Discrimination Against the Poor in the Criminal Justice System
Author of DEAD MAN WALKING An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States. Published by Random House, June 1993. Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Published by Vintage in paperback, June 1994. In January 1994 Harper Collins published a British edition of Dead Man Walking. The American Library Association listed DEAD MAN WALKING among its Notable Books for 1994.
A film based on DEAD MAN WALKING starring Susan Sarandon, playing the part of Sr. Helen and starring Sean Penn; playing the part of Matt Poncelet, a death row inmate, was released in Jan. 1996. Tim Robbins is the screenwriter & director.
Producers are Polygram and Working Title. Tim Robbins was nominated for best director by the Academy Awards Committee, Sean Penn was nominated as best actor, Susan Sarandon was nominated as best actress and the song Dead Man Walking was nominated for best song. Susan Sarandon won the oscar for best actress.
Sr.Helen Prejean was born April 21, 1939, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and has lived and worked in Louisiana all her life. 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 in 1962. In 1973 she received an M.A. in Religious Education from St. Paul’s University in Ottawa, Canada. Her ministries have included teaching junior and senior high students. She was Religious Education Director at St. Frances Cabrini Parish in New Orleans and Formation Director for her religious community. Involvement with poor innercity residents in the St. Thomas Housing Project in New Orleans in 1981 led her to prison ministry where she counseled death row inmates in the Louisiana State Penitentiary. She has accompanied three men to the electric chair and witnessed their deaths. Since then, she has devoted her energies to educating the public about the death penalty by lecturing, organizing and writing. Shealso has befriendedmurder victims’ families helped found “Survive” a victims’ advocacy group in New Orleans. Currently, she continues her ministry to death row inmates and murder victims’ families and is at work on a book about women’s struggle for equality in the Roman Church to be published by Random House In June 1 995 She became a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship which she will use to conduct the research for her book on women.
Sr. Helen and DEAD MAN WALKING have been the subject of numerous media . stories and reviews in the U.S., Canada, Spain, Holland, England, Scotland, France and Australia.
She has been featured in the New York Times Magazine, Vogue, Good Housekeeping, the St. Anthony Messenger, the Ligourian, the Chicago Tribune, the Atlanta Constitution, the Times Picayune, the San Francisco Chronicle, the New Orleans Magazine, the Tablet, Sisters Today and numerous other print media.
She has been featured on Sixty Minutes, NBC’S Today Show, ABC World News Tonight, the Tom Synder Show on CNBC, Larry King Live (radio), the Phil Donahue Show, BBC World Service Radio, National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition and Fresh Air, an NBC Special on the Death Penalty and the Canadian Broadcast Company’s “Man Alive .” She was profiled by the BBC’s “Everyman ” in the United Kingdom. ABC did a special on Sr. Helen on Prime Time Live and PBS featured her on Frontline.
1986 the Abolitionist Award from the Louisiana Capital Defense Project.
1990 the Sanctity of life Award from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Mike Mcgough Award from the Convocation of Jail and Prison Ministers.
1992 the National Abolitionist Award given by the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
1993 the Christopher Award was given to Dead Man Walking for “artistic excellence affirming the highest value of the human spirit;” the Herbert and Sara Ehrmann Award from the Massachusetts Citizens Against the Death Penalty.
1993 McCall’s Magazine chose her among its “Twenty Most Confident Women in America.”
1994 the Champion of Liberty Award from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (first time given to a nonlawyer); the Pax Christi USA Book Award
(Honorable Mention); the Melcher Book Award (Honorable Mention) given by the Unitarian Universalist Association.
Lifelines Book of the year from the Lifeliners Association in the United Kingdom; the Abolitionist Award from Death Penalty Focus’ California; the “Esse non Videre” Award (“To be and not to seem”) from St. Joseph’s College, New York; the National Civil Liberties Award from the American Civil Liberties Union, Georgia; the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights Award from the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights.
1994 Mirabella Magazine named her among “100 Fearless Women.”
1995 the New Orleans Business Women’s Owners Association Achievers Award, Citizen of the Year Award from the Louisiana Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers; the Wade Mackie Award Peacemaking Award from Bienville House in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
July 1995 Sr. Helen was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Law from the University of Glasgow, Scotland.
