Thursday, February 21, 2008

Sister Helen Prejean - Would Jesus Pull the Switch?

In 1994 Dead Man Walking was nominated for 4 academy awards and the book that inspired the movie spent 31 weeks on the best sellers list.

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.

Here are her words quoted from the above article:

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."
When you accompany someone to the execution, as I have done three times as a spiritual advisor, everything becomes very crystallized, distilled, and stripped to the essentials. You are in this building in the middle of the night, and all these people are organized to kill this man. And the gospel comes to you as it never has before: Are you for compassion, or are you for violence? Are you for mercy, or are you for vengeance? Are you for love, or are you for hate? Are you for life, or are you for death?

To fully understand Sister Helen Prejean's mission and life's work please read these articles.
Would Jesus Pull The Switch? and The Real Woman Behind Dead Man Walking. Her website is full of information about her cause.

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'?"

12 comments:

Anna said...

Lisa I applaude her too. I don't believe in death penalty at all no matter what, even if they killed someone. Just like giving, don't expect to get same gift or gift from the same person when you gave one, because you will not. Lisa this is really inspiring post, thanks for sharing your thoughts, Anna :)

ExploreLifeBlog said...

Excellent article and I very much appreciate the feeling of this site and the goodness of your intentions. I am inspired by people following their purpose with passion.

Joseph
www.ExploreLifeBlog.com
www.Peace-Together.com

FishHawk said...

In order to save someone from having to continue to suffer unnecessarily in this world: yes, Christ Jesus would most definitely pull the switch!!! (Putting things in the context of the article.)

Ellen said...

Lisa, thanks for sharing this. I wasn't aware of this, but what an incredibly heartfelt and inspiring story.
Sister Helen's words are so profound..
thanks..

Lisa McGlaun said...

Anna,

Anna, I'm with you about the death penalty. Helen Prejean's words touched me so deeply. I think she is right on the money.

Hugs,
Lisa

Lisa McGlaun said...

Joseph,

Thank you. I admire your work too. I've read your blogs many times. It's fun following your passion, isn't it? I wouldn't have it any other way.

Peace,
Lisa

Lisa McGlaun said...

Jerry,

As in suffering, do you mean sickness? I believe that in that instance, yes, Christ would relieve the suffering of the individual. But I wonder, since it's Christ we are talking about here, if it wouldn't be a miracle healing instead of a quick death.

Just a thought. Thanks so much for sharing yours with me.

Best Wishes,
Lisa

FishHawk said...

No, I'm talking about the suffering of having to be incarcerated in a prison for the rest of their natural life. For if society deems them to be beyond redemption: why prolong their suffering in this world?

Yes, it could be argued that they could be productive in one way or another while in prison; but is this any kind of life to live? Besides: would it really be a comfort unto you to know that your husband would be kept alive if he ever committed a "capital crime" even though you-all would never be allowed to really be together again in this world (and I'm not talking about just in a conjugal sense, neither)???

Lisa McGlaun said...

Ellen,

And thanks for expanding on the post and putting it on your blog. You brought out some points that I didn't include but still thought were very important.

Peace,
Lisa

Lisa McGlaun said...

Jerry,

Personally, if someone I cared about committed a capital offense I would not want to see the state execute them. I don't believe our government has the right to take a life.

As for how I would feel. It would be awful for all involved but (assuming the crime is murder) another death would not relieve my pain or anyone elses.

"If society deems" is a loaded concept. Society is made up of failable humans not unlike the person charged with the crime. The justice system does not work well especially for the poor. I believe there are people on death row who don't deserve to be there and are innocent. So no, I would not want to see them put to death. I would want to see them have a fair trail and be released if innocent.

And on a lighter note..it would be awfully hard to live without those conjugal visits...:)

Best Wishes,
Lisa

FishHawk said...

Yes, I fully agree that many are unfairly imprisoned; and that death-row if full of them. My position is not on the side of punishment, however. In fact: it is actually on the side of freedom. For our lives do not end when our time as a part of this world comes unto an end; and it is in the hope of releasing the wrongfully judged from having to spend the rest of their natural lives in jail that I am coming from. Yes, the ultimate would be that no one would ever be wrongfully convicted of anything; but as you so eloquently say: "Society is made up of failable humans not unlike the person charged with the crime."

Lisa McGlaun said...

Jerry,

You comment raises so many questions in my mind. I think we are going to have to agree to disagree on this one, my friend.

Best Wishes,
Lisa