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2008 News Releases

Dead Man Walking author to speak at Longwood

January 3, 2008

Sister Prejean Sister Prejean

Sister Helen Prejean, the death penalty opponent whose book Dead Man Walking was turned into an Academy Award-winning film, will speak Thursday, Feb. 14, at 8 p.m. in Jarman Auditorium.

Prejean will speak on “Dead Man Walking: The Journey Continues.” She will sign copies of her 1994 best seller and of another book she wrote, The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions, which will be available for sale. The program is free and open to anyone.

She is coming to Longwood through the efforts of Pamela Arkin, associate professor of theatre, who is directing The Exonerated, a play about capital punishment, which will be presented Feb. 20-24 by Longwood Theatre. Arkin met Prejean last summer at the annual conference of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education, held in New Orleans where Prejean lives.

“Sister Helen is not your stereotypical nun; she is spunky, hilarious, insightful and inspiring,” Arkin said. “The main point of her presentations is that there needs to be a discourse on capital punishment. The death penalty has been in the news lately, with New Jersey outlawing executions, and Virginia ranks second only to Texas in the number of executions.”

Prejean (pronounced Pray-zhahn), a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille since 1957, began her prison ministry in 1981 when she dedicated her life to the poor of New Orleans. In 1982 she became pen pals with, and eventually spiritual adviser to, Patrick Sonnier, sentenced to die in Louisiana’s electric chair for killing two teenagers. That experience formed the basis of Dead Man Walking, which was on the New York Times best seller list for 31 months, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, has been translated into 10 languages and was the basis for a 1995 film starring Susan Sarandon as Prejean and Sean Penn as a death row inmate.

Prejean chaired the board of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty from 1985 to 1995; is honorary chairperson of The Moratorium Campaign, a group gathering signatures for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty; and is the founder of Survive, a victim’s advocacy group in New Orleans. She continues to counsel not only death row inmates but the families of murder victims as well.