Dead Man Walking

"Dead man walking"
by Sister Helen Prejean

    The story
In 1988, Chava Colon from the Prison Coalition asked Sister Helen Prejean to become a pen - pal to Elmo Patrick Sonnier, a death - row - inmate.
In 1977, Patrick and his Brother Eddie had abducted a teenage couple, Loretta Bourque and David Le Blanc, from a lovers’ lane, raped the girl, forced them to lie face down and shot them in the head. It had taken a month to capture the killers. Pat was sentenced to death and his younger brother Eddie got a life sentence.
In her first letter Sister Helen Prejean told him a little bit of her, where she was working and that she would keep on writing to him, even if he wouldn’t answer. But only a week later, she received a letter from Pat, saying that he would enjoy exchanging letters with her. She couldn’t believe it, even Chava Colon had said that Pat is a lone wolf and wouldn’t maybe write back. But he said that he tried going alone, figuring that he is going to die anyway, so why try to be close to anyone? But it was just too hard and her letters would be most welcome.
So they soon became steady correspondents.
Pat never talked in the letters about the dead the state had planned for him. He said he was glad that he had someone to communicate, because he was so lonely.
On the 15thof September 1982 they had their first meeting and Pat put her on his visiting list as a spiritual adviser so she could stay longer than relatives or friends and she even is allowed to witness the execution. After their meeting they continued to write and she visited him every month. She also started to visit Eddie.
In July 1983 Pat called Sister Helen and told her that a guard handed him a paper called "Warrant of Execution in capital case" out and in that paper he found the date of execution: 19thof August 1983. That was the second date and he moved into the death - watch - cell. Sister Helen was allowed to visit him for four hours.
When she visited Eddie, he told her that he and not Pat killed the two teenagers.
Then the fifth Circuit Court in New Orleans denied Patrick’s appeal and Helen called an attorney in Atlanta named Millard Farmer, who defended death - row - inmates. Millard called a week later and told her that he would help them. He had reviewed Pat’s transcriptions and had prepared petitions for the fifth Circuit Court, for the US Supreme Court and for the governor. But the courts, the governor and also the pardon board found that clemency should be denied to Patrick Sonnier.
Helen promised him that she would be there at his execution and that she would stay with him in the death - house until his execution.
At that time Pat knew for sure that he is going to be killed by the state. At his execution he asked for forgiveness for what Eddie and he have done.
After his dead Sister Helen Prejean organized Pat’s funeral and a lot of projects, discussions and protest marches to abolish the death - penalty.

When Millard Farmer asked her if she would like to become another spiritual adviser for another death - row - inmate, she answered that she would do it, although she first thought she couldn’t do that another time.
Robert Lee Willie, the death - row - inmate, and his friend Joseph Vaccaro had 1980 brutally raped the 18 year old girl, Faith Hathaway, stabbed her and left her to die in the woods. Shortly after the killing of Faith Hathaway, they had kidnapped a teenage couple and raped the girl. They had shot her boyfriend, so that he had been paralyzed from the chest down. Prior to these crimes, Willie had been involved into other violent crimes.
Willie and Joseph had been tried, Willie had been sentenced to death and Joseph had been given a life - sentence.
Helen wrote her first letter to Willie and six month after Pat’s execution they had their first meeting.
Sister Prejean started also to visit Faith’ parents, but all that her parents wanted was the death of her child’s murderer. They hoped that, when Willie’s death would come, it would ease their pain and their loss. At least, they would have justice. Helen and Faith’s parents had different point of views, but they respected each other and their opinions.
Willies petitions have all been denied and at that time Helen remembered the words the guards used to say, when a death - row - inmate was let out of his cell and was brought to his execution: Dead Man walking, and she knew that Willie would also be executed by the state.
After the pardon board had denied his petition, Millard Farmer told her that there wouldn’t be another stay of execution for him, his date for the execution was settled for December 28th.
She visited him every day when he moved to the death - house on Christmas eve and he seemed to accept his fate. But he wanted to make a polygraph - test to show his mother that he wasn’t guilty, that he didn’t kill Faith. He didn’t fail the test, but his responses had registered stress, but who wouldn’t show stress in this situation. Before his execution he said his last words to Faith’ parents that he hoped that they got some relief from his dead. He also said that killing is never right, not from him and not by the state.. Then he was executed in the electric chair like Pat before.
Sister Helen Prejean decided to become a spiritual adviser for other death - row - inmates and she would also give lectures, workshops and organize public demonstrations for the abolition of the death - penalty.

2)The Characters
a) Sister Helen Prejean
Sister 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. Her ministries have included teaching junior and senior high students.
Involvement with poor inner city 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. She also has befriended murder victims' families helped found "Survive" a victims' advocacy group in New Orleans. Currently, she continues her ministry to death row inmates and murder victims'. She also is a member of Amnesty International.

When she got a pen pal to death - row - inmates she tried to give them a few happy moments in the rest of their lives. But that didn’t mean that she thought their crimes were good. She hated what they have done, but she respected their lives. She is definitely against death penalty but she thinks those killers should stay in prison for the rest of their life and not be killed, because killing always is wrong!
She tried to be friend with everybody, with the murderers AND with the victims, but they can’t understand that and act sometimes really mean to her. But she keeps on trying to help the victims too. Some of them are now friends of hers.

