This spring, young Catholics from across the United States wrote poems that grappled with the horror of capital punishment and a belief that every person should be treated with dignity as part of CMN's inaugural Justice & Mercy Poetry Contest for Young Catholics.
Over the course of the contest, CMN received submissions from students, young professionals, homemakers, and activists. Their poems varied in length, format, and subject matter, yet all reflected the urgent need to end the death penalty in the United States — an effort that will require the passion and grassroots power of young people.
Poets drew on themes of injustice as they wrote about how “The death penalty is a violation of the basic human right to live” (“Indignant,” Marcelo Masso).
They also reflected on the reality of trauma in the capital punishment system, outlining the progression of racial violence from slavery, to lynching, and now lethal injection: “The whip / The rope / The bullet / The needle /And left his body swinging / These are the tools used to kill innocent people” (“The Tools,” Zuri Davis).
Poets echoed a call for mercy as they explored the limitless love of God that we as people of faith are invited to embrace wholeheartedly: “Why believe that the Lord’s mercy is limited; / that the Spirit cannot bind our wounds? / That the Lord cannot carry us once again up the steps to Golgotha, / and welcome us back into Perfect Communion / with the One who desires nothing more than for us to live?” (“State Sanctioned Crucifixion,” Nicole Bazis).
And above all, poets spoke to the humanity of those involved in our death penalty system. Their poems serve as haunting reminders of the human cost that we pay when vengeance and revenge are prioritized over justice, healing, and accountability.
The written word has the power to transform hearts and minds, as these passionate young poets have shown. Through participation in the contest, CMN hopes that these passionate young Catholics will increase their involvement in the death penalty abolition movement.
Read the Winning Poems
First Place: “Terre Haute, Again” by Katherine Scott
Second Place: “If Prison is a Grave” by Danielle Gallagher
Third Place: “The Tools” by Zuri Davis
Honorable Mentions: “If Jesus the Christ Were Alive Here Today” by George Doyle; “Our Cross” by Kate Letterman Conway; and “Trials of Men” by Isaiah Brickus