I know this: Jesus is about people having life in abundance. Jesus is not about death. Jesus is about community, everyone included and no one excluded, and Jesus is about compassion. Poor Jesus. American "Christianity" has domesticated him, "adjusting" his message of non-violent love to conform to the desire for vengeance that rages through the land. Our society finds ways to legitimize and legalize this vengeance and call it Christian. Never. And so I keep getting on airplanes and going to cities and talking to audiences to tell the stories of Bettie Lou Beets and all the others condemned to death and dying and calling for a new day when we won't be killing people like this any more.
- Sister Helen Prejean
Sister Helen Prejean
is best known from her bestselling book, Dead Man Walking
: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States -- and the subsequent 1996 movie starring Susan Sarandon
and Sean Penn
, directed by Tim Robbins
Sister Helen began her prison ministry in 1981 when she dedicated her life to the poor of New Orleans. While living in the St. Thomas housing project, she became pen pals with Patrick Sonnier, the convicted killer of two teenagers, sentenced to die in the electric chair of Louisiana's Angola State Prison. At Sonnier's request she became his spiritual advisor and visited him frequently - ultimately witnessing his execution. She turned this experience into Dead Man Walking, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1993.
Sister Helen has witnessed five executions in Louisiana and today educates the public about the death penalty by lecturing, organizing and writing. As the founder of "Survive," a victim's advocacy group in New Orleans, she continues to counsel not only inmates on death row, but the families of murder victims, as well.
Sister Helen was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1938. She joined the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille in 1957. She received a B.A. in English and Education from St. Mary's Dominican College, New Orleans and earned an M.A. in Religious Education from St. Paul's University in Ottawa, Canada.
Sister Helen has served on the board of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and served as Chairperson of the Board from 1993-1995. She is also a member of Amnesty International and an honorary member of Murder Victim Families for Reconciliation. She has received numerous awards and honorary degrees; including having been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize four times.