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Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States

4.05 of 5 stars 4.05  ·  rating details  ·  4,792 ratings  ·  349 reviews
In 1982,Sister Helen Prejean became the spiritual advisor to Patrick Sonnier,the convicted killer of two teenagers who was sentenced to die in the electric chair of Louisiana’s Angola State Prison. In the months before Sonnier’s death,the Roman Catholic nun came to know a man who was as terrified as he had once been terrifying.She alsocame to know the families of the victi ...more
ebook, 304 pages
Published February 2nd 2011 by Vintage (first published 1993)
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Sparrow
This is the story of a serial killer who enslaves people, usually black men, and tortures them by telling them the date the killer plans to execute them and then by keeping them locked in chains until that date, always reminding them of the date’s imminence. Sometimes, the killer tells them that if they are lucky, if the killer likes them enough, they might escape death, but that just seems to increase the torture because the killer doesn’t really plan to let them go. The killer in this book als ...more
Shaun
...if we believe that murder is wrong and not admissible in our society, then it has to be wrong for everyone, not just individuals but governments as well.


This is the crux of Sister Helen Prejean's argument against capital punishment. She also asserts that the death penalty is not a deterrent to violent crime, costs taxpayers substantially more than life in prison in the long run,and is not fairly meted out on the merits of a case, but instead influenced heavily by race, poverty, and geogra
...more
Graham
Wow. "Work of the eyes is done, now go do the heart work" (p309, from Rainer Maria Rilke)
Sister Helen Prejean must be one of the bravest people in the world. Not only does she support men convicted of murder on death row, and be with them in hyper final hours, and be with them in the death chamber itself, but she makes time for the victims, attends and raises money for victim support groups and does all this in the name of Jesus, bringing hope and comfort, steel and velvet, challenge and compass
...more
Licha
Had to abandon this book at Chapter 3, page 43. I've never abandoned this many books in a short span of two months so I'm a little worried that I may be giving up too soon on them.

Really wanted to like this and was so excited to read this since I had loved the movie with Sean Penn. The book is so dry though and reads like the reports they had us do back in high school, so in that sense it also made the book seemed outdated for me. The author jumps around a lot so there's not a linear storyline
...more
Wallace
So, this one has a seriously funny story attached to it, but it also had a huge impact on me at that time in my life. I went out on a first date with a really cute guy, and we went to the movie. I was so troubled by the film (although I loved it), that I cried so much he had to take me home. I couldn't even talk! He surprised me by asking me out again, though. He must have thought I was a lunatic.

The book is very good, and it lives up to the notion that the book is always better than the movie.
...more
Jenifer
Sister Prejean is a woman whose moral compass seems to be set. There is no wavering here. She believes what she believes and it extends across the board. She never seems to act rashly or contradict herself. I wonder how that would be? She extends her love and understanding to all whom she meets; the convicted as well as those who have to carry out the sentence, whether they believe in it or not; the victims and their families, and those who are actively in opposition to her.

One thing that made
...more
Anniekk
I saw about half the movie about two weeks ago, and it peaked my interest to know the whole story. I suppose some people would think Sister Helen a soft hearted woman and think her response to this man typical of a nun, but to me one of the best parts about this account is her wrestling with all the issues the death sentence brings up. The poor are more likely to be given the death penalty, the wierd laws surronding appeals, the political reality of the South, free defense attorneys who literaly ...more
Megan
A truly fascinating book. Capital punishment is a topic I have long wrestled with and this book is a must-read for anyone who is interested in a thorough treatment of the multi-faceted issue, albeit one with a heavily religious slant. It is, after all, written by Helen Prejean, who is a Catholic nun who served as a spiritual advisor to several men on death row. While I don't share Prejean's religion, I do share many of her opinions on capital punishment. Specifically, that our current system of ...more
Rebecca Foster
No matter your current thoughts on the death penalty, you owe it to yourself to read this book with an open mind. I read it in the run-up to Easter 2007, and would recommend it as perfect reading for the season. As I truly engaged with themes of guilt and retribution, I felt the reality of death row was brought home to me for the first time. Many of the men Prejean deals with in this book we would tend to dismiss as monsters, yet Jesus is the God who comes for the lost and the discounted, the Go ...more
Elizabeth
I don't think you can read this book and continue to support the death penalty. Sister Helen Prejean's account of her personal experience is compelling, but when augmented with her cogent philosophical arguments, firm grasp of statistics and facts, and ability to calmly but firmly entertain and then quash every remotely plausible counterargument, the result will transform the way you think not only about this pressing political issue, but about punishment, humanity, and forgiveness. I think it s ...more
Kacey Koch
Dead Man Walking by Sister Helen Prejean is a nonfiction novel that portrays the cruelty of the death penalty through two inmates she befriended. The main focus of the story is Pat Sonnier who, with his brother, was convicted of the murder and rape of two teenagers. After a rocky court case, Pat was given the death penalty, and his brother Eddy was given life in prison, although he did not kill the kids himself. Throughout the book, Prejean worked to fight the death penalty for Pat, and all of t ...more
Jerry Smith
I haven't seen the movie but the book cover I read has the movie poster on it. I personally think that's a sad reflection on where we are with reading, presumably the thinking being that we need to see the movie visuals in order to realize we should pick up the book. Never mind, that is just a pet peeve.

