I’m Memory of Bob Perske, a real hero to families and people with disabilities.
Bob Perske is a pioneer, a storyteller and a “Group Man.”
In his book, Circle of Friends, he tells the story of vulnerable people building circles of support.
Bob wrote the following speech to bring together Joe’s Circle of Friends who, even though they couldn’t stop his execution, used citizen advocacy like a jazz band, and blended their talents to prove Joe’s innocence 19 years later.
Bob ends with lessons learned and suggests action steps so Joe Arridy’s life and death will not be forgotten. Perhaps he couldn’t stop the injustice of his execution, but now there is a legacy which can help others.
It is my honor to share Bob’s words:
REFLECTIONS ON THE GROUP THAT FOUGHT FOR JOE ARRIDY
Written by Robert Perske but Voiced by Attorney Anne Treimanis
Pioneer Museum, Colorado Springs, Colorado, May 18, 2011
The Circle of Life:
Fifty-three years ago, I befriended a teenager who worked in a mission hospital in Espanola, New Mexico. His name was Richard Voorhees. He worked a morning shift in the hospital’s kitchen, went to high school and returned for an evening shift.
We got together a lot. He saw me as a mentor. Later, the mentorship was reversed when Richard Voorhees went on to become a skilled professor of sociology and anthropology.
That’s why, in 1992, while doing research in Greenwich Village, New York, Voorhees discovered a poem in an out-of-print book. He sent it to me and said, “I’ll bet this grabs you.” The poem described a warden “who wept” as he watched a death row inmate playing with a toy train on the floor of his cell.
For more information on Joe Arridy
On another occasion, Voorhees taught me how to feel a deep respect for trumpet player, Miles Davis. Davis was uncanny when he played in combos with other great musicians. Davis never played solos. He said, “I play what WE can play; NOT ME. I never play what I can play. I am a “group man.”
I THINK MILES DAVIS WOULD HAVE BEEN MOVED BY THE WAY OUR GROUP HANDED OFF TO EACH OTHER THE SAD MELODY OF JOE’S LIFE.
The Sad Melody of Joe’s Life:
• The poem about the warden who wept was sent to Watt Espy, the archivist at the Capital Punishment Project, in Headland, Alabama.
• Espy researched and connected the poem to the execution of Joe Arridy. He sent a packet of news clippings and detective magazines on the case.
• News reporters and history archivists up and down the slopes of the Rocky Mountains helped with the search.
• A book about Joe Arridy’s life and death was published.
• Pete Strescino, a reporter for The Pueblo Chieftain wrote a review of the book.
• Screen writer Dan Leonetti read the review and the book — and then wrote a screen play called “The Woodpecker Waltz.”
• A California film producer named Micheline Keller read the screen play and shed tears like the warden did.
• Teddi Roberts, the executive director of The Arc of the Pikes Peak Region and the members of her group offered a home base for many who worked on Joe’s case.
• Arc Street Worker, Craig Severa, became Joe’s “foot man,” “bag man” and “on-the-street cheerleader.”
• Attorney Anne Treimanis created a website www.friendsofJoeArridy.com. She did it at her own expense and filled it with every pertinent fact she could find on the case.
• The Arc organized a fund raiser to pay for a dignified tombstone that replaced that awful rusty motorcycle license plate marker on Joe’s grave.
• The Arc gathered 50 of The Friends together for a tombstone dedication ceremony at Joe’s grave.
• Mike Radelet, one of the nation’s leading spokesmen for stopping death penalties came to the ceremony.
• Photographer Antonio Sanchez created a montage of photographs of the group in action.
• Antonio Sanchez and Dan Leonetti talked Denver Attorney Dave Martinez into attending the tombstone ceremony with them.
• Attorney Martinez became interested in the case.
• Then all of the Arridy files were transported to his office in Denver.
• Attorney Martinez worked off and on with all of us for the next three years before writing a petition to Governor Bill Ritter, Jr.
• Terri Bradt, the granddaughter of Attorney Gail Ireland, heard about The Friends and she joined them. Then she wrote a book about how her grandpa rose up and fought like a tiger to save Joe’s life. She described how Ireland managed to get at least six stays before Governor Teller Ammons called the prison warden and ordered Joe to be killed within the next few minutes.
• Lisa Cisneros, Director of the Colorado Alternatives to the Death Penalty (CADP) offered her organization’s support.
• A heart touching song entitled “The Woodpecker Waltz” was written by “Identity Traveler Tom Garcia.
• A lovely, tender-voiced singer named “Molly” keeps the tears flowing when she sings Garcia’s song.
• Attorney Annie Treimanis recorded the song for all to hear by placing it in Joe’s website.
THEN CAME A SCARY DAY
• On October 27, 2010, Attorney Martinez delivered a 523-page “Pardon Application for Joe Arridy to the Governor of Colorado.”
• It contained:
— The Petition and Footnotes (41 pages)
— The Legal Memo (11 pages)
— Exhibits (173 pages).
