Dead Man Walking: Sister Helen Prejean on Grace, Justice, and Death Row

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By Biola University Center for Christian Thought and Evan Rosa. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Sister Helen Prejean tells her story of how grace awakened her to be a champion of justice. A Catholic nun who befriended a death row inmate and witnessed his execution, Sr. Helen brings us into her mission of standing with people on the margins and loving the “unlovable”. Author of, Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty (which became a 1996 award-winning film starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn), Sr. Helen has devoted her life’s work to advocating for the abolishment of government sponsored-killing. Listen to her account of love, forgiveness, and being the face of Christ in the world.

Show Notes
In this episode, we interview Catholic nun, Sister Helen Prejean, on her work in advocating for the abolishment of the death penalty in the United States. Sr. Helen talks about grace, justice, life, and death.

  • 0:00—Podcast Intro
  • 3:20—Interview begins
  • 3:48—How Sr. Helen became a Catholic nun
  • 4:40—Sr. Helen’s “awakening” and realizing the connection between the Gospel and justice for those who suffer
  • 7:25—Education and theology as an allurement away from Jesus’ call
  • 8:57—Movie Dead Man Walking
  • 10:15—Watching vs. witnessing executions
  • 12:52—The people who do the killing and the question of moral injury
  • 13:2—Justice for victim’s families
  • 16:23—Pat Sonnier and Lloyd Lablanc in Dead Man Walking, and what happens to the victims' families
  • 21:27—Native American proverb "The one who seeks to go on journey of revenge should dig two graves"
  • 22:23—Intermission
  • 23:37—What is Christian humility?
  • 25:35—Prisoners and death row inmates’ experience/suffering
  • 28:22—Albert Camus essay, Reflections on the Guillotine
  • 29:09— Responding to criticism and humanizing the perpetrators, human dignity
  • 31:19—Sr. Helen's book The Death of Innocents and reference to Jimmy Glass poem, the Earthen Vessel
  • 31:29—Sr. Helen reads poem
  • 34:28—“Waking up the people” and ending the cycle of death
  • 37:40—Slavery, discrimination and how culture is blinding
  • 38:47—"Angola Prison", the Louisiana State Penitentiary
  • 39:17—Clip from Dead Man Walking: conversation between Pat and Sister Helen just prior to Pat's execution
  • 40:37—Discussion of quote "I want the last thing in the world you see to be the face of love"
  • 43:28—What is the face of love today?
  • 45:02—End interview, credits

Quotes from Sr. Helen

  • “It wasn’t enough to pray for God to help the poor. I had to roll up my sleeves and get involved. I’m still grateful that I woke up. It was grace that woke me up in a big way.”
  • “I remember thinking very clearly to myself, ‘The people are never going to see this close up. They’re going to hear about it. They’re going to hear about the crime. They’re going to say justice was done, but I’ve been a witness. I’ve got to tell the story and bring people close.’”
  • “Is violence redemptive? All we have to do is imitate the violence he did?”
  • “Where the moral failure is, is to identify a human person completely with an action. Everybody is worth more than the worst thing we've ever done. That's human transcendence. God's made us that way.”
  • “The face of love is that when we see injustice, and when we see hurt, and when we see suffering, we do not turn away and say, ‘Well, I'm neutral.’”
  • “When we're called to leave this little ego-centered thing of our lives, to pour ourselves out in something bigger than ourselves, to help justice come in the world, you know that's grace in you.”

Credits

  • The Table Audio is sponsored by generous grants from the John Templeton Foundation, Templeton Religion Trust, and The Blankemeyer Foundation
  • Theme music by The Brilliance
  • Production and engineering by The Narrativo Group
  • Edited and mixed by TJ Hester
  • Production Assistance by Laura Pelser
  • Special thanks to Sister Helen Prejean, Sister Margaret Maggio, and Carolyn Clulee
  • Follow: @SisterHelen @BiolaCCT / @EvanSubRosa

28 episodes