Kelly Gissendaner has accepted full responsibility and expressed deep remorse for her involvement in the murder of her husband, Douglas Gissendaner: “it is impossible to put into words the overwhelming sorrow and remorse I feel … there is just no way to capture the depth of my sorrow and regret. I would change everything if I could.”
Over the course of her 18-year period of incarceration, Kelly Gissendaner has experienced a profound spiritual transformation, maturing as a person and in her faith. She has completed a Certificate in Theology and has participated in multiple programs offered in the prison.
The outgrowth of this journey is seen vividly in the care and support she has offered to fellow inmates who were placed in lockdown near her cell, often because of their behavioral problems or mental illness. Many of these women have come forward to share their experiences of how Kelly was their only strength and support during their darkest days in prison. Some who had attempted or were contemplating suicide credit Kelly with saving their lives. All say that Kelly challenged them to change their lives while they were in prison, offering encouragement, guidance, and love when they needed it most.
Kelly has witnessed to literally hundreds of young people in prison prevention programs, offering meaningful and direct advice about getting their lives back on track. One person who knew Kelly during the time she was incarcerated talks about her being a spiritual mentor to other women and said that she has led more than 50 people to Christ during the time she has been incarcerated.
Kelly is respected by Department of Corrections staff. She is seen as an example to other inmates and viewed as an asset to the institution. Former warden Vanessa O’Donnell said of Kelly, “she can provide hope to the most desperate female offender in a manner no one else could possibly understand.” Prison officials have said that she was an “asset to the Department of Corrections while she was in prison” and a “peacemaker” whose presence “made the job safer” for prison staff.
The children of Kelly and Doug Gissendaner have reconciled with their mother despite her role in their father’s murder. They say that their dad was a kind and gentle man who would never want Kelly to be executed. They believe that forgiving their mother is the best way to honor their beloved father’s memory.
You can read the testimony of prison staff and other inmates whose lives Kelly touched in her Application for Clemency, presented to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles in February 2015. The document also contains moving testimony from pastors and teachers who worked with Kelly, and words from her children. In addition, a number of the news articles written in the last few months about Kelly’s case draw on interviews with people who have been touched by Kelly during her time in prison. You can find a collection of those articles here.