National Author and Opponent of the Death Penalty Jeanne Bishop Speaks at Walsh


School News

Walsh University welcomed national author, speaker and opponent of the death penalty Jeanne Bishop to campus on Wednesday, October 12, as a part of the First Year Institute and Lifelong Learning Academy Dead Man Walking series this October.

As writes Sr. Helen Prejean, "The criminal justice system in the United States, which deems some people unworthy of redemption—even children who commit serious crimes—urgently needs to hear voices that speak for mercy and restoration. Jeanne Bishop’s is such a voice."

During her presentation, Bishop shared her personal story of forgiveness as well as insight into her work as an author, speaker and vocal opponent of the death penalty. She is the author of Change of Heart: Justice, Mercy, and Making Peace with My Sister’s Killer, and the sister of Nancy Bishop Langert, who was shot to death at age 25, along with her husband and their unborn child.

"Within months of Nancy’s death, I left my corporate job and became a public defender. My priorities like money and prestige that were so important before, were suddenly not so important when confronted with the reality that life is short. I knew that my sister’s memorial could not be living for vengeance. I had to do something that honored the life that she loved," said Bishop. "You have to do what is deeply meaningful. Find your vocation and do what God has intended you to do on earth."

Since the murders of her family members, Bishop has been a prominent advocate for gun violence prevention, abolition of the death penalty, exoneration of the innocent and the role of faith in the debate over executions.

"As Christians, we need to work on reconciling with those who have wronged us," said Bishop as she talked about forgiving and meeting with her sister’s killer in jail, where he is serving a life sentence without parole. "He had grown from being a 16-year-old boy to a 42-year-old man when I met him. The story I tell in the book is about going to visit him, talking with him, and having that restorative justice instead of justice that throws someone away. A justice that heals and brings people together. That allows us to forgive."

The presentation was a part of the Walsh University First Year Institute and Lifelong Learning series of programs revolving around Sister Helen Prejean’s book Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States. In Dead Man Walking, Sr. Helen of the Catholic order of St. Joseph, recounts her personal experience working with prisoners on Death Row. The book was on the New York Times Best Seller List for 31 weeks and made into a feature film starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn.

"I know there are evil acts that we have a right to protect ourselves from. We have a right to punishment. But the death penalty is not a punishment, it’s an extermination," said Bishop. "There should be some sort of debt you owe to society for doing something as grievous as taking human lives. But we know that the death penalty as a deterrent doesn’t work because the states that have the death penalty have higher murder and crime rates than the states that don’t. There is no correlation. We don’t need the death penalty to deter crime; we don’t need it to punish or incapacitate. I think the death penalty is a false solution to the problem of serious crime."

The Dead Man Walking Series of Wednesday evening programs in October will examine the personal and legal history of the Death Penalty in the United States and methods for promoting its elimination. A complete listing of all Lifelong Learning Academy Events can be found here.