Speaker shares experience with death row inmates

Minister Bill Breeden delivers his talk “Bearing Witness” on Tuesday evening in La Fetra Auditorium. Breeden spoke on his life experiences and how he is now a spiritual advisor for people on death row. / photo by Jonas Holt
Minister Bill Breeden delivers his talk “Bearing Witness” on Tuesday evening in La Fetra Auditorium. Breeden spoke on his life experiences and how he is now a spiritual advisor for people on death row. / photo by Jonas Holt

Anisa Salazar
Staff Writer 

Bill Breeden, Unitarian Universalist minister and former candidate for the Indiana House of Representatives, spoke on Campus Tuesday in La Fetra Auditorium. 

His lecture was titled, “Bearing Witness: An Afternoon with Minister Bill Breeden.” 

Now a spiritual advisor for people on death row, Breeden spoke about his life experiences and how he has got to where he is today, before an audience of about 50 people. 

During a late night at work in the early 1970s, he was in charge of going to the incinerator, across the alley, to burn anything leftover in the store. This is when Breeden met a woman whom he calls “Black Female Jesus.” She asked him to leave everything there so she could feed her children, she would light the fire for him once she was done. 

“I saw a woman who was not lazy at all, but a woman who was courageous enough to stare down a white guy in an alley and demand the right to the cheese that I was going to burn,” Breeden said. 

Growing up in Odon, Indiana, Breeden’s family was very religious and attended church three to seven nights a week. This experience changed everything he thought he knew about his religion, and helped him realize that there was something wrong because he was a racist. 

Breeden said all through school we are taught the “official” history, but the people’s history isn’t discussed. 

“A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn is a book that Breeden hopes students will read. 

“If we don’t know our history, we have no way of determining our future,” Breeden said. 

Each week for the last 16 years, Breeden has visited death row. After receiving a letter from inmate Chadrick Fulks who was looking for a minister, Breeden said that he could help him get over his fear of hell because there is no hell worse than where he already was, in solitary confinement.” 

Alessandro Morosin, assistant professor of sociology and criminology, brought Breeden to speak. Morosin said he felt Breeden’s knowledge and experience would be meaningful to the La Verne community. 

“With a speaker like Bill, students can start putting their own lives in a larger social and historical context,” Morosin said. “Where are we at, and what can we do about it?”

Breeden shared that he spent about 30 hours with Corey Johnson, an intellectually disabled inmate at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana, before he was executed by lethal injection in 2021. 

People aren’t built to witness someone get murdered, Breeden said. 

Ernie Thomson, emeritus professor of criminology who attended the talk, said that while teaching his class they never covered the “endpoint” in an inmate’s time. He said that listening to Breeden’s first-hand point-of-view was meaningful. 

Anisa Salazar can be reached at anisa.salazar@laverne.edu

Anisa Salazar is a freshman communications major with a concentration in public relations and a staff writer for the Campus Times.

Jonas Holt is a senior journalism major with a concentration in print and online journalism. He is a staff writer and staff photographer for the Campus Times and La Verne Magazine.

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