The eighth Daniel Berrigan, SJ/International House Peacemaker Lecture, titled “Journey to Nonviolence: Building Peaceful Communities Out of Personal Tragedy” and featuring speakers David Kaczynski and Janice Grieshaber Geddes, was held at Le Moyne College Oct. 13. Kaczynski is executive director of New Yorkers for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and brother of Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski, known as the Unabomber. Grieshaber Geddes is the co-author of New York State’s Sentencing Reform Act of 1998, or “Jenna’s Law,” legislation she fought for following the murder of her daughter, Jenna.
Mike Pasquale, former moderator of Le Moyne’s International House, spoke about the lecture series and the man who inspired it. Poet and activist Father Daniel Berrigan, SJ, grew up in Syracuse and taught at Le Moyne from 1957 to 1963. He helped to found the International House there and served as its first director. He is perhaps best known, though, for his many acts of civil disobedience in the name of peace.
“[Father Berrigan] spent many years fighting for justice in unique ways,” Pasquale said. “Through his writing and acts of resistance, he inspired many.” Despite being exiled by church and state, he continued, Father Berrigan promoted a way of nonviolence that was simple and profound. Pasquale also welcomed Jerry Berrigan, Father Berrigan’s brother, and his wife Carol, who sat in the front row.
Grieshaber Geddes began her talk with a remembrance of the night her daughter was murdered. In the wee hours of Nov. 6, 1997, two police officers came to her door and informed her that Jenna — a friendly, idealistic young woman just weeks shy of graduating from her nursing program — had been killed in her Albany apartment.
Nicholas Pryor, a very troubled young man with a lengthy rap sheet who had been paroled months earlier, was convicted of Jenna’s murder.
In the wake of her daughter’s death, Grieshaber Geddes became a vocal advocate for parole reform. She was instrumental in the development and passing of Jenna’s Law in 1998, which requires first-time violent felons to serve the vast majority of their sentences before being eligible for parole and expands parole supervision and survivor notification upon release.
Grieshaber Geddes said she pursued Jenna’s Law “not to be vindictive, but to find a way to keep violence off the streets” and to ensure offenders received appropriate treatment and punishment. She also said she does not feel “shortchanged” that Pryor was sentenced to 25 years to life rather than death. “I never felt I needed his life in exchange for Jenna’s,” she said.
Kaczynski remembered his brother Ted as “truly special, brilliant,” a bright boy who graduated high school at 15 and went to Harvard on scholarship. In 1995, when the manifesto of a person known as “the Unambomber” was published in the Washington Post, Kaczynski’s wife Linda suggested Ted was the author. After painful deliberation, Kaczynski informed the FBI of his brother’s location. A raid of Ted’s Montana cabin revealed extensive evidence that he was the Unambomber, responsible for more than a dozen package bombs that killed three people and injured 23 since 1978.
In 1998, Ted was sentenced to life in prison for the bombings, which came as a great relief to his brother. “All I wanted was for there to be no more killing, no more death,” Kaczynski said.
But it was the case of Manny Babbitt, a mentally ill Vietnam veteran who had been charged with the death of a woman whose apartment he had broken into, who inspired Kaczynski’s crusade against the death penalty. Unlike Ted, Babbitt did not have the benefit of $3 million in defense lawyering. Despite the pleas of many, including Kaczynski, for clemency, Babbitt was ultimately put to death. Kaczynski said the experience showed him the “inequity and injustice” of the legal system.
Both Grieshaber and Kaczynski became part of organizations dedicated to promoting nonviolence, Grieshaber Geddes as founder of the Jenna Foundation and Kaczynski as executive director of what is now New Yorkers for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. Both emphasized that the key to ending violence is preventing it in the first place.
Kaczynski said the dealth penalty, ended in New York in 2004, could easily be reinstated without “a real, tangible replacement.” He underscored the importance of community building and mentorship programs for youth, noting that crime and violence are more likely to decrease as social cohesion increases.
Grieshaber Geddes reminded the group that when “we see a child in our community center or church who looks lonely and needs help,” the call should be answered. “We are all mentors, role models. Someone is always watching our behavior,” she said.
Kaczynski also promoted restorative justice, wherein diologue between the victim and the offender can bring healing. His family met with the widow of a man killed by one of Ted’s bombs, and though it was incredibly difficult, both parties found it helpful. “No human interaction was as meaningful,” Kaczynski said. Grieshaber Geddes stressed the importance of support for survivors who need to move on with their lives in a healthy way.
Both speakers made it clear that ending violence will take a momumental paradigm shift. People at all levels of society — from global political leaders to kids on the playground — must understand that violence of any kind is never the answer.
“We need to teach the lessons of kindness, patience and nonviolence,” Grieshaber Geddes said. “And if we change one person, we’ve made a difference.”