    Elmo Patrick Sonnier
Pat and hie younger brother Eddie murdered a couple in a sugar cane field in New Iberia on the 4thof November 1977. They raped the girl Loretta Bourque, 18 and then forced her and her boyfriend David LeBlanc, 16 to lay face down on the ground and shot them in the head. Pat and Eddie were both sentenced to death first, but later Eddie told that Pat killed the teenagers and his sentence got changed to life in prison. After this he said that he pulled the trigger.
Pat always was a lone wolf, even as a kid, he couldn’t stand anyone. He was just fighting with his cell - neighbors and didn’t talk to anyone, but when Sister Helen wrote him, he was happy and he talked a lot to her. First he had a bad opinion about nuns, because they used to hit him in school, but when he gets to know Helen, he likes her. He even wanted her for his spiritual adviser, because then she could stay longer with him and then she even could witness the execution.
To her, he didn’t seem like a murderer. He was well - groomed and talked a lot. He seemed to really like his father, because he talked a lot about him. He also had a daughter, who was eleven at that time, but she stayed with foster - parents.
Pat had a bad family - relationship. With eight years he started to do criminal things like stealing and disturbance. With twelve years he got drunk with his father, he changed school eight times and got kicked out after the 8thgrade.
But at the end, he seemed repentant. At least he asked Mr. Lloyd LeBlanc for forgiveness. He said that he has no hatred in his heart and he asks God for forgiveness when he leaves this world. His last words were addressed to Sister Helen. "I love you", he said.

    Robert Lee Willie
Robert and his friend Joseph Vaccaro raped Faith Hathaway and stabbed her afterwards. Several days later they kidnapped another couple (Mark Brewster and his girlfriend). Brewster got away alive, but now he is paralyzed below the waist. After that he stayed drunk and on drugs, he said, cause he couldn’t believe what they have done. They fled to Arkansas, where they soon got arrested. The jury believed Vaccaro’s version and sentenced Robert to death and Joe was sentenced to life.
Robert always said, that he was brought up in a good family and they aren’t to blame for anything he had done. But his father was in prison 27 years ("If you messed with John Willie", he’d shoot you, Robert said) and he got raised by his mother and stepfather. He spent a lot of time with relatives. With 13 he was in reform school for stealing horses and at age 16 he quit school, a ninth - grade dropout. Then he just took drugs, drank and worked a bit. He did a lot of criminal things, he even was involved in two other murders before Faith. Between 1972 and 1979 he was arrested for 30 times.
But Robert wasn’t remorseful at all. He said that it was Joes’ guilty, cause he killed Faith and when he talks about his part of guilty, he just claims that he was on drugs.
Sometimes he said he was sorry, but he said he can’t understand why they would keep bringing up his crimes. He said that you can’t bring the victims back with talking about it.
While other men have gone to the chair strengthened by the Bible, Willie went fortified by his own sense of manhood. Nothing seemed more important to him than his manhood. For him Marion, another prison was really important and he thought that only maybe 10 percent from the convicts in Louisiana could make it there. He was very proud of having been there.
He said that the electric chair doesn’t worry him, because he had a lot of pride that nobody could take him away. He said that he is going to the chair with his head held high. He even thinks death penalty is ok for people with "really bad" things like child abuse.
At the end, Sister Helen Prejean thinks, he took responsibility in a limited way. He probably took it more for his death than he did for his actions in his life, because he said to the Harveys "I hope my death gives you peace." But she also said that the way he dealt with feelings in general was unemotional. For example, he ate his last meal down to the last fried shrimp and enjoyed it. Maybe he always used to live for the present moment.
But one really big thing for him at the end was, when he called his mother one last time and there he cried. He usually thought crying is a sign of weakness, but this time he found out that it was manhood.

    The victim’s families
They all had a great loss, for sure and they were really hurt, but some of them dealt better with it and others not. But you can understand that they feel hate for the murderers. They all witnessed the executions and they all felt released but some acted somehow a bit friendly and others not at all.
The Bourques really hated Pat and they spoke out loud that they wanted to watch Pat die. The LeBlancs hated Pat too, but later Lloyd said that he would have been relieved with a life sentence too. He even visited Pat’s mother to reconcile with her. He also said that he prayed for the Sonniers too. When Pat asked for forgiveness he nodded and by that time he really had forgiven. He said the only reason why he witnessed the execution was that he wanted Pat to ask for forgiveness and he did, so he was relieved by that moment.
The Harveys really hated Robert, who had killed their daughter/stepdaughter. Vernon even wanted to kill Willie two times, when he got the chance, but he didn’t because he didn’t want to kill anybody else. But he said, that he’d like to pull the switch that sends electricity surging through the body of Robert. Vernon said that watching the execution took a great load off his back. The Harveys, including the 14 year old daughter Liz, were there at the execution to support capital punishment later on. They can’t understand, how Sister Helen can try to abolish death - penalty, but they try to be friend with her and they talk a lot. By the end they founded a group for victims together. Mrs. Harvey said that time has not erased the sense of loss she feels, because she still misses her daughter.


    Interpretation and my opinion
Sister Helen Prejean wrote this book, because she wanted to show the world her story and her opinion about death penalty. But she also wanted to show how cruel people can be and that she is not in common with those deeds, but she thinks that killing is wrong, for everyone including the state.
For me she also showed what being a nun can mean. I mean it’s more important to really help people by being with them and talk to them than just praying in church. She did exactly the right thing, because she tried to be friend with everyone. She talked to the murderer and to the victims and she told both of them her opinion and didn’t just say she was in common. She told the murderers that they did wrong, but also that they can reach forgiveness.
I’m actually against capital punishment, like Sister Helen, because I think life sentence is better. There they can think about what they have done and they can’t kill anybody else, because they are locked. But nobody has the right to kill, even the state shouldn’t. It’s against the human rights! But I can feel with the victims too, because it’s hard to loose someone. And maybe I would wish the murderer of someone close the death too, but that’s just because I’m hurt. Actually I know that killing is wrong and I am against killing in all cases!

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