1996 Sr. Helen received an honorary degree from Regis College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, an honorary degree from Seton Hall University in New Jersey, an honorary degree from Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia, an honorary degree from St. John’s University in Jamaica, New York and the Torchbearer award from Dominican College in New Orleans, Louisiana.
She received the Laetare Medal from Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana and an honorary degree from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. She was asked to carry the Torch for the Olympics in New Orleans on May 24,1996. She received the Pope Paul Vl Teacher of Peace Award from Pax Christi U.S.A. She received the Vision 2000 Courage Award from Catholic Charities U.S.A. and the 1996 Roger Baldwin Award from the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Massachusetts.
Sr. Helen has served as a member of the board of the National coalition to Abolish the Death penalty from 1985 1995 and as chairperson of the board from 1993 1995. She also is a member of Amnesty International.
Her book Dead Man Walking has been on the New York best seller list for 31 weeks. It has also been on the International best seller list. It has been translated into eight different languages.
SR. HELEN PREJEAN’S JOURNEY TO ABOLISH THE DEATH PENALTY
Reflections on April 6th presentation at Nebraska Wesleyan University
By John Krejci
Rachel Pokora, CTAN Board Member and staunch death penalty opponent, introduced Sr. Helen. Rachel, my wife Jean and I welcomed her to Lincoln and visited with her on the death penalty and church reform. (She is accurate in her analyses and solutions to current church problems, in my opinion.) It was a joy and honor to experience her humility and dedication in person. All three of us had been inspired by her moving testimony as keynote speaker at the National CTA Conference, but this “close up and personal” encounter was much better.
Her fame and success have in no way gone to her head or distracted her from her goal: to abolish the death penalty and to see Jesus in the eyes of every perpetrator, victim, and in their families. She spoke in a homey Louisiana accent that put us at ease and radiated the love, humility and sincerity of Jesus to us.
She was not hesitant to confess her initial narrow focus on only death row inmates and her subsequent growth to appreciate the pain of families of victims and perpetrators. All are victims. She also shared how she came to understand to some degree the need for revenge in some victims’ families.
She did not diminish the horror of the crimes committed, but she said that it was unfair to “freeze frame” a person and judge him in the worst moment of his life. People change, grow, repent and should be forgiven. On the need for revenge, she praised the creators of the Oklahoma City Memorial for the image of 168 empty chairs-small ones representing the children and larger ones for the adult victims. She said when Timothy McVeigh is executed those empty chairs will still be there. Execution will not bring back the victims, and the empty chairs will be a constant reminder of the vacuum, the loss, the lives that are gone.
Sr. Helen said that the death penalty does something to the psyche of the nation. It makes us less human. It is a barbaric symbol that robs us of a greatness and spirituality that could be ours. We all have a share in state-sponsored killing. We should disavow it and work for the abolition of the death penalty.
When we dropped her off at the airport, she did not tell us the time of her flight and asked that we not come with her. She picked up her bag, smiled farewell, saying only, “This is my cloister,” and disappeared into the crowd of the terminal building.
Is it time to close the prisons ~ Fall 2000
By Sister Helen Prejean
“Hey, Sister Helen, you want to be a pen pal to somebody on death row?”
This is how it started, several years ago now. Someone asked me a simple question.
I just said, “Sure. Give me his name.”
God works in a sneaky, sneaky way. Sure, I could write a few letters. But then the person wrote back! A little bitty trickle of water, and next thing I know it’s a stream, next thing I know it’s whitewater rapids. The next thing I know I am accompanying this human being, Patrick Sonnier, to his execution, walking with him with my hand on his shoulder.
He had tried to protect me. We had known each other for two and a half years. “Look, Sister,” he said, “you’ve been great, and you’ve been with me. Just pray God holds up my legs. But you can’t be there at the end. It could psychologically scar you.” The love of him for me, trying to protect me.
That was a transforming moment in my life. You cannot be there behind a Plexiglass screen and see the scripted death of a human being — watch as he’s led into the room, strapped into a chair, a mask put over his face, and killed in front of your eyes — and walk out and say, “I’m not going to do this any more. I’m going to go and work with hunger or something.” Something ignited in my soul. I got conscripted. I remember saying to myself when I came out of that execution chamber, “If the American people could really see this, they would not choose it.”
