Catholic Mobilizing Network holds an annual poetry contest for young Catholics to take a stand against the injustice of captial punishment.
The Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN) has selected the winners of its second annual Justice & Mercy Poetry Contest for Young Catholics in 2023. The contest, which began in 2022, invites young Catholic poets to reflect on the injustice of capital punishment through the timeless literary artform. This year’s winners were selected from dozens of contestants aged 18-30 from 18 US states.
In a press release, CMN Executive Director Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy explained that the contest was initiated to recognize the “young people’s indispensable role in the work of death penalty abolition.” Murphy said of its value as a Catholic endeavor:
“All throughout history, poetry has communicated bold ideas about what matters most. We are grateful to these gifted young Catholics for making the connection between their faith and real people who are suffering in the world. Each of these incredible young people shared their perspectives on the injustice of the death penalty and, in their own words, what justice and mercy mean to them.”
This year’s grand prize – which includes $1,000 and the poem’s publication – went to 21-year-old Tara Thayer, a recent graduate of the University of Notre Dame who is currently completing a year of service with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Thayer’s award winning poem, titled “Bradley,” relates the story of a man recounting the day he “killed a man” on behalf of the state. The narrative takes place as prison officials are preparing to carry out his sentence of death by lethal injection, compelling readers to consider the harm presented by the ripples of his execution.
Eighteen-year-old Margaux Mayeux, a Louisiana native who will be attending Louisiana Tech in the fall of 2023, took home second place with her poem, “Made from Clay.” This poem, written from the perspective of a Death Row inmate, compares the Church’s understanding of the inherent dignity granted to each person by God with the way the US legal system determines the value of that life. Mayeux has earned a cash prize of $500 and her poem will be published.
The press release noted that one member of the selection committee, who was exonerated from death row, expressed how deeply “Made from Clay” resonated with their own experience. They wrote of Mayeux’s work:
“All the words and language spoken during my trial proceedings [were ones] that I didn’t understand. I was a child when my case happened. I was lost on everything they were saying except: killer, my name, death sentence and prison. That poem tells a story.”
Finally, in third place was Grace Przywara, a 28-year-old stay-at-home mother from South Carolina. Przywara’s poem, “Possibility,” explores the similarities between an executed man, Vernon, and the narrator, who are both poets. The poem seeks to answer one question: “What would Vernon’s life have been like if it hadn’t been ended by the state?”
Vaillancourt Murphy thanked all those who submitted their poems to the contest and hailed the efforts of young Catholics to raise their voices in opposition to capital punishment. She wrote:
“Young people are the future of our Church and the death penalty abolition movement. They consistently oppose capital punishment at higher rates than their older counterparts. They understand that the death penalty perpetuates racism, targets vulnerable populations, and risks innocent lives. For all these reasons, we have little doubt that young people will ultimately be the driving force behind ending capital punishment in the U.S.”
Visit Catholic Mobilizing Network to read more Catholic poems on the theme of Capital Punishment from the runners up.