— Affidavits in Support of the Petition (88 pages)
— Letters of Reference in Support of the Petition (210 pages)
THEN CAME THE GOVERNOR BILL RITTER’S ANSWER
• On January 7, 2011 — exactly 72 years to the day when newspapers announced Joe Arridy’s death — Governor Bill Ritter, Jr. issued a posthumous pardon.
THE GOVERNOR DID NOT STOP THERE
• He went beyond the expected by writing an in-depth three-page press release that went to newspapers and electronic media up and down the state. In it he explained in rich detail why he issued the pardon.
AFTER THE PARDON WAS ISSUED, OUR GROUP EXPANDED
• We were pleasantly surprised when relatives of Joe suddenly came out of the darkness and celebrated in public with us.
THEN CAME ANOTHER SURPRISE!
• We learned that Maria Tucker, a member of the Arridy family was employed as The Special Collections Manager for the Pueblo Public Library.
• Immediately, Dave and the group arranged for the transfer of the Arridy files to Maria who is now archiving them in the Western History Division of the Pueblo Public Library.
I AM AMAZED BY ALL THE SOLID PRODUCTS THAT HAVE BEEN PRODUCED THAT WILL NOT GO AWAY.
• There is a book about Joe Arridy’s life and fate.
• There is a book about Gail Ireland’s legal fight to save Joe’s life.
• There is “The Woodpecker Waltz,” Dan Leonetti’s heart touching filmscript.
• There is the website.
• There are hundreds of facts about Joe Arridy now being sent into cyberspace for the whole world to read and ponder forever.
• There is Dave Martinez’s petition for Joe Arridy’s pardon and the Governor’s response now filed in the vaults of the Colorado State Archives.
• All files on the case have been archived in the Western History Department of the Pueblo Library.
NOW COMES ONE MORE ROCK-SOLID PRODUCT!
• Five new words have been chiseled deeply into the face of Joe’s new tombstone. (See picture above.) They say:
“HERE LIES AN INNOCENT MAN”
• (Craig Severa will probably go to jail for adding them without asking permission from government officials who rule on such things.)
• Tomorrow all of us will go in a caravan to Woodpecker Hill to dedicate it.
IT TOOK 19 YEARS OF STRUGGLE
BEFORE WE COULD PUT THOSE WORDS ON JOE’S TOMBSTONE!
NOW, I SAY LET’S GO FOR ANOTHER 19 YEARS!
• Let’s apply what we learned on other heartbreaking miscarriages of justice.
• By the end of this next segment, I will be 103.
• So let’s get going!
• Here are five issues I would like to see us tackle.
1. WE NEED TO GAIN A CLEARER UNDERSTANDING OF THE HUMAN “WILL TO BELIEVE.”
As a young dad, I lectured my five kids about putting my woodworking tools back on their assigned hooks in the garage after they used them. Once, when one of my tools was missing, I yelled at the son who failed to put it back. I nailed the little guy. I harangued and harangued and I didn’t let up . . . until my wife softly took my hand and led me to the place where I had left the tool!
After sitting in many courtrooms, I have sensed how that wily little rascal, “the will to believe,” can corrupt the true facts of a case.
2. WE NEED TO STOP THE DEATH PENALTY
I shudder when I try to figure out how one mortal man can legally execute another mortal man. The Supreme Court’s ruling, in Atkins versus Virginia in 2002, did ban the execution of persons with intellectual disabilities, but I can’t let myself off the hook until the rest of humankind has this legal protection as well.
3. WE NEED TO DO EVERYTHING POSSIBLE TO SUPPORT AN ORGANIZATION CALLED THE “MURDER VICTIMS’ FAMILIES FOR RECONCILIATION.”
I am deeply touched by a certain fast-growing movement of families whose loved ones were murdered. Members of this group meet together and help one another to stop the agony that comes from screaming for “paybacks” for the killers of their loved ones. Now hundreds of murder victim’s families are helping one another to find a reconciliation. For them:
“Reconciliation means accepting that you cannot undo the murder but you can decide how you want to live afterwards.”
4. WE NEED TO FIGHT FOR THE VIDEOTAPING OF CRIMINAL INTERROGATIONS.
Due to our faulty “will-to-believe” attitudes, we will never “get the truth and the whole truth even with God’s help” when officers and suspects merely swear on the witness stand about what happened in the interrogation room. I believe that:
Judges and juries must be helped to see and hear for themselves everything that went on in the interrogation room. In this digital age it can be done by videotaping.
5. WE NEED TO RESPECT THE GOODNESS IN POLICE OFFICERS
I cannot name a school teacher who became a positive force in my life. But I can name a cop who did. His name was Bob Swanlund. He crossed my path on the inner streets of Denver when I was a teenager. He took to me and I sure took to him. On days off, we pitched a tent on Squaw Peak, the 11,540 foot mountain, 29 miles west of Denver and just in front of Mount Evans. We camped up there at least 40 times in three years. He became a father figure to me. During that time, I even tried to walk like him and talk like him. We stayed close until I went into the service in World War II and he became a department head in the Colorado State Patrol. During that period, he gently drummed into me the basic mission of every good police officer:
“The mission of every good police officer is to insure the safety and security of the neighborhood in which he serves.”