And so my mission was born — to speak about the death penalty to anybody who would hear me. This is a practice of torture, I told people. It’s wrong. It’s against our whole moral tradition. At the end of my talks, people would get up and say, “What about the victims? You haven’t dealt with the crime!” I began to realize that I had to learn how to stand with people in that cold rage every good and decent person feels when innocent people are killed.
I began to learn. Now, if they give me an hour, I can take them through the whole journey, not only of death row inmates, but also of the crime and the outrage over the crime, the feelings of the victims’ families and the guards, the people on the execution team.
“If there is a part of you outraged over crimes,” I say, “if you are saying ‘These people deserve to die,’ you’ve got to ask yourself an honest question: ‘Am I willing to pull the switch?’ If you hold back from this, and you’ve got to hire somebody else to do the killing, is that not a sign that there’s a part of your soul that cannot say yes to this?”
I learned by telling the stories of everybody. The warden at the Louisiana State Penitentiary right now, Burrough Cain, is a born-again Christian, very conflicted about the death penalty. He’s been trying to get the inmates who are about to be executed to sit down with him for a last meal of Christian fellowship.
Well, it’s the last afternoon of your life and you don’t want to get into a big row with the warden. So the two death row inmates before Dobie Williams, the last person I accompanied to his execution, complied with the meal. “Prime Time Live” did a story about the meal with one of them, Antonio James. It was one of the most surreal things you ever saw. Sitting at the table is the warden who’s going to nod to the executioner to pull the switch and some of the guards who are going to strap Antonio on the gurney. Even the lawyer who wrote the Louisiana death penalty statute is there to overcome any legal question that threatens to stop the execution. So Antonio’s sitting at that table of Christian fellowship.
Then we come to my friend Dobie whom I knew for eight years. He was an African-American man, 38 years old. Some registered his IQ at 59, but in many ways he knew the essentials, and he was probably innocent. I’m writing up his story right now. He says to me, “Sister Helen, you know that meal thing with the warden and all? It’s supposed to be Christian fellowship and all?” He says, “Sister Helen, I don’t know if that’s like real Christian fellowship.” I say, “Dobie, I’m with you, Dobie.” He says, “You know, when it’s over and all, they all goin’ get up, and you know, they gonna kill me.” And I say, “That’s right, Dobie.” He says, “I’m not doing that meal.” Well, that threw the warden into a tizzy. But Dobie didn’t do the last meal with the warden and the executioners sitting around.
The power of religious or spiritual groups to change things cannot be overestimated. When the Pope wrote his encyclical “The Gospel of Life” in 1995, he talked about how all human life has dignity, how modern societies have an alternative now, in incarceration, to incapacitate violent people so we don’t have to kill them. But he left a big old loophole. The loophole said, “But in cases of absolute necessity, the state can execute.” That happened in 1995.
Then in 1997, a man by the name of Joseph O’Dell, about to be executed by the state of Virginia, says, “If you do the DNA test it will show my innocence.”
“Naw,” they go, “you can’t have the DNA test.” Virginia has this terrible 21-day rule that if you’re going to show evidence of innocence, you have to show it within 21 days after your trial or no Virginia court will hear it.
Here’s Joseph O’Dell asking for a DNA test, and Virginia won’t let him have it. But now there’s an international connection. We’re one world now. A member of the Italian parliament by the name of Luciano Nari sees a little clip in the paper. “Hey, here’s this man Joseph O’Dell in Virginia. He’s asking for a DNA test, and they won’t let him have the DNA test. Why not?” He makes a call to Washington, DC, and hooks up with Laurie Urs, who had become an advocate through the Centurion Project.
The Italian Parliament sends a delegation over to visit with Joseph O’Dell. They ask to see the governor of Virginia. He won’t see them. He doesn’t want this bunch of Italians coming in asking about Joseph O’Dell. They go back and start spreading the word in Italy about Joseph O’Dell. If you go to Italy today and say “Joseph O’Dell,” they know him like Princess Di. His name is everywhere! “Joseph O’Dell, Joseph O’Dell. They’re trying to execute this man in Virginia.” They started holding public demonstrations in St. Peter’s Square in front of the Pope’s window. The Pope says, “Who’s Joseph O’Dell?” So the Pope gets involved, and it spreads like fire.
I’m minding my own business. I never heard of Joseph O’Dell, and I get a phone call from this young woman, Laurie Urs. She says, “Sister Helen, they’re trying really hard to kill him.”
