"Dead Man Walking" author to speak

Sister Helen Prejean, author of the acclaimed book Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States (Random House, 1993), will discuss Dead Man Walking: The Journey as the annual Bertha May Bell Andrews Memorial Lecture in Ethics and Education at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 24, in the Bates College Chapel. The public is invited to attend free of charge.

On The New York Times bestseller list for 31 weeks, translated into nine languages and nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, Dead Man Walking received the 1993 Christopher Award for “artistic excellence affirming the highest value of the human spirit” and honorable mentions by the Pax Christi USA Book Award and the Melcher Book Award.

Prejean and her book have been the subject of numerous stories and reviews throughout the world. In 1996, actress Susan Sarandon won an Academy Award for her role as Sister Prejean in the film Dead Man Walking, starring Sean Penn as death-row inmate Matt Poncelet.

A native of Baton Rouge and a lifelong resident of Louisiana, Prejean joined the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille in 1957. She received her bachelor’s degree in English and education from St. Mary’s Dominican College and a master’s in religious education from St. Paul’s University.

Involvement with inner-city residents in the St. Thomas Housing Project in New Orleans in 1981 led Prejean to her prison ministry where she counseled death-row inmates in the Louisiana State Penitentiary. Prejean has accompanied three men to the electric chair and witnessed their deaths.

Since then, she has devoted her energies to educating the public about the death penalty by lecturing, organizing and writing. Prejean also has befriended the families of murder victims and helped to found “Survive,” a victims’ advocacy group in New Orleans. Prejean also is working on a book about women’s struggle for equality in the Roman Catholic Church, scheduled for publication by Random House.

The recipient of a 1995 Guggenheim Fellowship, Prejean has received the 1986 Abolitionist Award from the Louisiana Capital Defense Project, the Sanctity of Life Award from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Mike Mcgough Award from the Convocation of Jail and Prison Ministers in 1990. In 1994, she was the first non-lawyer to receive the Champion of Liberty Award from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Chosen by McCall’s magazine as one of the “20 Most Confident Women in America” and named by Mirabella magazine as one of its “100 Fearless Women,” she has received honorary degrees from Amherst College, the University of Glasgow, Georgetown University, Notre Dame University, Regis College, Seton Hall University, Chesnut Hill College and St. John’s University. A past chair of the board of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Prejean also is a member of Amnesty International.

A signature talk at Bates since 1975, the Andrews Lecture is a memorial to Bertha May Bell Andrews, who served on the Bates faculty from 1913 to 1917 and established the women’s physical education program at the college. The lectureship was established by her son, Dr. Carl B. Andrews of the Bates class of 1940.

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