Wednesday, April 24, 2013 · by Tamara Aparton
San Francisco, CA — Author and anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean, whose bond with a condemned man inspired the Oscar winning film Dead Man Walking, will speak in San Francisco May 9 in a free, community event presented by the San Francisco Public Defender’s office.
Together We Can End the Death Penalty: An Evening with Sister Helen Prejean will be held at 7 p.m. at Temple Emanu-El, 2 Lake Street, San Francisco. The evening includes a book signing and books available for purchase. This event is free, but tickets are required through sfpublicdefender.org. For more information, please call 415-575-8830. Attendees are encouraged to arrive early and take public transportation.
San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi said he wanted to bring the social justice leader to San Francisco not only for her message, but for her lively, engaging speaking style.
“Sister Helen is a great Southern storyteller and she addresses the things that matter most – life, death and social justice,” said Adachi said.
Prejean, 74, was active in last year’s campaign to pass Proposition 34, which would have ended the death penalty in California. The proposed measure was narrowly defeated.
“In the wake of Prop 34’s defeat, many Californians are thinking about the next step in the battle to abolish the death penalty. Hearing Sister Helen’s perspective is more relevant and needed right now than ever,” Adachi said.
Prejean began her prison ministry in 1981 after dedicating her life to the poor of New Orleans. She became a spiritual advisor to Patrick Sonnier, the convicted killer of two teenagers, sentenced to die in the electric chair of Louisiana’s Angola State Prison. Prejean wrote about her relationship with Sonnier and witnessing his execution in her bestselling book Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States.
In 1996, the book was developed into an Oscar-winning film starring Susan Sarandon as Sister Helen and Sean Penn as a death row inmate. The book also inspired an opera by the San Francisco Opera, which premiered in 2000.
For nearly 30 years, Sister Helen Prejean has divided her time between educating citizens about the death penalty and counseling individual death row prisoners. She has accompanied six men to their deaths. Prejean has been instrumental in sparking national dialogue on the death penalty and helping to shape the Catholic Church’s newly vigorous opposition to state executions. She also founded Survive, a victim’s advocacy group in New Orleans that provides counseling to the families of murder victims.
Prejean’s second book, The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions, was published in 2004. Through the stories of two executed men, Prejean takes aim at wrongful convictions, explaining how flaws in the system inevitably lead to innocent people being put to death.