Dead Man Walking: A Conversation with Sr. Helen Prejean

perhaps we could get we could get
started we we have a somewhat lengthy program this evening my name is Bob
Newton I’m the acting director of the church in the 21st century center we are
the sponsor of this event with our co-sponsor the boston college school of
theology and ministry i’d like to welcome you to tonight’s event everyone
in the audience and especially sister Helen Prejean who was here in 2010 for
four years ago and spoken conte forum to a group of over 1,100 individuals we did
this semester the theme of the church in the 21st century is indicated in a
magazine which I hope all of you have had the opportunity to get a copy and to
take a look through it it’s called it’s titled the poor what did Jesus preach
and what does the church teach in this event you know dealing with a group in
our society that are poor and marginalized it certainly fits into that
theme what we’re going to do tonight is we’re going to watch the movie dead man
walking which believe it or not was made 20 years ago was released 20 years ago
but before we view of the movie sister Helen would like to make some
introductory remarks to help us better understand the film after the film she
will return again to the podium so let’s welcome sister Helen Prejean okay this is going to be short y’all all
know well I’m from New Orleans but y’all all know how Pope Francis is saying go
out to the margins go out to the poor people well this story my story is a
story of my beginning to get it about the gospel that I should be on the side
of people who are marginal and it’s about my faith journey and so you will
notice that every character which is based on real people the death row
inmate is on a faith journey and what is the journey into the message of Jesus
that everybody’s on and of course you have people on the other side too so I’m
glad to be here with you let’s look at the film and I’ll talk to you afterwards let me just use this opportunity that
also out there are the books of dead man walking my two books and the death of
innocence about two innocent people that I accompanied and the books would be for
sale you get both for twenty-five dollars i’ll be glad to sign them for
you so i look forward to that too well where did it take you just a few
things about the making of the film I wrote dead man walking the hardback came
out 93 was just reissued the 20 year anniversary of it Susan read it in 1994
when the paperback came out and she’s the one who’s behind this film and she
passed her Tim for nine months till he finally broke down and read the book and
he read the book and they saw that we needed to do a new kind of film on the
death penalty in the United States we’ll talk about that what you think that was so I can I credit Susan with having the
passion to see it and what she said to me was most of the films that have been
done that have executions and them most of the energy of the film is all around
was person innocent or guilty then you find out that guilty so it ends with
execution and justice is done so where did tim robbins and susan and i do the
same in the book where did it take you is it a pro death penalty film is it an
anti-death penalty film and tim said there’s a difference between art and
propaganda is the film art or do you think it’s propaganda trying to get you
to look at one side and and be swayed by so i realize it’s kind of hard after the
film to speak the theater managers told Tim that after the film was shown in
theaters people just stayed seated and they filed out in silence because they
were thinking and that’s what the film does it brings you do you think it was
fair do you think it brought you over to both sides of the suffering
so any questions you have or anything you’d like to say I can talk to you
about how the film was made talk to you about that talk to you about the
victim’s family talk to you about the guards that have to do the killing or
any aspect of it that maybe you might want to go deeper into so we have the
mics just come up to them it’s okay to stand in one we don’t have to wait after
one person finishes and either a comment you want to make or maybe a question hi
thank you very much for being here I’d be here I’m wondering more about you
know your ability to feel compassion for Poncelet definitely wasn’t easy you know
for someone who you knew where you came to know at the end killed someone but
even if he didn’t he was involved in it so I’m wondering I know there’s not an
explanation for how you were able to feel compassion it’s not like some
process you went through but to cut the work the best worst the worst best way
of asking is how were you able to feel compassion for it and wasn’t it kind of
defeating almost loving this guy who did that like wasn’t it were you submitting
to something did you feel like you feel like you’re being weak by doing it yeah
okay great boy that’s good question so hard of it really that’s probably what
I’m asked the most how could you show compassion for someone excuse me who had
done something so unspeakable my own journey in it then which I take you
through in the book is the outrage and horror of what the
six people I have a company to execution for them were guilty two of them as I
wrote about in death venison swear innocent and innocent people were
