Sister Kathy Cash is a Ferdinand Benedictine and a motivated advocate for ending the use of the death penalty. She teaches math at Trinity High School in Louisville, KY.
I thank my parents from teaching me at a very young age that people deserve respect. My father was a guard and farm supervisor at a minimum security work prison. Each year he would sign out several of his guys so that they could go to midnight mass on Christmas Eve, not because he had to but simply because it felt right to him. My mother supported this ministry to the imprisoned. My mom and I would bake cookies to send to work with my father so that the guys could have a little snack on their break. From what I know, he didn’t see the men for the crimes they had committed but for the human beings that they were. My aunt once asked him if he was ever afraid of working among so many criminals. He responded that they didn’t scare him – they were just people, too.
On May 9, 1986, my father met with his crew and took them out to work. Work halted when the tractor they had planned on using broke unexpectedly. My father asked one man to stay with him and sent the rest of the crew on to begin the day’s work. Shortly after the other men left the two of them alone, my father leaned over to check something. The remaining prisoner took a wrench that the two had been using and hit my father repeatedly in the head. My father was dead before he knew what had happened. In Kentucky there is no gray area when it comes to killing a prison guard. Once convicted of this crime, the punishment is almost automatic… death by lethal injection. In a town with two state prisons, Kentucky’s law is held with high regard. My mother, though, did not agree. She spent part of my childhood lobbying for changes in Kentucky’s law because she could not bring herself to be part of the death of another human life.
Today, I follow the example of both of my parents in taking a stand for all life. Proponents of the death penalty say that the execution can help bring closure to the victims’ friends and family. For me this is not theory, it is real life. I cannot speak for all victims’ families, but I can say this… I will not feel any better knowing that Mr. Thompson is dead. I watched my grandmother live 28 years of her life suffering the loss of her son. If Mr. Thompson ends up executed (he remains on death row to this day), there will just be two mothers grieving the loss of their sons, two graves filled with murdered men, and two families missing loved one. Despite the cruel act committed by Mr. Thompson, he remains a human being and deserves at a chance to live his life.
This article was featured in CMN’s September 2014 newsletter.