I don't know why I haven't read this before as I am passionately interested in the moral, legal, social and societal impact of the death penalty, on which my views have changed over the years.

It'
...more
Cecilia
I read this book now, because my daughter's school chose it as required reading for this summer.

I am purposely reading it before she does because I know it would provoke strong emotions and some very intense conversations. I want to be prepared.

This book is written by a pure soul. It is written with a heart that holds an immense amount of love, passion and sorrow. Sister Helen Prejean is truly following the path that Christ has asked her to.

I am humbled by her passion, and grateful to my daught
...more
Erika Renkes
Dead Man Walking is a nonfiction story that grasps the ideals of the death penalty and displays all victims that come from it. From the point of Sister Helen Prejean and her intimate encounters with the death row inmates, one learns how much affects the executions and how much bias is presented throughout the whole process of the capital system. Her tales of her time with Pat Sonnier and Robert Lee Willie really changed my perspective on the death penalty. Before I read this book I was all for i ...more
Marsel
As I read more of this book, I draw more into and even step into the life of a criminal being executed. How cruel the government would be to just kill a man with nothing good coming from it. They believe that executing the bad will make a better world. But no, what did it bring? A constant pain, agony, and more and more bad people seeking revenge for the dead. We should be lucky enough that nuns from a Catholic church comes and helps and even comfort the criminals while the day goes by from exec ...more
Shana
I read this book a few years ago. I'd seen the film in college as an undergrad, and while I was in divinity school, Sister Helen Prejean came as a speaker. I was so moved listening to her, and at the end of her talk, she mentioned they'd be selling her books and that all the profits would go to this anti-death penalty coalition. Well, I am and have always been against the death penalty, and the opportunity to support a cause I believed in as well as to get what I imagined to be a good book was t ...more
Jessica
Mar 23, 2008 Jessica rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: non-fiction, 2008
First line: When Chava Colon from the Prison Coalition ask me one January in 1982 to become a pen pal to a death-row inmate, I say , Sure.

This simple answer led sister Helen Prejean down a road that shaped her into a spiritual counselor to those on death-row, an activist for victim's rights, and an activist against the death penalty. This book was later made into a movie, but it covers a lot more ground than the movie. Not just her first experience, but others. She also supplies many facts about
...more
Rachel Jackson
I first saw the movie "Dead Man Walking" in my junior year government class, as we were discussing the Bill of Rights and the Eighth Amendment. I was floored by the film, and it became one of my favorites purely for the power exhibited in its anti-death penalty message. I didn't even know it had been adapted from a book until I saw it in a bookstore a few years ago. So I knew I had to read it.

And I'm glad I did; however, it was not nearly as interesting and powerful as the film — which is a rare
...more
Kanyekanye
Feb 05, 2015 Kanyekanye rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: North West
Recommended to Kanyekanye by: Kim K.
Cody G.
Leighton W.
Joseph C.
Isaiah S.

Dead Man Walking: Book Review

Dead Man Walking by Sister Helen Prejean was a very interesting book. Sister Helen was a nun who was going to work inmates on death row as a spiritual advisor. This inmate's name is Patrick Sonnier, a convicted killer of two teens and commonly rape teens with his brother’s aid. Throughout the book Sister Helen builds a relationship with Patrick, or Pat as she called him, and she explains the story in Dead Man Walking. After the ev
...more
Jan Mcclung-short
I really didn't want to read this book because I had seen the movie and it was very unsettling. I joined a book club. This is the book they wanted to discuss, so I had no choice but to read it. I just didn't want it to disturb my sleep. It did worse: I read all day and night. I couldn't stop reading it. It pricked my mind and soul. I thought I believed in the death sentence, but knew that I had major problems with this train of thought. I was raised to believe in it, but knew that there were maj ...more
Daniel
I'll start by saying, if you're going to read this and expect the movie... forget it. A lot of liberty was taken making the movie, and in doing so the film left out so much of the "argument" Sister Helen presents as the heart of the book.

Now having said that, the extended diatribe on the evil of the death penalty was exactly why I rated this a bit lower than I may have otherwise. The book is saved by Helen's ability to relate the proselytizing to what she experienced throughout, but for me that
...more
Kumari
Here's what goes on - in your name - and it's time you found out about it.

