Reynolds and Wilson-Hartgrove, who studied South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a model for their project, argue that crime is not just an offense against the state, but also against family and community.

An execution creates a whole new set of victims and stakeholders who need counseling and help to begin healing, says Reynolds.

“If we’re going to be a productive society, we’ve got to study and change the cycle of violence in our world. It’s no secret that in Durham lots of young black men are dying. And the anger and the pain keep on going.”

Critics say that this kind of support weakens the lesson of accountability.

“What we’re doing is not about ‘I’m-OK-you’re-OK and what you did doesn’t matter,’” counters Reynolds. “It’s about real change. We believe that those who commit crimes should pay their debt to society. If they committed violent crimes, they need to be in prison, but to execute them simply continues the cycle of violence.”

While both Reynolds and Wilson-Hartgrove object to capital punishment, they don’t attempt to sway others. There are plenty of groups advocating a moratorium on the death penalty: their mission is to serve families who have been affected by executions.

One supporter of the death penalty, referred to them by the group Parents of Murdered Children, declined their offer for a visit, says Reynolds.

“But she didn’t refuse to talk with us. She said she knew, intellectually, that execution isn’t the answer, but her heart just wasn’t there yet. And she said she appreciated what we’re trying to do.”

Project support for families includes transportation to visit loved ones in prison, prayer vigils, one-on-one listening sessions, and yearly gatherings for public expression and recognition of grief. Reynolds and Wilson-Hartgrove also speak by invitation to various groups, and work closely with their board, which includes attorneys, families and friends of victims and offenders, and other professionals working with issues of crime, poverty and race relations.

Attorney Cindy Adcock, Duke Law ’91, serves as co-chair of the board and has represented five men executed by the State of North Carolina. Describing execution as “the most premeditated murder of all,” she says the work of CRJP is much needed.

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