On March 7th, Sister Helen Prejean (author of Dead Man Walking) gave a presentation at SMC about her experience with the death penalty. The way she started was priceless: "Do y'all understand southern? Good, we'll get along just fine". Imagine this said in a thick Louisianan accent and you've got the idea. She told the story of her childhood: grew up Catholic in a nice family. She grew up accustom to segregation but never questioned it. When she became a nun, Sr. Prejean never imagined helping others in the way she did. After having to attend a conference about social justice, Sr. Prejean knew that she needed to help others as part of her ministry. She had gone into the conference with reluctance for she did not see the need to attend such a conference As Sr. Prejean put it "We nuns, not social workers!". She later realized that when people are being defensive about something, it is the Spirit trying to pull them in a new direction.
With this mindset, Sr. Prejean agreed to write letters to a death row inmate. At first the communication was for comfort and spiritual guidance, later it was for help getting the inmate off death row. This inmate was still executed but he was the beginning of Sr. Prejean's involvement with death row and the abolition of the death penalty. It amazes me that a simple nun could have such an impact. It is not only Sr. Prejean's willingness to help and her faith in the inmates, but the help she was able to give to the families involved with the inmates. She is unique in that she offered support to the inmates family. The victims family usually have the support of their family and community behind them, but the inmates family have nothing but ridicule and blame. Sr. Prejean started support groups where inmates families did not have to feel so alone. Sr. Prejean showed these families that they are not to blame for what the death row inmates did. Doing this, she helped many deal with the execution of their loved ones.
I have never supported the death penalty. I think that it is cruel and inhumane. I don't support murder either. But I think the executioner and the murder have committed the same crime; they have gone against nature and (in a way) attempted to be play he role of God. I am a strong believer in helping inmates through therapy and such. Sr. Prejean brought up the statistics about the death row inmates. 99% were abused as children (or at some point in their lives) and 98.2% come from lower income situations. This seems to me that these criminals are products of their environments and could change if they had had the chance. I'm not saying shorten the inmates sentene or let them go free, but help them rather than kill them.