Life, Death, Life Again: Children Sentenced to Die in Prison

From 2014 to 2017, Elizabeth interviewed by phone, mail, or email people who were convicted of crimes they committed as children and sentenced to life, as well as family members of murder victims, who have chosen to forgive and reconcile with the youth who killed their loved one. Elizabeth has taken their stories and woven them into this play.

The cast:

Joe: Joe came from an abusive household. Barely a teenager, he shot the homeowner of a house he had broken into. He was quickly arrested and sentenced to life in prison. He has grown-up while incarcerated. He is now awaiting resentencing. (As Joe has an active legal case, a pseudonym has been used and certain identifying details, including the name of the victim, have been changed.)

To read an excerpt of Joe’s interview, please click here.

ANNE: Anne grew up in an abusive household. In her early teens she began living with her boyfriend, who forced her into prostitution. And, during that period Anne and her boyfriend were staying together in an abandoned house. Like most people in her life up until that point, he physically and mentally abused her. It was at this time that he arranged a robbery. Under his instructions, she lured the victim to the home. Once there, her boyfriend killed the victim. Anne was sentenced to life in prison. (As Anne has an active legal case, a pseudonym has been used and certain identifying details, including the name of the victim, have been changed.)

To read an excerpt of Anne’s interview, please click here.

SEAN TAYLOR: SEAN is in his early 40’s, Black, and from Colorado, where he still lives at the time of his interview. When SEAN was 17, he shot at a house and killed one of the occupants. In 1990, he was sentenced to life in prison but was released in 2011, after then-governor BILL Ritter commuted his sentence. During his incarceration he left the gang he had joined at 14, and committed himself to change.

TIFFANY: TIFFANY and SEAN met as children, then drifted apart, reconnected after his release and later married.

JEANNE BISHOP: JEANNE’s sister, Nancy, was shot to death at age 25, along with her husband and their unborn child. The person responsible for their deaths was sentenced to life without parole in 1991 when he was 18 years old. He was 16 at the time he committed the murders.

Since the murders of her family members, JEANNE has been a prominent advocate for gun violence prevention, abolition of the death penalty, exoneration of the innocent and the role of faith in the debate over executions. She is an adjunct professor of law at Northwestern and defends the indigent as an Assistant Public Defender in the Office of the Cook County (IL) Public Defender.

BILL PELKE: BILL, a Vietnam Veteran, worked as a crane operator for Bethlehem Steel in Indiana until his retirement in the late 1990’s. When BILL was 38-years-old, in 1985, his grandmother was murdered by four teenage girls. One of the girls, Paula Cooper, was sentenced to death in 1986. Paula was 15 at the time of the murder. BILL worked to overturn her death sentence and befriended her. In 1989 her sentence was commuted to 60 years in prison. She was released in 2013 and killed herself in 2015 before Weill-Greenberg was able to contact her for an interview.

In 1993, BILL helped start Journey of Hope, From Violence to Healing, an organization made up of murder victim families who oppose the death penalty.