brutally killed and teenage kids in this instant old couple strangled and
murdered in their apartment another and it’s unspeakable and am outraged over it
but when you’re with a human being human beings are more than the worst act of
their lives we cannot like be freeze-framed into the worst action all
he is is murder in cold blood that’s all ends that’s his essence so the part of
me that could feel for him was in the humanists and it was and that is the
dignity of all human beings that as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
says that no matter what crime a person does that we are worth more than that in
everyone deserves dignity and that’s what connected and that’s what I felt
for him and for his mother and to the victim’s family my image from the
Christian from the Christ perspective of this is that a one arm of the cross you
have the perpetrator who’s done an unspeakable crime which we are horrified
and outraged that and then on the other arm of the victims families that have
been made to suffer and so then we have to ask ourselves what did the victims
families gain even when they get to watch the execution can it heal them
what does it do for them this justice that given and that’s where the movie
takes you to those questions myself personally I made the journey
over to both sides with the victims families i found out when i would go to
the support groups that most of them said everybody leaves us alone because
they don’t know what to do with our pain and that they shouldn’t be left alone so
i was brought into it and i tried to accompany both did you want to respond no that was
great thank you thank you somebody else Sister Ellen so obviously like you said
we have the victims on the one hand and perpetrator on the other and I think many
people think that you’re either one side or the other how do I he will see that
middle ground the middle ground the gospel where that justice really is how
do we how people see that and have that conversation mm-hmm that is a
conversation and you know I go around the country to help the American people
to dig deep into this most people don’t reflect deeply on the death penalty
we’re an activist community and thank God the death penalty doesn’t touch most
of us as a deeply personal moral issue because we don’t have to deal with it
most people don’t so the reflections not deep so what I do is not to go and make
a speech and try to persuade people you say you’re Christian this is what Jesus
would want us to do and preach it people but simply what you do and this is why
Tim Robbins calls this art because he takes you over to both sides of the
suffering and just takes you there so that then you take it and reflect our
culture says choose one side or the other if you’re against executions then
you must be against the victim’s family if you for the victim’s family then you
must be for the execution as one of the victims families said that I tell you in
debian walking Lord oblong he said sister everybody was saying to me Lloyd
they killed your son you gotta be for the execution or to look like you didn’t
love you boy this is the ultimate punishment you had the ultimate loss
you’re not going go for the ultimate punishment what’s wrong with you he said
people see forgiveness is weak and the gospel of Jesus is where is Jesus when
Matthew Poncelet is executed he’s with everybody is he not he’s with
the mama who’s at home with her boys while their brother and her sons
executed he’s with the victim’s family who has lost their loved ones in the
most terrible way he’s with the guards who are doing that job that night I get
to know them I tell the story of one of them in dead man walking how he after
five executions he couldn’t do anymore and he quit because he said they’re
defenseless and you taken a defenseless man you killed him you justified you
know it’s legal you know the Supreme Court said it’s all right but in my gut
he said I know I’m helping to kill somebody who we’ve rented defenses and I
know that crimes because he was a supervised own death row he said I know
what every one of these guys did some of the murders they did or unspeakable but
then when you close to it like that and you got to take somebody out of their
cell and take them and kill them and they tell us you know they have
everybody meet with us you’re just doing your job it’s not this is what the
people want Supreme Court said it’s okay they had a jury trial the whole bit but
finally it boils down to the fact that their defenseless and in this book the
death of innocence I talked about a dialogue then I got to have with Pope
John Paul and that was my question to the Pope and I said does a Catholic
Church only uphold the dignity of innocent life and I get it about
upholding the dignity of innocent life unborn children people with Alzheimer’s
but when I’m walking with am and execution and and the first one was Pat
Sonier and he’s chained and they guards all around him and he says Sister just
pray god holds up my legs and I set to the Pope I said your holiness do we just
uphold the dignity of the innocent what about the guilty and where is the
dignity in this death do we have to execute him and where when
you render someone defenseless and take him out and kill them where’s the
