Dead Man Walking
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From Kirkus Reviews , May 1, 1993
A Catholic nun's impassioned memoir of her friendship with two death-row inmates, coupled with a plea for the abolition of capital punishment.
In 1982, Prejean, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille, agrees to correspond with convicted rapist and murderer Patrick Sonnier, awaiting execution in Louisiana's electric chair. Letters lead to visits, and Prejean becomes spiritual advisor to the condemned man.
Her counsel takes hold, and Sonnier dies repentant--far more so than Prejean's second death-row friend, the arrogant Robert Lee Wilson, also a rapist and murderer.
Both killers come off as repellently fascinating, but the real interest here is in Prejean, who begins as a frail but courageous soul, utterly out of place inside a prison, and winds up as a fierce
spokeswoman for the right to life--even of those who have taken the lives of others.
Her arguments against capital punishment are well known but preached with passion: The death penalty is racist, barbaric, and doesn't deter crime; innocent people get killed, etc. But her real brief lies in the grim details of execution, both in the degradation of the long weeks of waiting and in the torture of the execution itself--which involves, says Prejean, extreme physical and mental pain.
The details will turn heads and stomachs: last-minute meetings with the governor, who always has his own agenda; last meals with the prisoner (Sonnier feasts on steak and apple pie, and thanks the cook); the last seconds of life, as the condemned man's face is covered by a veil (Wilson winks at Prejean as the cloth descends).
To Prejean, the whole story is a web of crimes--the original murder; the execution; the moral hypocrisy of the judicial system; the suffering inflicted upon the families of both killer and victim - to which the only moral response is love inspired by Christ, who `refused to meet hate with hate and violence with violence.'
Touching and compelling.
Read this book. Oh go ahead and see the movie, but that won't do it. Read this book.
And do not, repeat, do not, forget to read the footnotes. Actually, they're endnotes. Which makes them a pain in the patoot to read. But they are so very worth it. The book details Sister Helen Prejean's
experience in being the spiritual advisor to two death row inmates. I'll blow the ending for you here.
. . They both get executed. The amazing thing about this book is that it absolutely insists that you have some feeling about the issue of capital punishment.
Not that you have a particular opinion, because all viewpoints are so well expressed. If you are firmly opposed to the death penalty, this book will probably make you more so. If you are totally in favor of it, you won't change your mind.
If you don't have an opinion, you'll find yourself looking for one. It forces you to look at a difficult topic in the most gentle and non-intrusive way. The book is funny. It is horribly sad. It conjures up all the emotion of any novel you have ever read. But it is totally and completely real. Nonfiction. Read it.