Dead Man Walking Author to Speak at First Cong

In 1982, Sister Helen Prejean became the spiritual advisor to a convicted murderer, Patrick Sonnier, who was on Death Row in Louisiana’s notorious Angola Prison. In the months before his execution, Sr. Helen came to know both the man and the families of the victims of his horrifying crime – the double-murder of two teenagers. Jerry Hancock credits Sr. Helen as a guiding light for the Restorative Justice program of the Prison Ministry Project. Over the years, Sr. Helen has been a leading advocate for the abolishment of the death penalty and for the value of Restorative Justice.

Sr. Helen chronicled her experiences in the 1993 book Dead Man Walking, which later inspired a film of the same name starring Susan Sarandon; a stage play; and the opera Dead Man Walking composed by Jake Heggie. The opera will be staged by Madison Opera in Overture Hall April 25 and 27.

Sr. Helen will speak in our Sanctuary at 7 p.m. April 24. She will be joined by Heggie who will accompany mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer singing his song cycle The Deepest Desire, based on Sr. Helen’s poetry.

In her public appearances, Sr. Helen recounts her experience of being awakened to fight for justice. She speaks of her work as a spiritual advisor to men on Death Row and how walking with them to their executions has shaped her life’s work as a world-renown advocate against the death penalty. Using her wit, southern charm, and wisdom, she often defines Justice as “Just Us,” and encourages the audience, especially young people, to find their passion for justice, and act upon it.

The opera, which begins with the murders of the two teenagers and ends with Sonnier’s execution, does not take a position on the death penalty. It leaves it up to each viewer to reach his or her own conclusion.

Because of the social issues raised by Dead Man Walking, Madison Opera has teamed up with several community organizations, including our church and the Prison Ministry Project, to raise issues of criminal justice, broader than the death penalty, which Wisconsin does not have. These include:

Incarceration and Inequality (panel discussion organized by UW-Madison’s Center for the Humanities), Madison Central Library, Monday March 10, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.

Religious Perspectives on Criminal Justice (panel discussion with representatives of Christian, Jewish, and Islamic faiths), Madison Opera Center, 335 W. Mifflin St, Sunday, March 23, 2:30 – 4:30 p.m.

Unlikely Friends (documentary video and discussion led by Jerry Hancock) Madison Central Library, Wednesday, April 2, 7 p.m.

Compulsion (1959 film and discussion led by Jerry Hancock), UW Cinematheque, 4070 Vilas Hall, 821 University Avenue, Saturday, April 19, 7 p.m.

Details for these and other events can be found in next week’s Tower insert or at:

All events are free and open to the public. More details will appear in future Towers.

 ~~Phil Certain


Posted on February 25, 2014 at 11:52 am in Featured News.

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