CCTEC Presents Sister Helen Prejean, Author of Dead Man Walking

News Story: October 8, 2006

Sister Helen Prejean, C.S.J., author of the best-selling book “Dead Man Walking,” will speak at Sacred Heart University on Monday, October 23 at 7:30 p.m. in the Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts. This event is presented by the University's Center for Catholic Thought, Ethics and Culture. It is free and open to the public.

Sister Helen began her prison ministry in 1981 when she dedicated her life to the poor of New Orleans. While living in the St. Thomas housing project, she began to correspond with Patrick Sonnier, the convicted killer of two teenagers. Sonnier was sentenced to die in the electric chair of Louisiana's Angola State Prison.

She became Sonnier's spiritual advisor, and visited him repeatedly on death row. Sister Helen turned her experiences into the book “Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States.” The book was nominated for a 1993 Pulitzer Prize, made the 1994 American Library Associates Notable Book List, and was number one on the New York Times Best Seller List for 31 weeks.

In 1996, the book was developed into a major motion picture starring Susan Sarandon as Sister Helen. The movie received four Oscar nominations. The book was also the basis for a new opera which was presented by the San Francisco Opera and premiered in October 2000.

Since beginning her crusade, she has witnessed five executions in Louisiana and today educates the public about the death penalty by lecturing, organizing and writing. As the founder of "Survive," a victim's advocacy group in New Orleans, she continues to counsel not only inmates on death row, but the families of murder victims, as well.

Sister Helen has served as Chairperson of the Board of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. She is also a member of Amnesty International and an honorary member of Murder Victim Families for Reconciliation. She presently is the Honorary Chairperson of Moratorium Campaign, a group gathering signatures for a world-wide moratorium on the death penalty.

Her second book, “The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions,” tells the story of two men, Dobie Gillis Williams and Joseph O'Dell, whom she accompanied to their executions. She believes both of them were innocent.

Sister Helen joined the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille in 1957 and received a B.A. in English and Education from St. Mary's Dominican College, New Orleans in 1962. In 1973, she earned an M.A. in Religious Education from St. Paul's University in Ottawa, Canada.