Dead Man Walking: The Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty That Sparked a National Debate
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Dead Man Walking: The Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty That Sparked a National Debate

4.03 of 5 stars 4.03  ·  rating details  ·  3,809 ratings  ·  287 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. At the same time, she came to know the fam...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published May 31st 1994 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 geograp...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
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
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
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
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
Jessica
Mar 23, 2008 Jessica rated it 5 of 5 stars 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
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
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.)
Sue Jackson
Dead Man Walking was an interesting book to read about a difficult and emotional topic. Sister Helen Prejean does a good job of explaining how she became the spiritual advisor to a death row inmate. She pulls the reader in as she talks about what he goes through and what she learns as she stands by him up until the moment of his execution. That portion ties directly to the movie of the same name. Unfortunately, that portion of the book ended about midway through the book. Then she seemed to go o...more
Michael
I've always considered myself pro-death penalty for a variety of reasons. But, having read this book, I see there are very strong logical reasons to oppose it. I enjoyed this book and learned a lot from it. I have even less faith in politicians and the law now.
Mary
This is hard to read, but I'm glad I did. I was already against the death penalty, and this didn't change my mind. My daughter's high school is lucky enough to have Sr. Prejean coming to speak this year, I hope I will be able to be there.
Rachel
This really brought me to delve deeper into what I think about capital punishment. It brought up some factors I had not considered before.
Cathy
I read this book while trying to decide how I really feel about capital punishment. I understand both arguments for and against the death penalty. For now, I have decided that I support life in prison as an option to the electric chair (or lethal injection). It seems that taking another's life just brings more heartache to another family. Not to mention when someone is sentenced to life in prison; the punishment is dealt with then and begins immediately. If someone gets the death penalty; the fa...more
Bunny
I've had this book for some time now, hesitant to read it because it's written by a nun. Nine years of Catholic school can mess a person up when it comes to nuns.

But then the Troy Davis execution happened, and my anger and frustration was too much for me. So I picked up the book.

I'm extraordinarily wishy-washy when it comes to the death penalty. A great part of me doesn't think 12 people have the right to decide the death of another human being. And considering how much we frown on executions in...more
Cal
I have a lot of feelings about this book. I'm so impressed with Sister Prejean and her capacity for love, and I really wish I could be more like her... for Pat, I definitely felt a lot of sadness about his death, and cried and cried. For Willie, I'm not so sure what to think since he appeared to be unapologetic... but there are so many things that go into a person's psyche, and what chain of feelings causes reactions.. this is one reason why I feel Jesus asks us not to judge, besides that we are...more
Bonnie
This book is steadfastly one-sided in its views on the death penalty and yet never did I feel I was being preached at or that those who are in favor of the death penalty are dead wrong (no pun intended). In fact, in addition to being a spiritual adviser to not just the man portrayed in the film (I do not know why his name was changed for the film) but to another man on death row as his execution neared, Sister Helen Prejean also befriended and comforted the families of the victims. In fact, I wa...more
Andrea
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sascha
Death Row. A place for people who've committed crimes to some of the highest degrees are kept here.

A nun by Sister Prejean goes to spiritually advise people on death row.

This novel is descriptive and intelligent. A non-fiction narrative presents a truly unique way of presenting a story line. Going through the book you encounter many actual, real citations from articles and cases in real life. If you like seeing the truth in a book, you will be very interested to read this.

However, if you are i...more
Sara
I never saw this movie so was glad to read the book. Helen Prejean, a nun, was asked to be a pen pal to a death row resident in New Orleans. She later meets him and becomes his spiritual advisor, witnessing his execution and then repeats this with a second convict. During this experience, she is educated about the specifics of the individual cases (in both, there were 2 men involved, yet one man received death and his partner, a life sentence), the unfairness of the system exemplified by the fac...more
Justin
I found this book interesting and well-written. Sister Prejean writes with to-the-point simplicity, weaving facts and arguments against capital punishment along with narratives of her experiences as spiritual advisor to criminals on Louisiana's death row. The book could've been half as long, I believe, as after her story of inmate Patrick Sonnier she basically repeats the same story regarding Robert Willie with much of the same arguments and information. Still, it's interesting to see how she le...more
KJ Lipkey
Very interesting! Despite being an extremely opinionated person about most things, for whatever reason I have never held an opinion one way or another on the death penalty. I have family and friends who are very passionately against it but I just can't seem to bring myself to care one way or another (this coming from someone who has a catch-and-release program for even the creepiest of bugs in my house). I haven't seen the movie and was worried the book would be a bit too strong a political book...more
Corinne
When Sister Helen Prejean accepts a request to exchange letters with a prisoner on death row, she has no idea that it will be the springboard into a life of activism. Her life in Louisiana becomes embroiled with politics and legal proceedings, support groups and protest walks as she commits herself to the anti-death penalty cause.

Dead Man Walking is a memoir and a treatise on the history of the death penalty. She clearly states the side she has taken and the reasons while she feels that whether...more
Jim B
Sister Prejean describes her experiences with two death row inmates, Pat Sonnier and Robert Wille, both guilty of gruesome murders. By examining both cases and how the court system handled them she makes her case against the death penalty.

Sister Prejean believes the death penalty is immoral in all cases, that the government never has the right to kill under any circumstances. While her own position is so extreme that she has to ignore or dismiss Biblical statements that contradict her (though sh...more
Ruth
Sometimes in life, a book comes along that hits you square between the eyes, and has a real impact. You know that book, that you can’t stop thinking about once you’ve finished it? That book that you just didn’t want to put down? That book which made you immediately want to find out more about the author and the subject? For me, this was one of those books.

It is Sister Helen Prejean’s true account of her work as a spiritual adviser to death row inmates in Louisiana, in the 1980s. The book concent...more
Sawy-o
Sister Helen Prejean came to speak at the catholic university where I work to deliver the commencement address the year the Sisters of Charity, the order of nuns associated with the school, celebrated their 150th anniversary. She has a fiery presence, an enviable way with words and story telling, an undeniable southern accent, and a deeply harbored belief in working for social justice. Some people criticized her speech afterwards for being too heavy on social justice and light on the skill build...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 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 I Am Troy Davis Dead Man Walking: The Shooting Script

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“There are spaces of sorrow only God can touch.” 15 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.” 7 likes
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