dignity in that that was a question and the response Pope John Paul actually
changed a Catholic catechism and help move us to be pro-life Catholics not
just for innocent life but when he was in st. Louis he said no to abortion no
to euthanasia note efficient assisted suicide and noted the death penalty
which is cruel and unnecessary and he said even those among us who have done
terrible crime have a dignity that must not be taken from them and the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights States and articles three and five the right to
life so does government ever have the right to decide that some of its
citizens ought to die and say they’re going to set up a process for
determining who those people are when you have another way of keeping society
safe which is what a life sentence without parole is an article 5 no one
should be subjected to cruel and degrading punishment or torture is the
death penalty torture and we move from hanging to electric chair sometimes
firing squad and we moved to lethal injection because we said we’re going to
make it more humane and the European country in Belgium that was supplying
the drug we use him for executions found out that their drug was being used to
kill people in the United States and they cut off the drug so now there’s
this mass experimentation going on maybe you’ve heard of botched executions
because they’re just putting chemicals together and experimenting to see what
it takes to kill a person and that’s where it is now in the United States
those that have the death penalty thank you thank you somebody else yes
hello and thank you very much for this film and I identify and appreciate Tim
Robbins comments about it being art because it embraces both sides mm-hmm
I’d like to comment that I’ve been well first i’ll just make a comment that i’m
i’m a dedicated atheist who finds delight in reading about religious
traditions around the world because of the humanity of it all so I did where
some of my best friends are atheist yes I just want say we’re here too it means you
against theism of the day and I think I am too but please continue it’s some of
us love you yeah that’s how do I don’t want to say I’ve been wrestling with it
with an international issue yeah as we witness the the attacks of ISIL or dash
or whatever you wish to call them the Islamic state which I have trouble
calling them that yeah and in that we in the call is to demonize them right and I
don’t and I don’t underestimate and I’m no you know no Pollyanna about how
vicious and and horrible they are but they are human beings yeah and I have
trouble you know as we say that people aren’t touched by it but we’re all
touched by it it could be if I was younger I might be volunteering for the
military we all have children who may be in the future and I was listening to the
British commentary some some are disillusioned they wish they could come
home and in the British government’s as probably many other governments would be
that we can’t trust you you can’t come home given them the only option of
continuing to fight for ISIL and probably being sent on a suicide mission
to prove their worth hmm and I think like there’s got to be a third way mmm
there has to be a third way whether arranging with Qatar or who knows where
that yes you can you be in detention we can’t trust you but we don’t have to
condemn you to yeah that is one side of the other yeah
thank you in this book I quote Albert Camus who was a known agnostic I don’t
know if he called himself an atheist but he couldn’t get himself ever to embrace
what we call Christianity or any religion and and he spoke out for human
rights he wrote a book reflections on the guillotine in France in 1957 that
helped change the death penalty debate in France and what I I didn’t know
anything you see this person in over her head which is why Susan Sarandon wanted
to take the role because she likes to take the role of women who never end up
his victims but definitely get in over their head they had Thelma and Louise
and the other night on TV but learn along the way and so I’m learning
everything as I’m going along because I don’t know anything and I make mistakes
at first not reaching out to the victim’s family but what I have learned
is that the death penalty really epitomizes just what you were saying and
and you heard Robert proske the lawyer for Robert Willie at the pardon board
hearing say it’s easy to kill a monster but it’s hard to kill a human being and
so with the death penalty we say this is the worst of the worst and we have to
execute these people in order for us to be able to live as a society 911 happens
we say the terrorists are the enemy the demon you have to dehumanize people in
order to kill them and it’s what sets the military in motion who’s the enemy
let’s go kill the enemy so we can be safe and you see that operating I see it
operating I’ll recognize the pattern of it now because if you recognize that
this is a human being who has a mama and who has little brothers and as a family
it’s going to be really hard to kill the person and one of the reasons I
leave that we’re still killing people in the United States is because the death
penalty is a secret ritual there have been three court cases to make
executions public and they’ve all been defeated and it’s what led me to write