There is no job that is more noble than that.
SO NOW YOU AND I WILL BE MOVING ON.
I plan to go as a true believer:
I believe in God.
I believe in Evolution
I believe that all of us are brothers and sisters who were tied together by a single DNA match millions of years ago.
I believe that our earth revolves around the sun.
I believe there are thousands of solar systems like ours.
I believe that Martin Luther King was right when he said that “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”
I believe that someday I may meet with Joe Arridy . . . I want so very much to do that.
In my career I came to care about many people like Joe:
So concrete in their thinking
So unable to figure out all of the complexities going on around them
So trusting of those who understand more than they could
So quick to respond to kindness from others.
So I believe that someday I will be able to get down on the floor together with Joe and his train. . . and both of us will be laughing and shouting:
“Train wreck! Train wreck!
Each of us “wills to believe” our government and justice system will find and punish the guilty, and free and protect the innocent. It is unsettling when the system doesn’t work. What are your thoughts?
Should people who have the label of intellectual disabilities have additional protections in the criminal justice system? Are the above action steps Bob suggests, so drastic and costly they cannot be implemented?
Bob’s song reminds me of Jazz, where each musician plays their own instrument and contributes their soul to the song. The members of Joe’s song were attorneys, friends, organizations… each adding their voice to the music. Is there a way to use each of our talents to work for social justice and change? Are you a “Group Man” or “Group Woman”? Is the song of Joe Arridy really a sad song?
Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward
All my best,
Bob we love you.
I talk to Martha Perske every couple of months. We still can’t believe Bob is gone. His presence hangs around both of our lives. I miss him as a friend, a confidant, father figure. He liked to send treasures to our two youngest kids, usually some kind of scientific toy or experiment. He called Alannah “Sweety Pie,” and Alex “Sugar Plum.”It’s been 20 years now since we sat on the grass watching our little boy play soccer, before the girls were born. His memory inspires me every day. i can still see him asleep on our couch by the fire, taking a nap before dinner.
What a nice memory of Bob and Martha. Please give her my best wishes. I have one of her pictures right here over my desk.
Bob was certainly a gentle warrior. He was an inspiration to everyone. He visited Cincinnati, OH many times and each time he left us all thinking of the world a little differently. Of course, he always went a little over his scheduled time:) but no one could tell better stories than Bob and everyone stayed until the end.
One of the caregivers who works with Aaron is getting her Masters in Criminal Justice and wants to work with people with disabilities. If you have a contact person I’ll pass it on. She might not be interested, but who knows, maybe she will.
Best wishes to you and your family. Thanks for your message. Mary
I may not able to apply what I have learned on other cases like Joe but I am able to make nore people know the story to improve the subconscious attitudes towards people with disability in favor of stoping the corrupt the true facts. dont waste time quote
Hi, I would love to get involved in this group and movement. I am actually a special education teacher so this is a story that hit home. I have done a bunch of my own research on the last week or so. I randomly found his grave stone about one week ago when I was just driving around.
Bob Perske died several years ago, so I do not have a direct contact. I know there are several law schools who help fight for justice. I would recommend contacting your local law school or Legal Aid Society. They would love the help. There is so much need. Thanks for having such a great heart Amy I’ll bet you’re an amazing special education teacher.
I couldn’t agree more with point #4. I believe that that the videotaping of criminal interrogations would virtually eliminate the accusations of torturing during these conversations. I understand that these people have committed crimes and we need information from them but I don’t that torturing them should be an option. Some people think that torture is the only option but has anyone spent time exploring other options?
Joe being sentenced to death for something he did not commit is unacceptable. I think that if anyone were to see footage of the conversations that took place, life may have turned out much differently for Joe. That is an extremely sad thought to think. Many people can learn from the misfortune of Joe and I hope they do.
Thanks Katie, There is a group of friends of Joe who are working as hard as they can for a new trial. If you are interested I can give you more information. Bob Perske is just a great man who cares about vulnerable people and he keeps Joe alive with hope and prayers.
You share a lot helpful ideas! Perhaps I should think of trying to do this myself.
It is sad to see Joe was labeled as an imbecile.It is really hurt to being labeled with the disability or disease.
It is more sad to see he was forced into confessing to an axe murder and sentenced to death.I can picture how helpless he and his family was at that time.
I may not able to apply what I have learned on other cases like Joe but I am able to make nore people know the story to improve the subconscious attitudes towards people with disability in favor of stoping the corrupt the true facts.
I strongly support the first Point.It is the first step to
I believe Joey`s death will not be forgotten.
Hi Gengyi, thanks for your comment. You are right, the whole story is sad. It is up to each of us to make sure Joe and the injustice he suffered will not be forgotten.
I love point #3. The idea of families of murder victims coming together to support one another going forward rather than spending their energy on retribution and revenge is one I always hope for.
You are right Alison. It would be much better to channel all that emotion into something positive. I can’t imagine how hard that must be.
It does remind me of similiar groups for survivors of suicide and diseases.
Those tough times are when each of us really needs that circle of friends.
Thanks for your thoughts.