Runners-Up | 2023 Justice & Mercy Poetry Contest

Second Place — “Made from Clay”

BY MARGAUX MAYEUX (18) | Baton Rouge, LA

Concrete walls,
concrete floor,
iron bars,
Cerebral scars that hold.

I am a man-
made from clay.
Made by God-
they don’t see it that way.

Fancy lawyers,
fancy judge,
pretty words-
pretty lies.

But I know the truth,
I’ve done no crime,
but nonetheless,
I served my time.

These righteous men,
send clergymen.
Final rights-
to soothe their heads.

The walk seems long,
the hallways winding.
an innocent man,
a sentence that’s binding.

Concrete walls,
concrete floors,
iron bars,
a metal throne.

This is my epitaph,
what my family will see when they think of me.
This is my fate,
but was this my destiny?

I am a man-
made by God.
Made from clay-
turn to ashes today.

This is my truth,
my final prayer.
I feel my body tense-
I know the needle will not fail.

Margaux Mayeux, 18 years old, is recent graduate of St. Joseph’s Academy in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She plans to attend Louisiana Tech University in the fall.



Third Place — “Possibility”


for Vernon Allridge

Texas says that a deliberate crime
and a future threat must merit
death. Close that book, no matter
what chapters could come next.

For Vernon, whose last words
were full of ardor for his family,
who was strapped down
and jabbed up in both arms—

for Vernon, who thanked his
brothers for sticking with him—
who asked forgiveness for his sin,
to whom the victim’s sister gave it,

there was possibility. He was a poet,
an artist, a teacher, a safeguard
on death row, a calming force,
with so many supporters but

none of this was enough to save him.
Justice was deserved, but was it served?
Why are they doing this? What
will it fix?
his brother wondered.

Vernon and I, we don’t write
happy endings—we are poets
in the practice of nuance, humans
in the practice of more to find,

but poet or not, the question remains
the same: what does it fix to nix
a possibility, even an impossible one—
what do we gain with this loss?

Grace Claire Przywara is a 28-year-old stay-at-home mother in South Carolina. 




Honorable Mentions —

“Stars Behind the Glass”

HELEN BEHE (23) | Pennsylvania

Starless inside this loveless tomb,
The offender turned victim is dealt cold doom.
Scales were weighed and the result was guilt;
Indifferent, the syringe enters her arm to the hilt.
She gasps, reaches; it can’t be unseen.
Can you understand what this torment means?
Cyclical judgements echo the wrongs,
Suffocating hope for a repentant song.
In the following silence you hear a whisper:
Where is the humanity in the death of a sister?

Despite a lifetime darkened with heinous intent,
A match is struck with one breath of repent:
One tear, an ache, a painful glance backwards,
With coruscant eyes drawing them forwards,
Yet we snuff out their tentative shuffle to light
With a hubristic grasp at political right.
No things are possible without union with God,
His hands alone hold the judging rod.
We can’t fathom the wonder, nor mimic the power,
But the syringe stands like a second Tower.

When the Rose unfolds, do you stain it with tears?
Run back down the tunnel, recall hollow years
That choke you, fill your lungs with regret;
A kaleidoscope of faces the world tries to forget.
This wearying march was a heuristic trial,
Shadowed by rage and Christ-haunted denial,
Grappling with deaths from insouciant hands,
Backs to the light, we face the wasteland.
Humanity will die with a syringe,
If justice is our synonym for revenge.

Through darkened glass there is little we see;
The crossed-colored back of a thread tapestry.
Questions are collected while answers evade,
But snuffing out life mocks why He was flayed.
Hope is anchored in love unconditional,
Found within the quiet of a still confessional.
So raise up your brother, do not despair,
The good thief reminds us, he was there:
Though vengeance is tempting and evil abounds,
This man of heaven is a persistent hound.

“Capital Punishment”

SYDNEY JONES (18) | New Jersey

Everyone sins, right?
Nobody is perfect right?
Jesus died on the cross for us right?
I am not Jesus I am not God I am not perfect
but I am being prosecuted
yes I have sinned
yes I am not perfect
but I’m about to die in a chair
die in a chair and suffer the ultimate consequence
the ultimate consequence for a mistake
a mistake I regret with all my heart
I repent and no one listens
I apologize and no one cares
I am now discarded by society
discarded as a sinner soon to be discarded from the earth
for a mistake
a sin
something all humans do
someone please listen
someone please forgive me
Jesus has.
So why can’t everyone else?
— a poem from death row

“All I Wanted Was Justice”

ILCE PEREZ (19) | California

Death penalty, how cruel and unjust.
A violation of life, a sin of disgust.
In the eyes of the Lord, all lives are sacred.
To take them away, cannot be justified.

The scales of justice are often flawed.
Innocents condemned, their fate is gnarled.
Only God can judge, with perfect certainty.
Yet man plays God, with such audacity.

The innocent’s blood cries out for justice
But taking a life only adds to the unjustness.
The Lord’s mercy knows no bounds
But man’s vengeance always astounds

To execute the guilty is to say,
That grace and hope have gone away,
And that God’s love is not enough,
To save a life from a human bluff.

The Church proclaims, the sanctity of life
Yet some still defend this act of strife.
Let us pray for wisdom, for those in authority
To see the errors, in this practice of futility.

As faithful believers, we must always see,
That mercy and forgiveness are key,
For even the most heinous sin,
It can be redeemed and made pure within.

May the grace of God, touch their hearts
And lead them away from these wrongful parts
May the light of Christ, shine upon us all
And guide us to embrace justice and mercy for all.