the book and get on the road to go speak to the people to tell the story to bring
them close because I know that people are never going to get close to this
so-called solution we have of how we going to deal with terrible criminals so
what are we doing I’ve found it such a deep deep instinct in our country to
send in the Marines of try to use military solutions for social problems
the death penalty is a form of military solution we’re going to use violence to
kill the enemy in order to try to teach our children and to try to say that’s
the only way that we can solve our social problems so what are we doing now
I don’t know I don’t know how good it is for now the Americans and Colin and
other allies to go and be bombing people and it’s a mess I was with woman from
CNN who had been embedded over in Iraq and Afghanistan and she said what
happened is that after World War I we the the victors drew lines around what
had been the Ottoman Empire and just said drew a line and said this will be
Iraq this over here is going to be Pakistan this is going to be Afghanistan
and we drew these lines as colonial powers and the tribes are the ones that
are going to have to deal with their land to get it back and those lines are
now are becoming very very porous and now what are we doing what’s our role I
don’t know I’m not sure at all and of the people I’ve known of gone to
Afghanistan and gone to Iraq and this woman from CNN moni Basu who had been
embedded to say it everybody’s messed up because you
know sometimes you’re killing people and you think they’re the enemy they come in
and they they’re going to explode you know an IED device or whatever and you
kill them and you find out it was just two teenagers on a motorcycle our people
coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq are terribly terribly messed up and so I
don’t know when are we going to go to another level and I’m going to tell you
our hope I believe more and more the young people in this country who are
asking deeper questions I think young people are helping us on a number of
issues are getting it a lot more about human rights are getting it about the
rights and human dignity of gay people and helping the whole country come along
on that that everybody has human rights and we have to treat people that way so
we’re on our way so you’re at a prime time going to a really good to use your
in intellect and and what is faith mean I mean it’s great one of the first
people to stand up and say look I’m an atheist the biggest rising number of
people are the groups of people that call themselves none of the above in
this country what faith what does Christianity stand for what does it mean
that chaplain and this was real in the book chaplain was actually worse than a
guy but what was his whole take on the death penalty and what the role was of
me what are you doing getting involved in this woman’s never done this before
in the real chaplains that are present in Louisiana tried to block all women
from going to death row and be spiritual advisors after i was with this man
Patrick Sonja and finally I had to go to the warden and we had to we just have to
say they go well women can’t handle this you know the man’s thing got doing
Manson we need an experienced hand that Chaplin said experienced hand and his
approach was simply give ’em the sacraments of the Church which is my job and that’s
it what’s the role of love and forgiveness thank you ma’am for loving
me I never had love in my life is that part of a sacrament too where does
redemption come how do we experience forgiveness how do we know our worth
when we’ve done something really bad what does the message of Jesus have to
do with any of that but to use our minds to develop your intellect to know what’s
going on in the world to be able to use analysis what what does it mean to
always be seeking military solutions to social problems can military solutions
solve our social problems somebody else yes have your feelings about this experience
changed over time if deepened one feeling that has changed over time is
when I came out of the execution chamber I abama tit I had never watched a
protocol where person was taken and killed and I my mission really was made
clear to me then that night standing outside the gates of Angola of that I’ve
been a witness so I got to bring the message to the people to bring them
close so they can reflect and I didn’t I and I have to tell you that my hope has
been strengthened these 20-plus years going into civic groups and schools and
churches and synagogues and all over the bloomin place here and that the people
when you bring people close and it’s what the film does too they get it it’s
not that people really do want to have the government killing people and
believe that violence is a solution but they don’t have a way of getting close
to the issue to really sort it out and see the alternatives so my feelings have
deepened over the years of that education of the people through story
story is the best way for us to go to both sides of an issue more than
preaching or just logical argument and then I continue to accompany people on
death row and I’m with the third person who is innocent the thing is so broken
their 144 wrongfully convicted people have gotten off a death row wrong person
