Those are impressive numbers but here's the real deal behind the movie and book - Sister Helen Prejean has spent the last 27 years dedicated to the cause that prompted the writing of Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States.
The cause? Counseling in the roll of spiritual advisor to death row inmates and victim's families in Louisiana and ultimately bringing an end to the death penalty in the United States.
While flipping channels last night, I landed momentarily on CSPAN and became captivated by a brash, no nonsense woman who with a smile on her face took on the aggressive interviewer. She leaned across the table, looked over the top of her glasses and said, "So what's your point? I have things I want to say and we're running out of time."
I thought, "Wow. Now that's the way to go after life." It took me a few minutes to realize that the woman was Sister Prejean and she indeed was running out of time to got after life - the lives of death row inmates condemned to die at the hands of their government.
This morning I read several articles which are too important to condense to sound bites and fluff statements. The first was "Would Jesus Pull the Switch?" which Sister Prejean wrote in 1997 for Claretain Publications.
After making a vow to devote her life to the service of the poor, Sister Prejean was asked to become a pen pal to a death row inmate, Patrick Sonnier. She later became his spiritual advisor and was with him when the state put him to death. She also developed a relationship with the father of one of his victims and for several years drove across the state once a week to meet the man for prayer.
In her account of Sonnier's death she solidifies her arguments against the death penalty, which she feels is not a deterrent to crime but a symptom of our society, driven by racism, poverty and violence - our three deepest societal wounds.
Patrick had tried to protect me from watching him die. He told me he'd be OK. I didn't have to come with him into the execution chamber. "The electric chair is not a pretty sight, it could scare you," he told me, trying to be brave.
But I said, "No, no, Pat, if they kill you, I'll be there."
Then I remembered how the women were there at the foot of Jesus' cross, and I said to him, "You look at my face. Look at me, and I will be the face of Christ for you." I couldn't bear it that he would die alone. I said, "Don't you worry. God will help me."
To fully understand Sister Helen Prejean's mission and life's work please read these articles.
I applaude her for her dedication to and love of the poor. I applaude her pragmatic attitude and the steadfast way she approaches her cause. She believes that eventually the death penality will be struck down and the instruments of death used by our nation will become curiosity pieces in museums. She ask us to consider, "Is God vengeful demanding a death for a death? Or is God compassionate, luring souls into love so great that no one can be considered an 'enemy'?"