In 2001, death row inmates developed Compassion in response to a suggestion by Siddique Abdullah Hasan, who is on Ohio's death row. Through a mutual contact, Hasan connected with Fred Moor of St. Rose Parish, who agreed to oversee publication. Death row inmates from around the country collaborated to establish the non-profit organization.
The inmates wanted to publish a newsletter that would develop healing communication between capital punishment offenders and murdered victims' families, and give offenders a forum to express compassionate and introspective feelings. They also wanted to establish a college scholarship fund for family members of murdered victims.
"In no way are the scholarships to the immediate family members of murdered victims meant to atone for the loss they have experienced," Hasan wrote in his first editorial. "Scholarships are…a compassionate gesture to those who have had a significant and unfortunate tragedy befall them."
Compassion published its first issue in July 2001. To date, the inmates have awarded over $46,000 in scholarships and have begun a new award cycle. The glossy, eight-page newsletter focuses on positive contributions by death row inmates and their desire to help others. It does not print accounts of individual cases, complaints about prison or the judicial system, or opinions on the death penalty.
No inmates receive money or special consideration for their stories, donations, or editing services. All inmate participation is voluntary.
The inmates' focus and ultimate objective is to genuinely foster reconciliation between prisoners and the immediate family members of murdered victims. Compassion urges prisoners to set a new standard of moral decency for themselves.
Hasan stepped down as editor in March 2003 and was replaced by Dennis Skillicorn on Missouri death row. Under his tenure Compassion readers were able to gain the insights of some of the positive programs in which death row prisoners can take part. Dennis was involved in the Hospice program, Inmate Council and Christian Men's Council at his prison. He was co-founder of 4-H Life and the works of Set Free Ministry. Dennis also expanded the scope of Compassion by compiling the writings of death row prisoners into the book "Today's Choices Affect Tomorrow's Dreams." This book is distributed to youth in juvenile detention facilities throughout the United States and its writings encourage young people to be aware of the importance of the choices they make in their lives. Dennis served as editor until his execution on May 20, 2009.
Marcus Wellons on Georiga's death row and Abu Ali Abdur Rahman on Tennessee death row have assumed the editing responsibilities as co-editors of the Compassion newsletter. They hope to continue the positive works of Dennis as well as making some of their own positive additions to Compassion.
Submissions to Compassion are written by men and women across the United States who have been sentenced to death. Editors as well as members of the editorial and advisory boards are capital punishment offenders from several states. Past stories have featured positive programs that involve death row inmates and essays from murder victims' family members.
Copies of Compassion are provided free to death row inmates. Subscriptions are available to readers on the outside.
Members of St. Rose Parish handle all money transactions. No inmate has access to any of the Compassion funds.
The letters and articles published in Compassion show the humanity of death row inmates and this is reflected throughout the publication, Moor said.
"Death row prisoners are not the sum of the worst act in their lives and they have potential to cultivate and achieve good," Moor said. "Many [contributors] express that it has helped them in moving forward in a positive direction and through their writings many are able to help others."
Victims' family members who are interested in applying for a scholarship should contact Compassion at 140 South Boundary Street, Perrysburg, Ohio, 43551, or call (419) 874-1333.