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Nuns and the Death Penalty at the Ath

November 13, 2009

by Victoria Hetz
Nuns and the Death Penalty at the Ath

The Forum has gotten early word that Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking and outspoken activist against the death penalty, is scheduled to speak at the Athenaeum this coming January. Given the divisiveness of the issue and her extensive experience on the matter, Sister Helen’s visit to CMC is likely to be both informative and incendiary. Dead Man Walking chronicles Sister Helen’s role as a spiritual advisor to various prisoners on death row in Louisiana and offers insight into the corruption and bureaucracy surrounding capital punishment. In 1982, Sister Helen began corresponding with a prisoner on death row at the Louisiana State Penitentiary named Elmo Patrick Sonnier, and after several letters became his spiritual advisor. This relationship enabled Sister Helen to closely examine the injustices of the capital punishment system and led her to conclude that race and class serve to seal prisoners’ fates. Though she only describes two executions in her book, Sister Helen has witnessed five executions in Louisiana.

Since her first encounter with the death penalty Sister Helen has worked to raise awareness for her cause, and she continues to advocate for death row prisoners’ rights through lectures, rallies, and her books. Currently, Sister Helen is working on a third book entitled River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey to Death Row.

Both the book Dead Man Walking and the similarly titled film starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn are available to be checked out at Honnold Mudd Library.

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