ROCK HILL, S.C. - Sister Helen Prejean, an internationally known speaker and anti-death penalty activist who wrote "Dead Man Walking" more than a decade ago, will lecture on the death penalty on Oct. 29 at Winthrop University.
Her lecture, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 7 p.m. in Tillman Auditorium. Her appearance is part of the Death Penalty Awareness Series sponsored this fall by the Peace, Justice, and Conflict Resolution Studies Minor. The series will conclude with the Department of Theatre and Dance’s production of “Dead Man Walking” from Oct. 31-Nov. 4 in the Johnson Studio Theatre.
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 and later spiritual advisor for Patrick Sonnier, the convicted killer of two teenagers, sentenced to die in the electric chair of Louisiana's Angola State Prison. She turned her experiences into a book that made the 1994 American Library Associates Notable Book List and also was nominated for a 1993 Pulitzer Prize. In January 1996, the book was developed into a major motion picture starring Susan Sarandon as Sister Helen and Sean Penn as a death row inmate and later became the basis for a new opera.
Fifteen years after beginning her crusade, the Roman Catholic sister 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’s second book, “The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions,” was published in December 2004. In it, she tells the story of two men, Dobie Gillis Williams and Joseph O’Dell, whom she accompanied to their executions and believes were innocent.
Born in Baton Rouge, La., Sister Helen joined the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille in 1957 and received a B.A. in English and Education from St. Mary's Dominican College, New Orleans, in 1962. In 1973, she earned an M.A. in Religious Education from St. Paul's University in Ottawa, Canada.
For more information, contact University Relations at 803/323-2236.