University of Pittsburgh
April 5, 2004

Sister Helen Prejean, Author of Dead Man Walking, Participates in Free Panel Discussion at Pitt


Sharon Blake


Cell: 412-277-6926

PITTSBURGH—Sister Helen Prejean, the Roman Catholic nun whose experience as spiritual adviser to inmates on death row became the basis for her best-selling book Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States (Random House, 1993; Vintage, 1994), will appear in a free panel discussion at Pitt. It will take place from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. April 17 in the Lower Lounge of the University of Pittsburgh William Pitt Union, 3959 Fifth Ave., Oakland. The discussion, titled "Religious Belief and the Work for Social Justice," will explore the role that faith may play to spur leaders in religious communities toward work for social justice. The discussion is hosted by PITT ARTS.

The other two panelists are Venerable Shih Ying-Fa, abbot of Cloudwater, a spiritual leader at the Zen Center of Cleveland, and Jamal El Amin, national chair for Millati Islami (The Path of Peace), an Islamic-based 12-step program in which participants study Islam and work on treatment for their narcotics addictions.

A member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille since 1957, Prejean received the Bachelor of Arts degree in English and education from St. Mary's Dominican College and the Master of Arts degree in religious education from St. Paul's University in Ottawa, Canada. She has spent most of her life in New Orleans, working among the poor. While corresponding with a convicted killer on death row in Louisiana's Angola State Prison, she became his spiritual adviser, at his request. Her experience with the Louisiana execution process led her to become an outspoken activist against capital punishment as well as an advocate for the families of murder victims.

Prejean's book was nominated for the 1993 Pulitzer Prize, was at the top of the New York Times Best Seller List for 31 weeks, was on the International Best Seller List, and has been translated into 10 languages. It was developed into a major motion picture starring Susan Sarandon as Prejean and Sean Penn as a death row inmate.

Fifteen years after beginning her crusade, Prejean, who has witnessed five executions in Louisiana, lectures and writes about capital punishment. She is the founder of Survive, a victim's advocacy group in New Orleans, and is the honorary chair of Moratorium Campaign, a group gathering signatures of those supporting a world-wide moratorium on the death penalty.

Pitt faculty, staff, and students attending the panel discussion will be able to purchase tickets for an upcoming Pittsburgh Opera production based on Prejean's book at a discount through the PITT ARTS Cheap Seats program. For more information, call 412-624-4498.

On April 16, Prejean will be a keynote speaker at a free conference called Dead Man Walking: Law Culture, and Capital Punishment, to be held in the Teplitz Memorial Courtroom in the Barco Law Building from 12:30 to 6:30 p.m. For more information, call 412-648-7006.