy prosecutor, and Reverend Liv Larson Andrews from Salem Lutheran Church.

The panelists gave their personal testimonies about why it’s time that we put an end to this horrific act of violence. Liv spoke from her perspective as a faith leader and talked about forgiveness and love for all people. Deb reflected on her experience as deputy prosecutor and what she saw inside the system.

The most compelling testimony came from Victoria Thorpe with an emotional description of what it’s like to be a family member of someone on death row and the struggles and injustices her sister has encountered. Her story had a strong impact on all in the room. Hearing Victoria’s story in its entirety for the first time, I was once again reminded that we all have something to learn from one another. I learned about compassion and human dignity through her eyes and it’s not something I will ever forget.

Nancy answered many audience questions throughout the evening, and it was clear that people are interested in gaining knowledge and facts on the issue. Several wrote information in their notebooks. It was encouraging to see unfamiliar faces supportiour efforts and wishing to become more involved in the abolition movement.

Around 40 people attended this event and participated in writing postcards to their district legislators, urging them to abolish. Some had their pictures taken with a sign that said, “I support Safe and Just Alternatives to the Death Penalty” that will go on the campaign’s website.

Having been a part of INDPAG for 7 months now, I was proud of how quickly this panel came together. It was great to convene as a community and have an open and honest dialogue about the history of the death penalty and the many reasons why we need to abolish it. If there were people in attendance who were on the fence about this issue, they wouldn’t have been able to walk away without having their values seriously challenged. Thought-provoking and highly informational, our panel provided a sense of hope for those that are motivated to change our current laws and system. – Alyssa Henderson