January 7, 2006
Nuns vow to fight death penalty (see video)
'Dead Man Walking' author brings message to area
BY PATRICK PETERSON
The first was Patrick Sonnier, whom she walked to his execution in 1984 for a crime his brother committed.
told him, 'You are not going to die alone,' " said Sister Helen
Prejean, the diminutive New Orleans nun who counsels death row inmates
and also works with the families of murder victims.
"I came out and threw up."
Friday, Prejean told about 80 members of the Space Coast Tiger Bay Club
of praying in a small Louisiana church with a grieving father, who
wanted peace, not vengeance, after the murder of his only son, who was
killed by Sonnier and his brother. "I knew what Jesus said, 'I had
never been in presence of someone who did it,' " Prejean said.
heartsick father, who struggled to forgive, became the hero of her
book, "Dead Man Walking," which became a major motion picture.
execution of Patrick Sonnier brought home to Prejean the double
tragedies of murder and the death penalty, which was reinstated in the
U.S. in the 1976.
then, more than 1,000 U.S. prisoners, including reformed California
gang leader Stanley "Tookie" Williams, have been executed. Two Florida
prisoners are scheduled to die later this month.
has worked for the past 20 years to convince the American public of
what she calls the death penalty's waste, unfairness, racism, futility,
lack of necessity and inability to make victims' families feel better.
all about education," she said. "I take them into the ambivalence of
their own hearts. When you're removed from something, you can condone
That was her mission Friday and, in the case of Tiger Bay Club President Pam Gatto, she gained an ally.
certainly made me feel like personally I should do something about (the
death penalty). One person can make a difference," Gatto said.
journey to become the most widely known opponent of the death penalty
began inauspiciously, which, she says, is how God has guided her life.
She was working in a poor neighborhood of New Orleans, when an
acquaintance asked, "Hey, you wanna be a pen pal for someone on death
"Sure," she said, expecting only to write a few letters.
Two years later, she witnessed her first execution.
this spiritual journey, she has gone from being the privileged daughter
of a Baton Rouge lawyer to a nun working for social justice in the
poorest parts of New Orleans, and finally, a renowned author and
opponent of the death penalty.
herself "a nun at-large," she travels widely to make 140 speaking
engagements a year. She believes she can change even a hard heart with
facts about the death penalty in an hour.
"The death penalty is highly emotional," she said. "People don't reflect on it very much."
and politicians, she said, use the death penalty to show they are
"tough on crime," when many more crimes could be prevented by drug
rehabilitation and youth-training programs.
"You can show the death penalty doesn't deter crime," she said. "You could boil people in oil in the public square."
Contact Peterson at 242-3549 or email@example.com