mistakes most of it from prosecutorial misconduct and my man on death row now
that I’m accompanying is Manuel Ortiz he’s from El Salvador he’s totally
innocent we just getting a new legal team he was railroaded there was a false
witness put up against him the defense said he had no way of being able to
summon his own witnesses there’s no way that’s a full and fair trial and due
process of law and equal justice under law is
done it isn’t and he gives me courage because I keep visiting him and here’s a
man who’s innocent and going on 23 years on Louisiana’s death row and and idly
always when I leave that prison I just go it’s a privilege to be able to
accompany this person because he teaches me every time I’m with him that keeps me
going and I do see we’re beginning to shut the death penalty down do you know
in Massachusetts you were one vote away did you know that he’s like 19 7 or 98
they’d been a terrible murder a young beautiful boy had been kidnapped and
molested and murdered and they brought it to the bank to bring the death
penalty back to Massachusetts and there was one man in your legislature who when
the vote came to him and he said I knew I had my hand on the needle and he
couldn’t say yes and it defeated it and since then they haven’t been able to
bring it back 32 states still have the death penalty every year another state
does away with it there about four or five now poised to do a way that
executions are down i was just in texas down from 48 death sentences a year to
two or three the people in the pipeline the people have already been sentenced
of being killed Texas’s kill 517 human beings and we have a Supreme Court that
supposedly has set up guidelines that the death penalty will not be arbitrary
capricious or disproportionately meted out to poor people in minorities if they
ever looked at the ground to see what was happening in the practice actual
practice they would see that eight out of every 10 people chosen for death of
it because they kill white people and that when people of color are killed in
this country there’s hardly a blip on the radar screen
they would see that only poor people are selected for death they would see that
their so-called guidelines aren’t holding up but they never look at the
ground and interesting in our church with the Senate that’s going on now we
starting to look at the ground there were questionnaires in every diocese in
the world asking the people what’s your experience of the family what’s your
experience of contraception what’s your experience of divorce and remarriage
what’s your experience of knowing gay people and their children and the bubbles
are coming up from the ground and so when you look at the ground and the real
life experience of people and listen to it and then in the light of the gospel
of Jesus then make decisions and policies that’s when I believe you
really grow and that is what the church is about that’s what we got to be about
we’re always growing on moral issues we grow out of slavery grew out of the
thought that because Eve had sinned in the garden of women who couldn’t be trusted
to vote because you know women you know and then you know once a month they get
flaky anyway and they could be emotional and all this we can’t trust
women with the vote if you read the arguments that went on in this country
about when women could vote church wasn’t always on that side of stuff but
we grow because we are the church and we grow in our experience yes sir I have a
question about your courage and strength so you responded to this one-off letter
felt a calling it was it was pushing you on the edges of your faith yet you got
tested by work safer conservative faith practices like your mother at the tables
they want you to teach the kids and be a good nun or the parents why didn’t you
call us and deal with us with a side of the equation and so I’m wondering where
did you draw the strength and courage to keep pushing on the edge of your
faith and not go for the conservative well I made mistakes that really helps
teach you I didn’t know what to do with the victim’s family and I’d stayed away
from them it was a bad mistake and then the book i’ll tell you the the heart of
the story you know the film has to be done in two hours so Matthew Poncelet is
a composite character in it but with the victims families then when I realized
one of the fathers said why didn’t you come to see us an hour and then he and
his graciousness began to take me in and I went to pray with him Tim said when we
were doing a film we goin’ to end this film with prayer and I said Tim I believe in
prayer but how are people gonna see what’s going on if you just show us
praying and he said now you’d a nun and I’m the filming and I say we can end
this movie would pray i said i’m all for prayer but what would you see he said
watch you’ll see so that was with the victims families in mama at the table
that question honey what has drawn you these are the end of the line people I
mean it’s such a great question of a mama to a kid honey go spend your time
with the kids in st. Thomas you can help him not go to prison in death row I have
to tell you a little bit about what I learned about filmmaking and how you
write a good script in films I’m working with them on a text on the script so