I remember how desperate I was as we moved toward the execution of Patrick Sonnier. I could hear the same urgency in Laurie’s voice. She says, “Sister Helen, since the movie, people know who you are. We want to have a press conference in Richmond, and we think if you come, you could draw the press, and then we can talk to them about Joseph’s case. Maybe we can save his life.”
I say, “Sure, I’ll come.” It’s the sneaky part of God at work.
So now I’m involved with Joseph O’Dell. The Italians come over, and the next thing you know the mayor of Palermo, who will forever live in a bullet-proof car with guards around him because he took on the Mafia eight years ago, hears about Joseph O’Dell. He visits with Joseph O’Dell, and he says, “Joseph, if they kill you, we will bury you. We will make you an honorary citizen of Palermo, and we will bury you in Palermo.” Joseph says, “Well, thank you very much.”
Now mail is beginning to pour in from the Italian people to Joseph O’Dell, sacks and sacks of mail. The governor begins to get faxes and phone calls, 10,000 of them, most of them in Italian. It takes four people just to field the calls from the Italians. In the end he flicks them all off, including the Pope, including Mother Teresa. “What do I care about the Italians? We’re doing justice here in Virginia.”
In the end they killed Joseph O’Dell.
Joseph had called me and said, “Will you come be with me? But especially will you be with Laurie afterwards?” Of course I said yes.
I was with Joseph O’Dell when they killed him. In Virginia, they let the spiritual adviser go right into the execution chamber, and as they strapped Joseph on the gurney, I put my hand on his shoulder and prayed with him.
When I came out, Laurie, who had tried so hard to save his life, was falling apart, coming together, falling apart, coming together. We ended up accompanying Joseph’s body over to Rome and then to Palermo for him to be buried at a funeral like I never witnessed in my life. A crowd of people. When they lowered Joseph’s body into the ground, people broke into applause. There was a slab on his grave that said, “Joseph O’Dell, killed by the merciless and unjust justice system in Virginia.” It’s in English and it’s in Italian. I placed a flower on Joseph O’Dell’s grave.
Before they killed Joseph, the Italian Parliament invited Laurie Urs to go to Italy, and she gave talks all over Italy. She told the story of Joseph O’Dell.
She said, “Sister Helen, write a letter to the Pope and we’ll deliver it.” So I wrote my letter to the Pope. In it I wrote about an experience that Joseph had had in August when he came close to death. He had watched three people go to the shower right outside that cell, put on the white jumpsuit, and go into the execution chamber. One of them was his good friend. He was next, and at the last minute they said, “You’ve got a stay of execution, go back to your cell.” He was crying. He was saying, “They almost killed me. They killed my friend.” I put all of this in the letter. I said, “Your Holiness, when we talk about the dignity of the human person, how are we going to take the torture out of the death penalty?”
I said, “Your encyclical and all that you said about the dignity of the human person was wonderful. But,” I said, “you left a really big loophole because you said the death penalty should be rare or nonexistent, but in cases of absolute necessity the state could do it.”
I said, “The Catholic district attorney in New Orleans, Harry Connick, Sr., is quoting your words saying ‘We can’t get enough death penalties in Louisiana. It’s always an absolute necessity.’ Your words are being quoted for death, and we’ve got to take those words out of there.”
“All human beings have the right to life — guilty people, too. Most of the pro-life people I meet, they’re pro innocent life, but they’re sure not pro guilty life. Is there a difference? Was it just the innocent that Jesus came to, or is there a way that we can stand in the dignity of all human life, even those among us who have done terrible crimes?”
One week later I heard a little announcement from the Vatican: “There’s going to be a change in the Catechism.” I’m thinking, “No, no, no, no … can’t be.” I wait, and sure enough, they cut out the part that says, “For grievous or heinous crimes the state can execute.”
And so we have a coalescing of the waters, a coming together of religion in its truest and deepest sense, and human rights. There’s part of it in every effort we make for life and the dignity of life, every effort we make for restorative justice instead of for punitive justice, every effort we make to connect people together as neighbors. The only way we can kill each other is when we’re disconnected and we’re allowed to say, “Oh, they’re not human the way we’re human. They did this crime and it’s okay to kill them.”
I think the death penalty simply epitomizes the three deepest wounds we have in our society.
One is the racism that riddles it — mostly it’s when white people get killed that the death penalty is sought.
