“Which of you is without blame…”

… be the first to cast the stone…

On a weekend at the North Sea I worked as a coach on a seminar (www.dalmanuta-prinzip.de) about forgiveness. For the second day of the seminar I prepared my presentation.

When the participants came out of the break in the late afternoon, they found a stone in front of their place. In the seminars we sit on floor chairs in a circle.

There was silence and I began by saying:

“I want everyone here to know that I love you very much. I have hurt many people and many people have hurt me. I love you all so much. Life doesn’t end here, it goes on and on. I had to learn life’s lessons the hard way. One day there will be no need to hurt people anymore. I love you all so much. I am ready to go, but I will be back. Good night everyone. I’m done, Director.”

These were the last words of Robert Pruett. He was executed in Texas on October 12, 2017 and left this world at the age of 38.

I am Daniela Steiner and a member and second chair of the German Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

I read these words to my children once and then asked them what they thought of when they heard them. My son Pepe is 13 years old and my daughter Marice is 11 years old. They both asked me if Jesus would have said that… I’m sure Robert would have been very happy to hear it.

I am often asked why I help these particular people. Everywhere in the world help is needed, why just them? Then usually follows the classic example like, “What would you do if someone like that killed your child?”

But what if that “someone” is your own child? Or your brother, your best friend, or your father? Or someone very close to you?

Or apart from the United States. Imagine you live in another country, and here the death penalty is for drug offenses, homosexuality, or adultery. In Afghanistan, for example, a woman was recently publicly executed. She was stoned to death because she was accused of cheating on her husband.

Several members of our association are homosexual and are campaigning for the abolition of the death penalty. In the end, we are all affected and not just the others.

Taking a life when a life has been lost is revenge, not justice.

Robert went to prison at 15 and was sentenced to 99 years.

At 21, he received the death penalty…

On October 12 at 6:00 pm he was executed. I was allowed to make the last phone call to him. It was his wish, he had to request it and have it approved beforehand. We were allowed to talk for 15 minutes. It was our first and last phone call.

In Texas, executions are not done at the prison where death row is, but in Huntsville. It’s about a 45 minute drive. Robert had already been given 4 execution dates and had been given a stay each time before. Deferrals are usually received within 14 days of the execution date. On one, he received a last minute stay. This means he has already been driven to Huntsville and received word from the Supreme Court. This can and has occurred up to a few minutes before the execution. Robert wrote me frequently about the ride to Huntsville. His glasses were taken from him, but he reported with great enthusiasm about the green pastures and the endless expanse.

Robert Pruett

Robert was wise, and he was physically and mentally strong. He was a deep thinker and, moreover, very spiritual. I have known few people who have shown such courage and dignity in the face of death. Robert was not afraid of death. He did not believe in death, for him it was illusion. But he was afraid of how we who loved him would deal with it after his death. And he was afraid of pain, of something going wrong during the execution. He dreamed about it often…

We are all afraid of something. Fear is not a bad thing, but that should not stop us from going on every day. When we stand in the light, we should not be afraid of the shadow. Anything that causes shadow is much smaller than the source of light itself. Perhaps that’s where this well-known saying comes from:

“What doesn’t kill you can make you stronger.” The most important word in the phrase is “can.” Whether or not you emerge stronger from what doesn’t kill you is not predetermined. You have to take care of it yourself.

Besides death, there are other things that can take away our will to go on living. One of them is despair. Nothing can paralyze us more than the loss of hope. I accompanied three men to their execution and they all had one thing in common: they had hope until the end.

Exhaustion can attack body and mind. But despair takes full aim at the soul.

Possibilities are the children of hope. It is that mysterious force that is life itself. That power that life gives us to cope with. Life is there to be lived, not avoided. It also has two faces, and one is no less real than the other.

There is generosity and there is greed. There is love and there is hate. Peace and war. Hope and despair. Victory and defeat. Birth and death. This is life, it is what it is.

Where and when you came into this world cannot be changed. Nor did you ask to be born, or at least you cannot remember, but you are here. So don’t waste time and effort longing for it, it should have been different. Don’t curse it, rather make it your strength.

You have strengths and weaknesses.

Within you beats the heart that has compassion, just as it can be ruthless. Within you is the will to face life, as well as the fear of running away from it.

Life has given you strengths. You must stand your ground in the storm. It is not trying to blow you over, but in truth it is trying to teach you strength.

To be strong is to hold on to hope.

We die in an accident, by disease, in war, from old age, by foreign causes, or by our own hand. The manner of our death often forms the basis of the judgment others have of us. In my opinion, we should be judged by the way we live.

Robert was a good man. His execution did not improve this world. No execution improves our world. Execution only creates new suffering. Robert had a mother and a father, a brother. He had me…

I don’t want to waste any more energy agonizing over the manner of his death, instead I want to celebrate his way of life. That and only that is his legacy.

“I want everyone here to know that I love you very much. I have hurt many people and many people have hurt me. I love you all so much. Life doesn’t end here, it goes on and on. I had to learn life’s lessons the hard way. One day there will be no need to hurt people anymore. I love you all so much. I am ready to go, but I will be back. Good night everyone. I’m done, Director.”

After a brief moment of silence, I stood up and walked to the center of the room.

“I, Daniela, admit that I have hurt people emotionally.”

Peter Michael Dieckmann, the seminar director, spoke aloud from the background the words, “Whichever of you is free of guilt, let him be the first to cast the stone.”

I waited a bit and then asked the first participant to do the same. And so, one by one, each participant stood in the middle of the seminar room and admitted to having emotionally hurt one or more people, and Peter and I took turns saying, “Which of you is free of guilt, be the first to throw the stone.”

It was a very intense and healing exercise. At the end, each participant placed their stone in the center and the song “Please forgive me” by Bryan Adams played.

I had a very fulfilling weekend. It is a wonderful work and I thank Robert for supporting me so much in everything from heaven.

Daniela Steiner
German Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty


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