Runners-Up | 2024 Justice & Mercy Poetry Contest


By Morgan Miles

“Our Catholic faith teaches that
all people
are created in the image and likeness
of God”

All people.
All people except
My Sisters and Brothers

My Sisters and Brothers chained,
Tangled up in the roots of
A country that has condemned them to
the death penalty
For the Blacks and Browns of their skin
For god kissing them with the sun
Making them in the image and likeness
Of a people
Tangled up in the roots of
A stop and frisk nation a
Stop and
No! don’t collect $200
Don’t collect any of that money you
Toiled tirelessly and tilled soil for

Each and every generation is hard evidence
Against you
Your skin
Is the evidence committing you to
the death penalty
if you were truly made in the image and likeness of god
You would be white

“Well, you aren’t white,” says Power.

So you’re walked down a dusty road
Covered in the footprints of your
Sisters and Brothers
Who made it far
But not far enough
Subjugated by the cyclical:
Suffer until you manage one step forward, expect to be shoved two steps back Led as if a cow
born to be slaughtered
to a tree built from the bones and blood of
A people made
In the image and likeness of god
But not in the image and likeness of

Power. Tying up and
Knotting the noose
A click and blinding flash of a camera
Telling you that a photo of you
In your last breathing moments
On this earth
Are for news media outlets to publish
For a month or two until you
Stop selling
Stop toiling and tilling the soil for
A white master
Who in your last breathing moments
On this earth
Condemns you to
the death penalty
For your Blacks and Browns
And the roots that tie you down
To this tree
To the sprouting nightshade and blackberry bushes
Another pile of bones and blood
Another body to throw into the grave
In your last breathing moments

On this earth
You pray that god
Kisses your body with the suns of heaven
As he did when he made you
In his image and likeness

Morgan Miles is a 22-year-old recent graduate from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Third Place — “Miles Long”

By Krystia Ramirez

I took a slow walk down a
miles long way.
I had just visited my father
earlier that day.
12 years in, he awaits,
–we still wait.
Not the man I knew then
deserved such a fate.
He recalls and forgets, he cries
and he stares,
He killed his best friend for
Now he has nothing, not even
a kiss
To bring him back to a time,
any time before this.
Should he suffer like a bird
trapped in a cage,
Until he’s pulled all his feathers and
gone sorely insane?
Buried alive in halls of limestone
and black steel.
Dead man walking through appeal
after appeal.
Tangled in the
ropes of bureaucratic weeds,
He is a string of numbers, not a human
with needs.
Yet, only when he has lost all the will
he has to live,
When he volunteers to die, then, shall
Justice come swift.
Miles Long
But on whose authority is his
murder made just?
Surely you know “thou shalt not kill,”
dear judge?
A wolf in sheep’s clothing, you
partake in this crime
Upholding a flawed system of which,
in itself, is blind.
Why is his incarceration not punishment
Must this revenge also hurt everyone that he
But, if there were to be found of him
50 good deeds,
Would you find a little mercy to spare
his life, please?
And if I may be so bold as to ask
you of such,
If 40 good deeds be found,
–just as much?
Honorable judge, if there be 30 good deeds
he has done,
Or 20, or 10, or yes,
even 1?
Grant him the life he has left
in his bones,
For all shall give account when
time’s end comes.

Krystia Ramirez is a 29-year-old writer and recent graduate of Western Michigan University.

Honorable Mention — “The Little Flower”

By Allison Ramirez

I have spent most of my life living as if dead.
Dead for what I have done.
A young woman. Twenty-four.
In a blinding rage. She was no more.
Twenty-four years I have served.
One year given for each of hers.
And yet, it will never be enough.

A priest visits me in my final month.
A young woman. Twenty-four.
In a blinding rage. She was no more.
This is what I tell him.
“Ask her to pray for you,” he says.
I scoff at the thought.
I even laugh, “I’d rather not.”

A week before my death
A faded news article before me
I stare at the priest who gestures to the words:
Pranzini mounts the scaffold, without confessing, without receiving absolution.
Pranzini: an unrepentant murder.
Unbeknownst to him, the article continues, a young woman rejoiced when he turned around, seized the crucifix the priest offered him, and kissed the Lord’s wounds three times.

Looking up, I ask: “Who is she?”
The priest responds: “Thérèse of Lisieux.”
I read onward. Her quoted words arresting me:
“I had obtained the sign I asked for, and to me it was especially sweet.”
Her words are a puzzle with a missing piece.
In a hardened man’s dying moments, what sweet sign was to be found?
That night I dream of embracing a bleeding heart. Upon waking, I weep.

Today is the day.
Instead of a scaffold, I approach a chamber;
When asked for my final words, I am silent.
Strapped down to a table.
Before me, a window.
A curtain is drawn open.
Three people are seated, witnesses to my death.

How many at my birth?
Only my mother.
Alone. Just as I am now.
The needle pierces my skin and
My eyes catch sight of a vase.
Below the window on the floor
A single rose.

A young woman. Twenty-four.
In a blinding light. She stands at God’s door.
Swallowing, I implore them both.
Thérèse, pray for me.
As the blood within my veins slows to stillness
I imagine blood pouring from the wounds of Jesus
Covering me in warmth as my own blood runs cold.

Allison Ramirez is a 25-year-old Theology and English teacher in Washington state.