The second is our penchant for choosing the poor to pay the ultimate price and to suffer the harshest punishments, to make them the scapegoats.
Third is our habit of trying to solve our social problems with military solutions. The death penalty is one more military solution: targeting the enemy, dehumanizing the enemy, and killing the enemy.
The book of Deuteronomy says, “Look, I set before you death and life. Choose life
One Woman Talking:
An Interview with Sister Helen Prejean
by John Dear
Sr. Helen Prejean is the world’s leading advocate for the abolition of the death penalty. Her landmark book, Dead Man Walking, published in 1993, was made into a 1996 movie starring Susan Sarandon, who won an Oscar for her portrait of Sr. Helen. A Catholic nun since 1957, Sr. Helen travels the world speaking out against the death penalty and was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She lives in New Orleans, and was interviewed by FOR executive director John Dear on March 14, 2000.
Fellowship: Since 1984, you have visited Death Row in Louisiana’s Angola prison almost monthly. Despite the success of your book and your constant travel, you still visit Death Row. How many people have you accompanied over the years?
Prejean: I’m with my sixth person on Death Row now. Five have been executed: four from Louisiana, and one in Virginia. To me the visiting and accompanying of people on Death Row is not an extra; it’s like the hub of the wheel of what I do.
Fellowship: I remember once you told me how the warden orders the condemned man to have a last supper with him and to pray together an hour before the execution.
Prejean: He doesn’t order it, but he likes to try to be a good guy, to show that he is a Christian. And so two people I accompanied actually had that last supper with the warden. They held hands and prayed, sang hymns, and ate together. But when it came to Dobie Williams, my friend who was executed last year, he asked me to ask the warden if he could not go to the meal. As he put it, “It’s not real Christian fellowship because at the end of the meal, they’re gonna get up and kill me.”
I keep thinking about what Dorothy Day said: “We have to build a society where it is easier for people to be good.” That includes wardens, guards, politicians – everybody.
Fellowship: Texas Governor George W. Bush has presided over 118 executions, including a recent execution of a grandmother. Can you tell us about your visit with her shortly before the execution?
Prejean: Her name was Bettie Lou Beets. I visited with her two weeks before she died. She had been a battered woman and she had a terrible attorney. Not only was he inefficient, but he had a contract to make a movie about her. He neglected to bring out vital information to the jury, including her life of being battered. What struck me the most about Bettie was that only when she got a good attorney for the appeals, did she realize that she was a battered woman. As she said, “I didn’t know about learned helplessness.” She told me she had been silent for fifteen years on Death Row. She had given no interviews. But then as it got close to her death, she decided to tell her story, because it might help one woman somewhere who is battered and doesn’t know it.
Fellowship: Tell me about the moratorium campaign.
Prejean: There is great momentum toward a worldwide moratorium.
The UN Commission on Human Rights has called for a moratorium on executions for the last three years. Each year more and more countries support it.
In the US, there are two groups actively working: “Moratorium Now,” run by the Quixote Center, tries to get endorsements by city councils, religious groups and others. “Moratorium 2000”- which I work with directly – has a petition asking individuals to sign a statement calling for a moratorium on the death penalty in the US. Those petitions will be delivered to the UN, Congress, and state legislatures.
The Coliseum in Rome has become the world symbol of the ending of the death penalty. It’s lit whenever a country abolishes the death penalty or calls for a moratorium, when there is a stay of execution, or when another million signatures is added. Europe already has two million signatures for the moratorium. The Coliseum has been lit up ten times since December 10th, 1999 – Human Rights Day.
Fellowship: A key part of your journey has been walking with the family members of murder victims. How do family members learn to forgive and find healing?
Prejean: The rhetoric of the death penalty and the way politicians try to legitimize it promotes the death penalty as justice for the victim. They’ve lost a loved one to murder, and the only way they can have justice is to demand the death of the one who killed their loved one. But first, you have to remember how few victims’ families are given this so-called “justice.” There are 17,000 homicides every year in this country and 1.5 to two percent of people are sentenced to death. It’s a very small percentage.
Second, we cannot presume that victims’ families are all of one mind about the death penalty. I know a family in Baton Rouge that is split right down the middle. Their sister was killed. The brothers are for the death penalty; the sisters are against it. The poor mother whose daughter was brutally murdered now has her children divided and not speaking to one another over the death penalty.
