Wicked Local Sherborn: Crows flock at Peace Abbey in Sherborn against death penalty

By Sara Feijo

Dover-Sherborn Press

Sherborn –A group of activists gathered together in the basement of the Peace Abbey events conference center to protest against capital punishment.

Organized by Calling All Crows, a nonprofit that promotes sustainable change and empowers women all over the world, the meeting was part of a series of events happening throughout the country to celebrate death penalty awareness week, running from Feb. 27 to March 11.

“We are not experts on the death penalty,” said Matt Wilhem, chief program officer. “But what we are, are really, really passionate people who have been moved by stories of people who are on death row that we have serious questions about, their guilt or innocence, and it’s because of that uncertainty that it’s really important to gather together to educate each other.”

About 40 crow members, traveling from as far as New York, attended the March 7 teach-in session, where organizers discussed facts and myths about death penalty by playing a true-or-false game and engaging the audience in a stimulating conversation.

In partnership with Amnesty International, a nonprofit organization that helps protect human rights worldwide, Calling All Crows’ co-founders, Sybil Gallagher and Chad Urmston, also known as Chadwick Stokes, discussed cases of people who have been sentenced to death row even though there were persistent doubts in their cases.

They urged audience members to get involved in the cause and write letters to Gov. Jay Nixon of Missouri pleading clemency for Reggie Clemons, who was sentenced to death in St. Louis, Mo., as an accomplice in the 1991 murder of two white women, Julie and Robin Kerry, even though he has consistently maintained his innocence.

In between teaching sessions, Urmston, singer-guitarist and songwriter for indie-rock band State Radio, played some of his songs — two of which were about his friend Troy Davis, who was executed in Georgia on Sept. 21, 2011, despite what supporters of Davis said was a lack of evidence and heavy doubts about his guilt.

“[Troy Davis] was really courageous,” said Urmston.

“He just would’ve been a good guy with a big heart and really, really amicable and quick to laugh,” Urmston said of his friend who died at 42, spending half of his life on death row.

“All My Possessions,” one of the songs played by Urmston, is about Davis’ last thoughts prior to his execution. However, the night the singer first debuted the song was also Davis’ last night alive.

“[Troy Davis] was a tangible way for us to sort of ignite the fan base around the death penalty, because it was a specific case [in which] the problems were so clear,” said Gallagher, the group’s chairwoman. “It was a good way to ravel people around the abolishment of the death penalty.”

In the midst of soaking in information, listening to music and winning prizes, audience members wrote clemency letters to Nixon and supporting letters to Clemons.

“I’m here because I wanted to learn more about, not only the death penalty in general, how it works and how you can try to stop it, but Reggie Clemons’ case,” said Michaela Ward, 17, an attendee who wrote a letter to Nixon.

But, as the group of young activists gathered together in the conference room to change the world, the Peace Abbey, which was created in 1988, is on the verge of saying goodbye to Sherborn.

Both buildings are currently on the market, going for less than $1 million with no takers at the moment, said Dot Walsh, program coordinator and Peace chaplain.

“We’re still hopeful we can pull out of this,” Walsh said. “My prayer is that whenever we have the buildings sold, we’ll be able to continue in someway.”

Despite its financial turmoil, the Peace Abbey still caries on with its programs and hosts events.

“We ask people to come visit and help us in any way,” Walsh said.

The Crow crew has also been doing a lot of petitioning and protesting on tour with State Radio, Chadwick Stokes and The Pintos, an indie rock band.

Calling All Crows is also currently working on marriage equality, women’s issues and the empowerment of women around the world, said Gallagher.

“I’m always so amazed at the resilience of prisoners who are innocent in jail,” said Urmston. “No matter what there’s always going to be a fraction of the prison population who are innocent and to think that idea of someone being [innocent] behind bars, let alone being killed, is totally tragic.”