Sewing for Life

October 10, 2012

Today, October 10,  is the 10th World Day for the Abolition of Death Penalty. Many events of all kinds are organised all over the world for this occasion. This year the emphasis is put on the progress  that has been accomplished for the past ten years regarding  a universal abolition of death penalty and also on the challenges to be  taken up in the future.

This quilt is a common project created in fact  for the International Day against Torture and Death Penalty, I sewed it  a few years ago.  The many embroidered squares of cotton were sent to me by members of various Human Rights organisations in my area, namely Amnesty International, ACAT, Lifespark.  Each plain cotton square has been stitched with the name of an inmate, one who is sentenced to death.  Behind each name there  is a life, its history and a fate which in several cases has already come to its end.

This quilt took me months to put together. It is filled with so many various thoughts and emotions. It was definitely not an easy quilt to sew. Nevertheless it was one  I wanted  to create with others for this special day, as a mark of our engagement for this cause.

As I sewed along, my thoughts went to these inmates, men and women sentenced to death, waiting for years  in their cells, a respite between life and death. In one month, one year,  ten years, even longer often, they will be escorted to the death chamber. Some prisoners receive a brief letter about their scheduled day and time of death. Others will never learn about their planned execution but in the end, all of them  have to follow the guards to a chamber or a yard.

How could I not think also of the victims and their shattered  families and friends ? I thought of their loved ones whose life had been changed forever in the most devastating way. Never to forget. Some families have found inner peace in a forgiving process. They are members of reconciliation groups, like  “Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation” I truly admire each and everyone of them, as I believe forgiveness is probably the most powerful action a human being can accomplish.

Then I also thought of other families, often forgotten, their distress and deep sadness is just as immense. They are the prisoners’ families, innocent of any crime and yet having to face this ultimate punishment : the scheduled execution of a spouse, a son or daughter, a Dad, a family member or a friend.

What about some of these death row inmates who had been claiming their innocence for years and who were proved right, only too late ?

So many thoughts went into every stitch of this quilt. Such inexpressible feelings under the embroidered names of those men and women whose  life or mental state went  very wild, violent and uncontrollable : feelings of despair, regrets, shame, revolt, remorse,  indescribable sadness, loss, hopelessness although at times Hope would shine dimly  in their borrowed time.

Yet, there is Hope that one day a universal abolition of death penalty will prevail. I truly believe that Justice, anywhere, can use other means  than a penal revenge to protect society from dangerous criminals instead of killing them. Is killing a good response and example for showing that killing was wrong in the first place ?  “An eye for an eye and the world is blind” said Gandhi.

I expressed my Hope in choosing colourful materials, mainly African, for sewing together the various embroidered squares. As if instinctively I wished bright shades could help healing painful scars in the heart of all those concerned, in an humble and compassionnate way.

Many thanks to all of you who joined me in this project.

“A Day at the Beach”

We were out in the recreation yard, just walking in our separate cages, exchanging thoughts. After they came to take F. back to his cell, I waited for my escort but he didn’t come. I guess he forgot about me.

I walked about until I ended up by the gate. A nice breeze was coming through the bars. The sun was shining and I closed my eyes and stood there, facing it.

The rays warmed my skin. It felt good, like when I used to stand on the beach. My eyes still closed, I saw oranges, reds and yellows, and I was somewhere else.

It was still and I could hear a bird chirping somewhere in front of me. My eyes still closed, I reached towards it but my fingers collided with the gate instead and I was at once brought back.

Still, It felt good to have been away, if for only a moment.”


More information on this World Day for the Abolition of Death Penalty here : 

(Human Rights Education Associates)


17 Responses to “Sewing for Life”

  1. Marie said

    Isabelle, this is touching beyond words. I believe the biggest gift we have is love and forgiveness.
    “Be lavish with love. Its the only
    treasure which multiplies when shared,
    the only gift which increases when we
    give it away.”—-Oonagh Shanley-Toffolo
    This is my favorite quote…I think it says it all.
    You are brave to put this together because it would be so heart breaking to me. Thank you for sharing!
    xoxo ❤

  2. Thank you, dear Marie. Your words touched me too. I received a lot in my life, my family taught me a lot about “being lavish with love”. Others were not so fortunate. I love this quote too, thank you for all you share yourself.Such a gift to have met you !

  3. A truly worthwhile cause, and a beautiful expression of hope. Bravo.

  4. lola said

    dear isa, it is hard for me to look at this quilt and read the names of the death penalty victims. i’m against death penalty as we christian should be, supported amnisty intenational here years ago and it was too painful to me . i couldn’t endure it for too long and admire that you can actively support it. I can imagine the long hours meditation on these victims while working on the quilt. Brave work Isabelle!

