We Believe in the Possibility of Redemption: a Statement of Faith on Parole Eligibility for People Sentenced to Life Without Parole

CADBI meeting in a church

As people of faith, we support legislation that would allow for parole eligibility for those serving life sentences. This is because we believe in the full humanity of those who are harmed by violence and those who perpetrate harm.

We know the suffering and grief of people who have lost loved ones to violence. Many of us have held services and buried people who have been killed. Each person who is taken from us is an unimaginable and devastating loss that sends a ripple of suffering throughout our communities and into the world.

Our communities also know the grief of losing a loved one to the prison system. Too many have been sent away for too long without a meaningful chance to redeem themselves. We lament that our prison system warehouses and dehumanizes members of our communities who have perpetrated harm rather than seeking their transformation into better neighbors. And too many people know both the grief of losing a loved one to violence and the pain of having a loved one incarcerated.

As people of faith we believe in the power of transformation and forgiveness. We believe that people can work to change themselves for the better. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.” (Isaiah 59:1). All of our traditions command us to seek forgiveness. The Qur’an states, “Show forgiveness, enjoin what is good, and turn away from the ignorant.” (Surah Al-A’raf 7:199)

Pennsylvania has the second largest population of people sentenced to Life Without Parole in the country. Of the 5,300 people serving Life Without Parole in PA prisons, many are aging and elderly prisoners who present no risk to public safety and languish in prisons at a tremendous cost to society. Some are people who never took a life or intended to kill, but were an accomplice in a crime where someone was killed. Many are people who have turned their lives around after many years of incarceration and take part in productive and positive efforts from behind prison walls. Some are members of faith communities. Others are a part of anti-violence and restorative justice initiatives. All of them are someone’s child, friend, parent, or beloved family member.

The current system is centered on punishment. We want a system that encourages transformation and accountability, and where those who have perpetrated harm can try to atone for some of the harm they caused. We believe everyone should have the chance to go before the parole board to demonstrate that they have changed. We believe in the human capacity for redemption and the possibility of a second chance for those who have done the hard work to redeem themselves.

Because we believe in healing, justice, and the power of redemption, we support Senate Bill 942 and House Bill 135. These bills in the Pennsylvania General Assembly would allow those serving life sentences to go before the parole board. We are asking our legislators to support these bills and calling on all people of faith to join us in advocating for systems that promote healing and accountability.

Signed,

American Friends Service Committee

Ann Keeler Evans, Minister, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Susquehanna Valley

Augustinian Justice & Peace Office

Bill Curtis, Christian History Institute

Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting

First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia

Fr. Sylvester Peterka, C.M., St. Vincent DePaul Catholic Church

Franconia Mennonite Church

Germantown Mennonite Church

Imam Nurridin, Philadelphia Masjid

Janel Rice, Pastor, Calvary Moravian Church

Joe Hackman, Lead Pastor, Salford Mennonite Church

Maria Hosler Byler, Associate Pastor, Salford Mennonite Church

Mosaic Community Church

Pastor Keith Collins, Church of the Overcomer

Pastor Timothy Seitz-Brown

Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari, Kol Tzedek Synagogue

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Director, The Shalom Center

Rabbi Elyse Wechterman

Rabbi Jessica Rosenberg

Rabbi Julie Greenberg

Rabbi Marcia Prager, P'nai Or Philadelphia

Rabbi Michael Pollack

Rabbi Mordechai Liebling

Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer, Director Multifaith Studies, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Rabbi Shawn Zevit, Mishkan Shalom

Rayzel Raphael, Darkaynu

Rev. Abbey Tennis, First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia

Rev. Canon Sarah E. Hedgis, Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral

Rev. Cesarin Marin, Iglesia Fuente Salvacion

Rev. D. Marie Tribble, MDiv., MAR, President/CEO, FACE-2-FACE Ministries

Senior Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Rev. Darcey Laine, Unitarian Universalist Church of Athens and Sheshequin

Rev. David Brown, Wharton-Wesley United Methodist Church

Rev. Dr. Chris Kimmenez, PsyD, Executive Director, PA State Chapter, Healing Communities USA

Rev. Elizabeth Hoffman Reed, Episcopal Priest

Rev. Eric Jadolyn Goode, Pastor, The People's Baptist Church

Rev. Jarrett Kerbel, Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields

Rev. Joan M. Sabatino, Minister Emerita of the First UU Church of Indiana, PA

Rev. John R. Pritchard, Jr., Calvary United Methodist Church

Rev. Katie Aikins, Tabernacle United Church

Rev. Linda Noonan, Chestnut Hill United Church

Rev. Robert Bey, President/CEO, Each One Teach One Cultural Center

Rev. Robert Coombe, First United Methodist Church of Germantown

Rev. Roger Zepernick

Rev. Ronald Parks, Love Fellowship Community and World Mission Church

Rev. Sheldon “Sarge” Stoudemire

Rev. Zemoria Brandon, Ordained Interfaith Minister

Reverend Aija Simpson, Minister, Unitarian Universalists of the Cumberland Valley

Sisters of St. Francis Justice Peace and Integrity of Creation Committee

Sr. Florence, African Catholic Young Adults of Philadelphia

Unitarian Universalist Pennsylvania Legislative Advocacy Network (UUPLAN)