addresses Brockport crowd
Sister Helen Prejean filled up Hartwell's dance ballroom with her stories about
her experiences with prisoners facing the death penalty. Many attendees
resorted to sitting on the stairs and floor to hear her speak Wednesday, Feb.
Prejean, a nun from Baton Rouge, La., has worked closely with the death penalty
over the past 2 decades, counseling and walking murderers on death row in their
final moments. She became involved in thiswhen she moved to the St. Thomas
projects and was asked to be a pen pal to an inmate on death row. Prejean
explained she agreed because she thought simply writing would be easy enough.
Yet she never expected to get so involved.
Early in the presentation, an advocate for the death penalty interrupted
Prejean, shouting that Prejean was a liar. The woman shouted that the audience
should educate themselves about the justice system and they didn't have to
listen to her disregard the separation of church and state, and the
solicitation of Roman Catholicism.
At first, it seemed as though the whole thing was staged, until Prejean began
trying to reason with the woman. Eventually University Police (UP) came in to
escort the woman out.
Prejean continued her presentation by simply saying, "I thought that she was
someone from the drama department." She then said, "you have to have respect
for someone to feel strongly and express themselves."
During the lecture, Prejean discussed her book Dead Man Walking, which is the
story of her first experience with an inmate on death row. She tells of how it
started — by becoming Patrick's pen pal. She started with the beginning of the
journey — actually meeting Patrick for the first time — by saying she was
nervous about coming face-to-face with a murderer. She said she wasn't sure
what to expect. However, once she met him she was surprised, explaining, "Oh my
god, he's human. He was smiling."
Throughout her time with Patrick, Prejean grew close to him, learning what he
was like as an actual person and trying to overcome the outrage she felt toward
him for the gruesome crime he committed.
"The first thing I felt, after outrage, was guilt," she said.
She explained her inner struggle throughout the time she talked with Patrick.
She said she wondered if she was doing the right thing and questioned whether
or not she should contact the parents of the children Patrick allegedly
murdered. Not contacting those parents would come to be her biggest regret, she
After accompanying Patrick down death row, Prejean said she realized what
actually goes on in the execution room
"People are never going to see this, never going to get close to this," Prejean
Prejean accompanied Patrick into the death room and held his arm during the
execution so that he would have one loving face to look at as he passed. She
explained that she was not trying to make him out to be a hero, but she said we
can't control legalized hatred and we should look into the process to better
understand it and decide if what we're doing is really the best option.
Prejean said she doesn't believe the families of victims would want the death
penalty if they knew all of the uncertainty and publicity that it entails. By
sentencing the murderer to the death penalty, the whole murder is prolonged and
continues to enter into the family's lives.
"How can life come from this?" she asked. "Can it heal a human heart?"
Prejean said the father of the boy who was murdered is the hero of this story.
He approached Prejean during the pardon board hearing and explained to her his
own inner struggle with the tragedy. He said he was influenced by his peers
about the death penalty.
"They killed my son," he told her, "but I'm not going to let them kill me."
This very thought was addressed at the end of Prejean's lecture, as she
discussed who's most likely to receive the death penalty and who's affected by
an execution. She said those who murder white people are the ones who are
primarily sent to death row. The more you know about how the justice system
works, the more you know about what it does," she said
"We've got to look at who the agents are to carry [the sentencing] out in order
to decide what exactly the worst crimes are and whether [the death penalty is]
really beneficial to those affected by the crimes," Prejean said.
For more information on Prejean's experiences, see her 2 books Dead Man Walking
and The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions.
Her 1st book, Dead Man Walking, was turned into a 1995 film of the same name.
Actress Susan Sarandon convinced Prejean to offer film rights, saying the book
covers both sides of the issue.
Prejean never expected the book would become a movie, but was glad that it did
because she said the story is a "journey of redemption for everyone."
(source: The Stylus)