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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

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  6,610 ratings  ·  501 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 also came to know the families of the ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published May 31st 1994 by Vintage (first published 1993)
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 ·  6,610 ratings  ·  501 reviews

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Meredith Holley
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
Mar 03, 2014 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
Nov 16, 2013 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
Jan 07, 2008 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.
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
Dec 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: lock-up
Sister Prejean is speaking on our campus on April 9th. I'm very much looking forward to speaking with her, and I'll be assigning this book (as well as attendance at her lecture) to my undergrad students. There may only be one or two books you read in college that really make an impact on the person you become. This might be one of them.
James Carter
Jun 08, 2019 rated it did not like it
Dead Man Walking pretends to take a look at both sides of capital punishment but does not tell the full story of what actually happened to the victims.

Having absolutely no clue what the heck she is involved with, Sister Helen Prejean is idealistic and naïve simply because she wasn't there or didn't see the evil in the men she was supposed to act as their "spirital adviser." If one day she is raped or violently dealt with or has lost her loved one, somebody that she actually has years of
Actually 2.5/5 This was okay. I do really appreciate the message, but due to my mental health state at the moment this book made me super uncomfortable and made me feel kind of shitty. That ending was really good, and I almost started crying. Mini RTC
May 27, 2008 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
Jul 25, 2011 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
Luke Reynolds
Although it did take me a bit to read this book, it was a quick read. I can see why the professor of the FYS class I'm mentoring through the Writing Center picked this piece. It's the perfect companion to Just Mercy, a snapshot of the death penalty in the 80s and 90s but from within the time period itself. It's a heavy book at points, especially with some graphic mention to death and how adamant pro-death penalty believers were, but Prejean pulls no punches at looking at a corrupt justice system ...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
The author has devoted her life to being a spiritual advisor to people on death row. I have also read two books by her that deal with men on death row that have been unjustly accused. Her books will make you re-think the death penalty. This book has been made into a movie, which I have not seen, but will look for it.
Jun 22, 2009 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
Mar 09, 2011 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
May 06, 2007 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
Maeve M
Dead Man Walking by Sister Helen Prejean, C.S.J is an interesting memoir about her time spent as the spiritual advisor to two death row inmates. It was published by Random House Publishing in 1993, in New York City. I recommend this book to anyone who is mature enough to handle this heavy topic. I would recommend that the reader is at least 14 or older. Helen Prejean is a Sister of St. Joseph from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. When she began her ministry against the death penalty, she lived in a ...more
Sumeeta Patnaik
Jan 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Written in the early 90's, Sister Helen Prejean's non-fiction memoir highlights her emergence as a leading voice in criminal justice reform. Sister Prejean presents as case studies her work as a spiritual advisor for Patrick Sonnier and for Robert Lee Willie. Sister Prejean makes an interesting argument against the death penalty which can be ultimately summed in the Gandhian phrase, "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind" despite the fact that Sister Prejean herself acknowledges that ...more
Feb 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A still sadly relevant treatise on the injustice and cruelty of the death penalty in the United States. The author, Sister Helen, is the real star of the book. She clearly and openly elucidates her own moral and ethical ambivalence between being a spiritual guide to men on death row--who have done horrible things, but are having equally horrible things being done to them--and aiding the victims' families whose lives have been ruined by these men.

Beth Anne
Dec 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
I found this book to be an insightful look at the death penalty from both the individual and societal perspective. I thought Sr. Prejean did a great job of presenting the multitude of view points regarding the issue and handling each with delicacy and love.
Apr 23, 2019 rated it did not like it
I thought this was going to be a great book. I've read 62 pages . I cannot read anymore. I'd be wasting valuable reading time. I might just watch the movie (never seen it)
Samson Spuma
Feb 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was a very moving story and one of the first best non-fiction books I have read.
Oct 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library, non-fiction, 2018
Very affecting
Will Biby
Jul 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is an incredible read. It's upsetting and emotionally gutting, but everyone should know these experiences. Sister Helen's message is just as relevant now as ever.
Jerry Smith
Jul 10, 2015 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.

Feb 28, 2009 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
Apr 26, 2016 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
Apr 11, 2015 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 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
Mar 07, 2012 rated it did not like it
I can't deny the fact that the author has lied about the cases. She cherry picks what facts to tell in order to support her side. I can appreciate her efforts but in truth, can I really? The efforts are for a coveted motive. It is sad to see that people just take in whatever someone wants to rant. I suggest you read, Victims of a Dead Man Walking; by Detective Vernando. I also suggest you research the cases to see the reality of what happened. The facts she uses for research are very old and ...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
“There are spaces of sorrow only God can touch.” 22 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.” 21 likes
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