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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

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  5,976 Ratings  ·  441 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, 288 pages
Published May 31st 1994 by Vintage (first published June 15th 1993)
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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 als ...more
Shaun
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 geogra
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Graham
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 compass
...more
Alberto Delgado
Mar 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
El otro día me encontré de nuevo con este libro mientras buscaba en la biblioteca futuras lecturas, lo leí hace ya casi 20 años pero es tan estremecedor que te marca y a pesar del tiempo recuerdo lo que me hizo sentir el leerlo. Lo escribió una monja católica que ha dedicado su vida a dar consuelo a los condenados a muerte y a sus familiares y que dejó en este libro el testimonio desgarrador que le ha producido esa experiencia. Un alegato contra la pena de muerte con argumentos demoledores difíc ...more
Tova
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
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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Rebecca Foster
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 Go ...more
Wallace
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.
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Kathrina
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.
Koren
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.
Jenifer
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
...more
Anniekk
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
Megan
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
Elizabeth
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 s ...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 Son ...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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Evelyne
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.
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.

It'
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Shana
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 t ...more
Rachel
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 wron ...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 i ...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 t ...more
Jessica
Mar 08, 2008 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
...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
Nathan
Sister Prejean makes no secret of her opposition to the death penalty; her book is an extended call for a religiously-inspired stance against it. But neither is she blind to the pain of the victims, nor to the necessity of justice. Her solution is thus the most difficult and radical of responses: to love and to forgive. This is not a clinical analysis of abstract legal theories, but an impassioned plea borne of experience: Sr. Prejean has come face to face with evil, and countered with pity and ...more
Margaret
May 11, 2015 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 convi ...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.)
Drew
Jan 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Powerful book. I can promise you three things. First, the book is engrossing and beautifully written. Second, you will grow spiritually. And, third, you will have a more nuanced understanding of the death penalty. I can't promise this one but I'm prepared to bet that if you favor or are neutral about the death penalty, you will change your mind.
Michael
Jun 07, 2008 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.
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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
“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.” 20 likes
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