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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

4.06  ·  Rating Details ·  5,439 Ratings  ·  388 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 ...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 ...more
Shaun
Feb 01, 2015 Shaun rated it really liked it
...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
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Graham
Jan 06, 2014 Graham rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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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
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Wallace
Jan 07, 2008 Wallace rated it it was amazing
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.
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Jenifer
Oct 27, 2014 Jenifer rated it it was amazing
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
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Anniekk
Mar 09, 2011 Anniekk rated it really liked it
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
Oct 04, 2011 Megan rated it really liked it
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
Apr 20, 2014 Rebecca Foster rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Elizabeth
Dec 16, 2009 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
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 ...more
Katherine Addison
Sr. Helen Prejean, C.S.J., is a polemicist.

I don't say this as a condemnation, just as something I was never able to forget while reading Dead Man Walking. This is a woman making an argument; her goal is to persuade. As a reader, I was always able to feel her persuading me as I read, and even though I agree with her--the death penalty as practiced in the American criminal justice system is an abomination and a farce--I had to keep reminding myself not to dig in my heels just because I don't like
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Jerry Smith
Jul 22, 2015 Jerry Smith rated it it was amazing
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'
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Marsel
Apr 29, 2012 Marsel rated it liked it
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 ...more
Shana
Mar 21, 2009 Shana rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Rachel
Aug 06, 2016 Rachel rated it really liked it
Okay, wow. What a powerful book. Sister Helen Prejean gave a lecture at my school last month and I got signed copies of this and her other publication. Although during her talk she gave me an idea of what she's all about, I wasn't prepared to feel so emotionally conflicted during the reading of Dead Man Walking. Her talk didn't really convince me, to be honest--all I could think was, these men on Death Row aren't innocent. They did things truly horrific (except, of course, the ones who were ...more
Erika Renkes
May 28, 2015 Erika Renkes rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Kacey Koch
May 28, 2015 Kacey Koch rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Jessica
Mar 23, 2008 Jessica rated it it was amazing
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
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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
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Margaret
Nov 11, 2015 Margaret rated it really liked it
I read this book when Helen Prejean was back in the news for counseling Dzhokhar Tsarnaev after his conviction. Her central point is that how society treats its worst criminal offenders is a reflection on society as a whole, and she makes the argument that the death penalty is inhuman and cruel. Her interactions with the families of the murdered is fascinating as well, since she had to learn how to be compassionate both towards the families of victims and the criminal offender who has been ...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.)
Michael
Jun 07, 2008 Michael rated it really liked it
Shelves: 1990s
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
Aug 27, 2011 Mary rated it really liked it
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
Aug 12, 2012 Rachel rated it really liked it
This really brought me to delve deeper into what I think about capital punishment. It brought up some factors I had not considered before.
Elizabeth
Apr 01, 2011 Elizabeth rated it really liked it
As heard on NPR's This I Believe.


I already opposed the death penalty before reading this book, so it's hard for me to judge how persuasive it is.

All research shows that the death penalty is not a deterrant. Psychological research clearly shows that in order to be an effective deterrant, a negative reinforcement must swift and certain (and just, Prejean goes on to add, but I'm going to sweep that into certain: if we have 100% coverage, then it's going to be definitionally just).

The death penalty
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Ana-Maria Bujor
Oct 21, 2016 Ana-Maria Bujor rated it it was amazing
This is a great book that will test your beliefs about morality, justice, punishment and redemption. And many other things. Although told from the perspective of a nun, it is anything but preachy or religious. Actually it is one of the books on the topic I've found most unforgettable. The setting is simple - a nun is asked to write to a death row inmate. One letter leads to a desperate struggle to save the life of someone who did something totally horrendous. Not once, but twice. Next to the ...more
Missy
Dec 09, 2016 Missy rated it really liked it
Once I started, I could not put this book down. It's a compelling and sensitive analysis of capital punishment in the US based on a catholic nun's experience counseling death row inmates.
Bruce Thomas
Nov 12, 2016 Bruce Thomas rated it really liked it
Will make you re-think death penalty stance
Sleepless
Jul 09, 2016 Sleepless rated it really liked it
I stumbled upon this book and immediately knew I had to read it. I am not disappointed. It's definitely an important read about the death penalty.

Where I live, there's no death penalty so I suppose this was less relevant to me as a political book. I am thinking about entering a program to be a pen pal for inmates because this book made me realize that's incredibly important.

This book provides an educated discussion which I appreciated. I'm interested in the Justice system in terms of the philo
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Crizzle
Jul 04, 2014 Crizzle rated it really liked it
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
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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
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“There are spaces of sorrow only God can touch.” 23 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.” 18 likes
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