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 families of the victims and the men whose job it was to execute him--men who often harbored doubts about the rightness of what they were doing.
Out of that dreadful intimacy comes a profoundly moving spiritual journey through our system of capital punishment. Confronting both the plight of the condemned and the rage of the bereaved, the needs of a crime-ridden society and the Christian imperative of love, Dead Man Walking is an unprecedented look at the human consequences of the death penalty, a book that is both enlightening and devastating.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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|Title of eBook: Dead Man Walking|
|Release Date: 02-02-2011|
|Allowed Countries (hover)|
|Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
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Dead Man Walking
Chapter OneWhen Chava Colon from the Prison Coalition asks me one January day in 1982 to become a pen pal to a death-row inmate, I say, Sure. The invitation seems to fit with my work in St. Thomas, a New Orleans housing project of poor black residents. Not death row exactly, but close. Death is rampant here-from guns, disease, addiction. Medical care scarcely exists.
I've come to St. Thomas to serve the poor, and I assume that someone occupying a cell on Louisiana's death row fits that category. I had learned that back in 1977 at a lecture by John Vodicka, one of the founders of the Louisiana Coalition on Jails and Prisons where Chava now works. I had also learned that the death penalty in the United States has always been most rigorously applied in Southern states-mostly toward those who kill whites. The Prison Coalition office is near Hope House, where I teach high-school dropouts, and Chava and I run into each other fairly often.
After he has written the name of the death-row inmate he says, "Maybe I ought to give you someone else. This guy is a loner and doesn't write. Maybe you want someone who will answer your letters."
But he's already written the name and I say, "Don't change it. Give me his name." I don't know yet that the name on this tiny slip of white paper will be my passport into an eerie land that so far I've only read about in books.
I look at the name and address that Chava gave me: Elmo Patrick Sonnier, number 95281, Death Row, Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola.
Almost all the killings here in St. Thomas seem to erupt from the explosive mixture of dead-end futures, drugs, and guns. But when Chava describes...