Monday, November 22, 2010

Dead Man Walking by Sister Helen Prejean

genre: memoir/non-fiction

When Sister Helen Prejean accepts a request to exchange letters with a prisoner on death row, she has no idea that it will be the springboard into a life of activism. Her life in Louisiana becomes embroiled with politics and legal proceedings, support groups and protest walks as she commits herself to the anti-death penalty cause.

Dead Man Walking is a memoir and a treatise on the history of the death penalty. She clearly states the side she has taken and the reasons while she feels that whether a person is killed by the state or by a “murderer,” intentional, premeditated killing is wrong. She has to navigate the emotional territory of the victim’s families who struggling with rage and loss while at the same time supporting the right to life (in prison) of the criminals.

Controversial. Yes. My husband and I had multiple discussions during my (admittedly slow-moving) reading of this book. Is it murder to kill a criminal? Can our criminal justice system correctly identify and prosecute the true perpetrators of crimes? Does the death penalty actually deter crime? Does the government’s killing of your child’s murderer actually help you to heal, or does it take something deeper?

Is it fun to read? Not so much. Redundant? Sometimes. And there is a lot of driving back and forth (like, in a car) that sometimes got tedious, I liked the “guts” of the book more than the narrative, I think. She is very persuasive but I feel like the book could’ve been shorter and still been as persuasive. It was interesting to meet several criminals and try to come to terms with their friendly behavior and the heinous crimes they committed – and then follow their last days and moments before being executed, such a systematic and emotion-less process.

It’s a high-stakes issue. I applaud Sister Prejean’s energy to do good in the best ways she can and for speaking out. I have no desire to read a book on the death penalty again, but I don’t regret following this one to its finish.

1 comment:

bermudaonion said...

I read this book years ago, and there are still parts of it that have stuck with me. It really made me think a lot.

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