when mama asks a question I had written in well mama this is what Jesus did this
is Jesus said to go with the marginated i’m just trying to do what Jesus said so
Susan Sarandon looks and she goes well she said that kind of sounds like the
company line like you the nun you gonna give the Jesus speech right and she
crossed out my whole Jesus speech and she said how about this and she wrote
just a couple of words well mama I feel more caught than drawn he asked me to
come and so then the audience can come with
me and Tim Robbins said the film begins to fail the minute the characters get to
be predictable here comes a nun she gonna give to Jesus speech yep here it
comes kind of like the old cowboy movies the good guys in the white hats you know
they not gonna be killed at the end of the movie you know they’re gonna be triumphant so
here’s the nun she gives the Jesus speech and I feel more caught than drawn
and so it’s like learning being drawn into an experience and learning as you
go my faith has not been test some people say to me how can you believe in
God but look at this terrible thing that’s going on here doesn’t it test
your faith in God and I go this isn’t God’s problem this is us we’d ones
decide we should kill each other listen to Jesus thing but the bible belt and
the death belt are the same bloomen belt in the United States and Bible quoting
it goes on around the death penalty is something to see and I have heard it all
or Jesus died on a sense foot on the cross for our sins so they died on a
cross for their sins and that’s how they get to heaven like God is pleased with
sacrifice God wants pain God wants a life for life that’s who God is and
that’s not the God Jesus taught us and that’s not why he died on the cross as a
sacrifice for our sins that’s a theology that came from St. Anselm in the 11th
Century and he was the first one to give us a juridical model of the sacrifice on
the cross a divine being was offended someone had to make up to the Divine
Being for the offense only the Son could do it so you sacrifice the Son and then
that placates God who had been offended by our sin and that atonement theology
there’s still a lot of people who think that who
Misread the meaning of this cross and this cross is like the six Jesuits that
were killed in El Salvador because they stood in solidarity with the people this
cross is like Martin Luther King who was killed for leading us in a non-violent
civil revolution in this country it’s for those who are in solidarity with
poor people and they share the fate it’s Oscar Romero but never to placate a
divine being who has been offended by our sin and to pay with our blood or to
pay with our deaths so there’s a lot to think about in terms of our Christian
faith in what the death penalty brings out and if you want an easy quick litmus
test what’s your image of God you’re looking to the death penalty yes I thank
you I also appreciate your comments on what happened on the cross um anyway my
question was about it doesn’t the movie doesn’t I haven’t read the book and the
movie doesn’t really go much into what the role of the sacraments were in that
last week so I’m curious to hear about that and what role the sacraments played
if the priest the ones who were the priests on death row I think if they had
related in a personal way and shown personal compassion to the people on
death row I think they would have been glad to receive the sacraments in fact
Pat Sonier did go to confession and he did receive Communion as long as I was
with him because the priest was doing it badly he was an old guy should have
retired it was like bad it I mean he was going up and down death row handing out
modesty pamphlets about how to dress modestly in your cell I mean it
the men didn’t feel they were very much in touch with what they were caught
going through and so when when compassion is there then Pat at the end
just said Sister Helen you receive Communion he had already gone to
confession was a preemie he didn’t want to be near the the priest the priest had
disrespected him and so see sacraments are these signs that make God present in
the grace in our lives but if they’re not done in love and in faithfulness to
what the gospel is about then they can’t work magic in and of themselves and the
priest was saying to me your job plain and simple as to get me in there to give
the sacraments to them before they before they die that’s their eternal
salvation and I believe in the sacraments I believe the Eucharist we
need the Eucharist we need all of the sacraments I think but if it’s not accompanied by love and compassion what is does it mean and it becomes a obstacle rather
than a means of making God present in our life the real presence is us to each
other in love compassion and honesty see for Matthew Poncelet to take
responsibility to be authentic what was his view of salvation Jesus good man
what went to heaven praised you praised Jesus something like that and i know
Jesus paid for my sins on the cross and then and so I’m saying to him through
Susan saying to him it’s not like you get a ticket to the circus and Jesus
paid the price you got to participate in your own Redemption and see sacraments
our way to help us participate in the saving mystery of Christ in our own
lives to be forgiven day by day by day and then also to be compassionate to
