Published in the Albuquerque Journal, Thursday, February 22, 2001 Copyright 2001
Execution Changes a Life
By Paul Logan Journal Staff Writer
Jane Davis clearly recalls the moment in 1993 when she first saw convicted murderer Chris Berger.
Berger stood ashen-faced in the execution chamber doorway. He was about to be electrocuted.
For some reason, Berger picked out Davis from about 25 people on the other side of a window. She and the other witnesses sat in a cramped viewing room. A sickness bag was placed in front of each seat.
"He stayed glued to my eyes until the moment they put the flap down (over his eyes)," Davis recalled.
Berger's electrocution in the Georgia penitentiary was a life-changing event for Davis, who at the time contributed articles about inmates, including one on Jews in jail, for Prison Life magazine.
"At that moment, it had nothing to do with the young man and what he had done or hadn't done," said Davis, who was a media witness.
"I was witnessing a human being being fried in front of my eyes, my heart and my soul. It was about a real deep human-to-human connection."
From a spiritual perspective, Davis believes there was a much bigger reason for being at the execution than only to witness it.
As a result of her experience, Davis started developing the ideas that would lead later in 1993 to founding HOPE-HOWSE.
The name is an acronym for Helping Other People Evolve through Honest Open Willing Self-Evaluation.
HOPE-HOWSE is an Atlanta-based, 501c3 nonprofit peace organization that exists to foster peace through honesty, faith and action. Davis said her organization espouses a philosophy that focuses on service to others as a path to peace.
Davis, who is Jewish, said it was "really crucial" to note that the non-denominational, self-help ministry isn't only about inmates. It works with a broad scope of people and organizations, from American Indians to Amnesty International.
She said the ministry's message is simple: Show people how to respect and acknowledge each other as human beings, regardless of people's differences. "We're so used to putting ourselves in boxes," Davis said. "Some people live in prisons. Some people live in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. The work I do is connecting the oneness of it all. It's not them and us, it's just us."
Davis, 47, was raised in a Jewish family in New York. She earned a master's degree in social work. For a number of years, she helped at-risk youth and prisoners, working at one time with the Scared Straight Program, before her journey took her to HOPE-HOWSE.
A while back, she contributed two stories to a compilation of articles in the book, "Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul."
"I do a lot of work with gang kids and kids at risk," she said. "The past year I've had three homeless kids living at my house."
Davis said only .6 percent of the nation's prison population is Jewish. And of those, there are eight Jews on death row.
Jews in prison is a small issue in the Jewish community, she said. Sometimes there is only one Jewish prisoner in a prison, making it a difficult, isolated place, she said. Davis said everyone has to be accountable to the consequences of their actions. However, her work is not about consequences or the death penalty.
"It's 10 steps before that," she said.
Davis said the concept of everyone being in this world together is noted in Scripture, as in "loving our neighbor as ourselves," and American Indian expression "mitakuye oyasin," translated to "all our relations."
"A spiritual peace, I believe, will come when we individually and collectively learn what this concept of one means," Davis said.
She also owned Davis Marketing Group, an advertising agency. She stopped operating her business about seven months ago when it began "taking too much energy" from her HOPE-HOWSE work.
She runs HOPE-HOWSE on donations and uses her savings to pay her bills, said Davis, who volunteers her services along with about dozen others. In the future, she hopes to relocate her organization to northern New Mexico. She visits the state every year, sometimes spending as many as four months here.
"There's something magical about New Mexico," she said. "One cannot escape the constant connection to God in the earth, and the power of the elements here are so strong."
Over the years, Davis has worked many times with inmates at the Bernalillo County Detention Center as well as the prisons in Santa Fe and Los Lunas, she said. Her ministry includes teaching meditation, working with inmates' families and victims' families and reconciliation work.
Davis said her message at the sessions she conducts in New Mexico during her six-week stay this spring, including her workshops, will be about compassion, which she termed a "very challenging path."
"When we hear the word compassion, often we think of warm, fuzzy," she said. "And it is. But often times, to reach compassion we have to go through some very dark and ugly things in life."