Sister Helen is a home girl who knows how it is to fight passionately against something that is clearly at its foundation wrong. She is brave and steadfast, too. She comes down on the side of compassion and love, valuing each and every human being's inherent worth. She will come down on the right side of history, too; you'll see.

She makes me proud to be the strong, passionate woman that I am. I can only hope to be so brav
...more
Fr. River
February 7, Review of DEAD MAN WALKING BY HELEN PREJEAN, MK. 6;14-29


Sr. Helen Prejean writes a moving book about her journey on death row and her own struggles in Dead Man Walking. Her stories of the two men she journeyed with to death row reminded me of the many young men I walk with each day, they use the same excuses for the wrongs in their lives, always think of themselves. Sr. Helen sees that they are sons of God, without judgment, without rebuke. Blessed Mary of Providence said that "love
...more
Abbey Schaefer
This book was set up as more of a story. While it is non-fiction, it goes through the story of how Helen Prejean changed the way people look at the death penalty. Helen lives in a very poor community where she witnesses poverty and sadness. One day, she gets asked to become a pen pal to a death row inmate named,Patrick Sonnier. Helen is at first skeptical of this idea, but decides to try it. She writes back and forth with this man and he seems like a normal man. She notices that he rarely talks ...more
Carin
this book changed my political views. Prior to reading this, I'd always said that while I was intellectually opposed to the death penalty, if it were my sister who'd been murdered, I wouldn't be opposed in the slightest. After reading this simple, honest, forthright story of a nun's experiences counseling two murderers, I am now completely opposed under any circumstances, even more than 10 years after having read it. (The movie merges the two men in the book into a compilation.)
Heather
Sister Helen Prejean did not win me over to her side of the death penalty debate using theological arguments. She admits that the Bible is, on the surface at least, not against the death penalty but gives authority to the government to punish evil-doers in the way that is appropriate for that country. Mostly her theological arguments are feelings, not arguments, and they are the most frustrating part of the book.

She's much more effective when she sticks to facts about corruption in the justice s
...more
Taylor
In the late 1980's, Sister Helen Prejean starts keeping in contact with an inmate on death row, Patrick Sonnier, in Louisiana. Prejean corresponds with Patrick through several letters and eventually decides to become his spiritual advisor. Soon after, Sister Prejean begins talking with Patrick's brother, Eddie, who committed the crime with Pat, but was only sentenced to life in prison. Prejean becomes close with the victims families and talks closely with the prion warden's, who have to put the ...more
Crizzle
Do you believe in the right to life? We always hear about the rights of the unborn child to live, but when do we ever hear anyone speaking out against the death penalty? I challenge anyone who thinks they are for capital punishment (according to Gallup, 60% of us!) to read this book. You come away knowing that state-sanctioned killing is morally and ethically wrong, and violates the 8th Amendment of the Constitution (cruel and unusual punishment). Why?
1. It is unfair and discriminatory. People w
...more
Clara Thorpe
Dead man walking, written by Sister Helen Prejean, told a true story of a convicted killer and a woman who was sought out to be his spiritual advisor. She was scared to open up to a killer but once she did, she learned something more. That he was just as afraid as anyone else. Sonnier was on death row and Prejean tried to help him with that. The true story shows the different sides and point of views to the process of capital punishment and how even the ones implementing it felt it was not right ...more
Isabella Roland
This book sat on my shelf forever because I knew exactly what kind of conflicted feelings it would invoke in me. Luckily the author does a phenomenal job of describing those exact same feelings and how she had to deal with them. Sister Helen Prejean is an advocate for abolishing the death penalty for many reasons and she exposes all of them in her book. From political corruption to the huge income inequalities in America we see how most of the people executed are poor. They are not provided the ...more
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Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ (b. April 21, 1939, Baton Rouge, Louisiana) is a vowed Roman Catholic religious sister, one of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille, who has become a leading American advocate for the abolition of the death penalty.

Her efforts began in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1981, through a correspondence she maintained with a convicted murderer, Elmo Patrick Sonnier, who was sentenc
...more
More about Helen Prejean...
The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions I Am Troy Davis Rescuing Regina: The Battle to Save a Friend from Deportation and Death A Different Kind of Cell: The Story of a Murderer Who Became a Monk Dead Man Walking: The Shooting Script

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“There are spaces of sorrow only God can touch.” 21 likes
“In sorting out my feelings and beliefs, there is, however, one piece of moral ground of which I am absolutely certain: if I were to be murdered I would not want my murderer executed. I would not want my death avenged. Especially by government--which can't be trusted to control its own bureaucrats or collect taxes equitably or fill a pothole, much less decide which of its citizens to kill.” 11 likes
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