    • So nice to read you, Lola, thanks for your encouraging words. Sewing this quilt was a special experience indeed and it reinforced my hope that some day death penalty will come to an end everywhere in the world. Progress have been made over the past ten years.

  5. Sybil said

    What a wonderful idea and a beautiful result.

  6. awesome project and awesome cause.

  7. sonali said

    You indeed put in great efforts for making the quilt, and for a good cause. Its such a painful thing. How depressing. I don’t even want to imagine what they must be going through. I wish nobody makes crimes in this world – World of my dreams. Thank you Isa for bringing up this topic. Your making of the quilt with such minute details – amazing! You deserve an award here. I hope the message reaches the right people who has the power to make a difference.

    • What a touching message, sonali, thank you. I appreciate your thoughts. You know, history has shown us that our world and human beings are imperfect, there always will be crimes, injustices, wars, pain inflicted on people. Unfortunately. It is up to each of us and the ones in power to try and find remedies for bringing more tolerance, understanding for one another, justice and peace. Quite another story, isn’t it ?

      The ones who deserve an award are the forgiving people on this particular issue.They were a great source of inspiration as well as I sewed this quilt. Thanks again for your words, sonali.

  8. shoreacres said

    This is such a complicated issue. When I was very young (teens and early 20s) I was completely opposed to the death penalty. A couple of decades later – with some experience of the world’s violence behind me – I was in favor of the death penalty. Now, knowing how many times evidence has been mislaid, misinterpreted or manipulated, I’m back to thinking it’s not such a good idea.

    On the other hand, so many of the people who land on death row have committed multiple, often horrific crimes. Whether we do or do not support the death penalty is a bit beside the point if we’re not also doing something to mitigate the causes of such violence. The breakdown of the family and the breakdown of the educational system both are contributing – and in both cases, substituting punishment for discipline leads justice system that substitutes punishment for discipline.

    I spent some time tracking some of names on the quilt. It’s amazing how much information is available. Some have have their sentence commuted to life without parole. Some have died in prison. Others still are fighting for commutation.

    It’s quite interesting to consider how the same issue is at the heart of arguments over both abortion and the death penalty. In one case, the question is, “When does someone become a person?” In the other, the question is, “At what point do we stop considering someone a human being?” No matter what our answer, it seems that consistency is demanded. If we are going to honor life at the moment of conception, no matter what, it seems to me there’s no right to take a life. And, if we are absolutely opposed to the death penalty, it seems to me there’s no way to justify abortion.

    My goodness! Such thoughts for a Saturday morning! Thank you for posting the picture and explanation of the quilt, and for leading me to really think about these things in a different way.

    • Dear Linda, thank you so much for taking time (on a Saturday morning !) to develop your thoughts about this issue. Every word you wrote was much appreciated because it is based on deep reflection and objectivity. It is not always the case when arguing about death penalty.

      I totally share your view about doing more to mitigate the causes of violence. Broken families, abuse and lack of education are some of the reasons which lead men and women to death row. By this I absolutely do not mean to excuse the criminal deeds ! In most countries of the world people are imprisoned to punish them for their criminal acts; there are locked in to protect society; as far I could see over the years (I am a prison visitor) incarceration is a time for reflection, a forced pause in a life that had become uncontrollable and dangerous for everyone involved.

      I have seen people changing for the better, becoming at last who they were meant to be. Day after day they realize in a hard way the terrible wrong and pain they caused while others may stay in a state of revolt and denying.

      This is why I think that sentencing someone to death is an ultimate sentence that prevents giving a second chance; it is also an immense risk to kill someone whose innocence could not be proved in time. Life imprisonment – with or without parole – would be an alternative. This is only my opinion and I accept and respect anyone thinking differently for personal reasons.

      Again, thank you very much for your thougts, Linda.

  9. Sartenada said

    Salut Isa.

    Je suis muet. Primo, Il est magnifique ton courtepointe et très spécial. Secundo, dans mon pays, de cette chose on ne parle pas souvent. Tertio, mon opinion est que si Dieu nous a donné la vie, alors c’est Lui qui l’enlève de nous, pas un homme.

    Belle journée.

  10. Truels said

    It is a tough and sad background with great emotions and sadness you have chosen as the background of this fine work of art.
    I admire your creativity and your commitment – and hope and believe that good people like you will make a difference for a better future for humanity!

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