The healing that I have found comes from love, community, and faith – from the chance to have someone accompany them who will listen as they vent their loss, their grief, and their outrage; who can give real help when they lose their job; or health care, or counseling. Those are the real things that make a difference to people.
Fellowship: At FOR, we talk a lot about Dr. King and his critique of what he called “the triple evils of war, racism, and poverty.” How do you see the death penalty as part of the larger picture, this whole culture of violence, these triple evils?
Prejean: I didn’t know that Dr. King had said that. I say in my talks that the death penalty epitomizes the deepest wounds in our society, which are militarism, poverty, and racism! We’ve got a social problem, so we send in the Marines. We target the enemy, dehumanize, terminate him. It’s that same war-making spirit that makes the death penalty.
Poverty? The death penalty is riddled with poverty. Only poor people are on Death Row, and there are 3,600 of them chosen for death.
And racism permeates the death penalty in two ways. Eight out of every ten people on Death Row are there because they killed white people. You look at the history of racism in this country: it has always been considered the most terrible offense to commit a crime against a white person, or white people’s property. In reverse we see that when people of color are killed, there is often a shrug of the shoulders and indifference.
Everybody knows about Columbine. Those were all white kids shooting at each other. Drive-by shootings in the inner city have gone on for decades. Why isn’t there the same outrage over that? Is it that we expect violence from “some” people of our society?
Fifty percent of all homicides are against people of color in this country. So the race of the victim is the first place we see racism. Second, we see a disproportionate number of people of color who end up on Death Row and in prisons in general. People of color make up twelve percent of the US population, yet forty-eight percent of the people on Death Row.
Fellowship: You and Susan Sarandon recently joined FOR, which, as you know, is made up of people of all religions committed to peace and justice through nonviolence. What is your understanding of nonviolence?
Prejean: I don’t see nonviolence as a passive thing of what you don’t do. Nonviolence means you don’t kill, you don’t practice violence, but it is also a very proactive way of life in which you seek justice because that’s the only way you can really have peace. Violence is not just shooting people with guns. Violence occurs when people need open-heart surgery and can’t get it, when they can’t get health care. Violence is structural. So justice means people have what they need to live a decent and full human life, and that is also the meaning of nonviolence for me.
Fellowship: What can ordinary people of faith and conscience do to help abolish the death penalty?
Prejean: They can put their name down on the Moratorium 2000 petition. They can write a person on Death Row. They can pray for and envision the day when the death penalty will end. They can educate themselves, and read Dead Man Walking. If they live near prisons and Death Row, they can go and visit someone. They could accompany one person on Death Row. They can talk to their religious leaders about organizing educational forums.
Fellowship: As you continue to work for the abolition of the death penalty, where do you find God?
Prejean: You get found by God more than you find God. You get taken over, you know you are in the presence of God. Dobie Williams, an African-American man with an IQ of fifty-nine, I believe was innocent. His last words were to forgive his persecutors: “I just want everyone to know I don’t have any hard feelings against anyone.” You see that strength and peace in him to meet his death in this courageous and loving way – that’s God.
Also the energy and the commitment within myself, this passion that won’t stop in me, that’s God, too. People say, “You’ve been at this for fifteen years, doesn’t this drain you?” The energy just keeps unleashing itself inside of you, and you know this commitment in you is not going to die. That’s divine love, that won’t quit, that keeps us going.
God is a life force, a love force, that’s strong and unrelenting. These are ways that I sense the presence of God.
Fellowship: Where do you see signs of hope?
Prejean: We are just beginning to see a thaw in a huge glacier that we’ve been locked into with the death penalty since 1976. At least six states have initiatives for a moratorium, most recently in Illinois. Polls show that support is dropping. It’s down to sixty-one percent from seventy-five percent. In 1999 it dropped five percent.
I think people are more aware of the eighty-seven innocent people that have now come off of Death Row, that the supposed best criminal justice system in the world has a lot of flaws in it. I think it’s raised consciousness about the death penalty, and how we don’t need it.
Fellowship: Do you have any last words for us?
Prejean: I’m just happy to be a part of Fellowship of Reconciliation. I think it’s very important to bring the spiritual dynamics of faith, of people of all religious persuasions, to issues of justice and human rights. I believe the death penalty is one of the essential moral issues of our time.