others and to do justice in the world does that answer your question or would you have
a further one on that on the sacraments no thank you no it’s just interesting to
consider what what role i guess the fact that even i guess from my perspective it
seems like that grace is happening and God can use a priest even if the priest
is not like quite in the right mindset I don’t know does that seem true except
when the personal relationship with someone who’s going to be killed by the
state is such that they do not feel or know that personal compassion from them
it’s the personal does play a very prominent role I mean so the worthiness
of the priest like when we go to celebrate Eucharist is never the thing
that determines whether Christ is present or not but when you’re talking
about a one-on-one with people on death row in that personal presence and
compassion is missing and people who are on death row ninety percent have already
been they were abused as children they have not had healthy relationships
loving relationships so it’s very important that that a priest is
compassionate for people on death row I believe that it’s part of the sacrament
because of the role that that compassion can play and helping the person to
arrive at contrition or absolutely yeah and then if I’m ask one other question
sure um what are you doing when you’re watching an execution what are you
praying praying for them to be able to that the passage will be one of going
into love and mercy accompanied them by then through the whole thing that
conversation was with the second person in this book where he said I hope my
death gives them some peace he was angry this is Robert Lee Willie
Robert Lee Willie was a much tougher guy and I was only with him two months and
he was angry he said I got a thing or two to say to that victim’s family they
come and watch me die they may making statements to the press they wish they
could you know pull the switch it was electrocution then and it was a real
tussle because he couldn’t get there and I just when he finally breached it where
he said I hope my death gives them some peace and then I said that would be a
great thing to say to the parents and he actually did it and then seeing him be
killed he’s rendered defenseless and he’s killed and I believe Christ is
always going to be with the ones who are the victims and at that point he is that
and I pray for his safe passage over into the arms of God I pray at the same
time for the victims that he killed I’m praying for everybody in there when I’m
in the execution chamber for the parents that have been offered this now you get
to watch and this is going to heal you and I know full well they’re going to go
home in a chair still going to be empty where their loved ones that I’m praying
for the warden praying for the guards praying for everybody thank you yes
maybe we’ll take like one or two more or well well I’ll try to give shorter
answers it’s not your problem that it’s going so long okay go ahead I had a
question related to compassion and justice and we saw a wonderful film and
I’m glad that Susan took your story and took it to the
to the movies and we saw her portrayal of you and my question is how did you
truly convey to these prisoners that you did not condone their actions but that
you did love them and how did you convey that to the victims families yes with
the prisoners it’s you did a terrible thing you kill that innocent person you
know that conversation how do you think the parents feel what if somebody killed
your mama how would you feel when they having trouble getting there because see
when their own life is on the line and self-preservation kicks in it can be
hard for some people to feel compassion for the victim’s family because they
coming after you and self-preservation it’s strong with victims families what I
did was start a group in New Orleans because I know they need most of them
was saying everybody stays away from us and we feel so alone nobody wants to
hear our pain they don’t know what to do with our pain so I did one concrete act
there and that is to start a murder victim support group and the bishop in
Lafayette where the murders of the teenage kids happen began that year to
have a mass the bishop himself celebrated Eucharist to gather victims
of violence together and then it was started in other dioceses to to have
a healing service for people who have been violated it suffered violence and I
feel we need to do both thank you yes I want to thank you for sharing your
experience because that’s a gift to do but I also wanted to ask you a lot of
your work is surrounded by trauma so how do you really cope with the trauma of
the victim suffering through the murders and then the trauma of watching his
death penalty occur well my life isn’t just trauma there is
that but I belong to a really good sisterhood of love and support and a
loving family and I work with the human rights community with lawyers who are in
there standing up for people that everybody else wants to kill and that
really encourages me it strengthens me to do that and I take time to pray to
meditate I feed off the scriptures off the Gospels and to learn to keep
learning and I have a really good faith community I belong to st. Gabriel’s it’s
