Family members of murder victims have always been part of the movement to abolish capital punishment, and their voices have always been extremely important in witnessing to the destructive effects of the death penalty.
Bill Pelke, of Portage, Indiana, was one of those voices in the late 1980’s, and a member of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation (MVFR). After participating in week-long marches in Florida, Georgia and Texas, he had an idea for a speaking tour throughout Indiana in which family members of murder victims would be the primary speakers.
With the help of Bob Gross, Associate Director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and three other organizers, the first Journey of Hope was held in 1993. In 17 days, the Journey held 175 speaking events in 25 cities and towns. Thirty murder victim family members participated, along with almost 100 others who traveled with the Journey for part or all of the time. In each city visited, Journey participants planted a “tree of hope.”
Inspired by this first event, abolitionists in other states organized Journeys to feature the message of compassion and healing brought by MVFR speakers. The need for a new organization to carry out these events became clear, and in 1997 the Journey of Hope — from Violence to Healing, Inc. was formed by five persons: Bill Pelke, Marietta Jaeger, George White, SueZann Bosler and Sam Sheppard. In 1999, the organization was recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
Family members of persons on death row, and persons who had been sentenced to death and later found innocent of the crime, also became part of the organization and brought their witness and experience to Journey of Hope events.
Since 1993, major speaking tours have been held almost every year in the US and many other countries. (See list below.) In 1997, Bill Pelke bought a used Greyhound bus, and it provided transportation for speaking tours and many other events.
During the COVID19 pandemic it was not possible to speak in person, so presentations were made through online platforms such as Zoom, to university and school classes, congregations, community groups, and others. Presently, speakers are available both online and in person.
Journey of Hope speakers and other activists take part in the annual vigil from
June 29 to July 2 at the US Supreme Court, and work closely with Death Penalty Action to oppose all state and federal executions, while organizing abolitionists for an end to capital punishment in the United States.