an african-american Roman Catholic parish and african-american people have
suffered through so much and then we all went through Katrina eight feet of water
about his house everybody lost their house is there and so staying close to
the faith community also helps me I know that I don’t comprehend a lot of it
that’s just but I just do my best and just try to keep learning and being
faithful to what I know thank you somebody else last one I think sister oh
it’s really a thrill I’m you and father Greg Boyle I think probably my personal
heroes so and my kids from Australia who love you as well a sort of with me
tonight so thank we seen that for did you mention Greg Boyle yeah does
everybody know who Greg Boyle is father Greg Boyle um just jobs not jails
homeboy industries LA yeah yeah working with you he works with the gang members
helps them to become human beings gives them another kind of family yeah um the
last question answered a little bit of mine but I was wondering about your own
personal faith practice to really anchor you in Christ and how that gives you I
guess joy because I don’t see a grind in you like it’s not sort of like I’m gonna
do this stuff you know yeah I’m doing a good thing it’s more there’s
there’s a lightness and a joy in you so how do you sustain that in your own
faith and what’s your spiritual practice first of all the waking up to faith in
the gospel of Jesus that involve justice I’m so glad to be awake and to be giving
my life where I’m trying to work for something to help to transform society
and and when you read Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation he talks about the
joy of the gospel and there is a joy in doing the Gospel it doesn’t mean they’re
not tears and there’s not great sadness and people shouldering pain these
victims families more than I can even imagine but what does St. Paul say you
know dying and behold we live and where sin abounded grace more bounds and grace
carries us not ahead of time but grace carries us I experienced that and I and
I thank God for that thank you thank you sister we’re gonna take one more
question and then close out that in the jig’s up alright one more last one no
pressure but try to be profound okay yeah i know and i’ll try to be quick
when i was after finishing you know after the move finished i was always I
remembered a speech by Robert Kennedy day after Martin Luther King as you
mentioned which you mentioned was killed and it was about by about violence and
at that time it might have been only seen or mostly seen as violence towards
you know unjust violence towards each other racial violence which was going on
I mean after Luther King died but I think Robert Kennedy was against death sentence and he wrote it as a speeches against violence against you know as a
whole I’m going to read a few lines he’s at
well violence is not the concern of any race the victims of the violence are
black and white rich and poor young and old famous and unknown they are most
important of all human beings some other human beings loved and needed and he
goes on to say what has violence ever accomplished what has he ever created no
mutters cause haven’t been stilled by his assassin’s bullet no wrongs having
ever righted by riots and civil disorders he says we must admit in
ourselves that our own children’s future cannot be built on the misfortunes of
others we must recognize the short life can either be in noble or reached by
hatred or revenge when I was when I was younger I I debated myself well people
in in who have killed they would deserve to be killed but I I realized that they
as humans beings have dignity and and they’re killing them for for killing
would be more revenge than justice the PN yeah and what what is uh what do you
think you think violence breeds violence like Robert Kennedy said absolutely and
I’ll just and I’ll end it by talking about his daughter Carrie who was eight
years old when her daddy was killed and I heard her at the Martin Luther King
Center in Atlanta and she told the story of when she heard that her father had
been assassinated just as her uncle Jack had been and she got in her bed that
night these are Kari Kennedy’s words and she said I knew what he had taught us
and I said to myself whoever killed my father I do not want to see the state
killed them that’s a eight-year-old girl who grew up in the presence of that kind
of father and and children learn we get it from those that we are with
and she had that up from her father and she’s carried it and it’s how I came to
meet her how I came to work with her for human rights because she had been thrown
in that far as a young child how does a child do that how do any of us do that
how do these victims families I have met these human beings who have had their
loved ones killed and they they stand before us when New Jersey did away with
the death penalty seven years ago 62 murder victims families testified saying
don’t kill for us and i’ll leave you with this moral question maybe in some
books of justice when we hear the terrible crimes people do to each other
we could say those crimes say they deserve to die but who deserves to kill
them who deserves to kill I’ll be very glad to sign these books for you I want
you to read these books thank you thank you you

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