avatar for Sister Helen Prejean

Sister Helen Prejean

Roman Catholic nun, Congregation of St. Joseph, leading American advocate for the abolition of the death penalty

Sister Helen Prejean is known for her tireless work against the death penalty. In 1982, she became spiritual adviser to Patrick Sonnier, sentenced to die in Louisiana’s Angola State Prison for the murder of two teenagers. Before his death, Sister Helen came to Sonnier, the men whose job it was to execute him, and the victims’ families. In 1984, Sonnier was put to death in the electric chair. Soon after, she became spiritual advisor to Robert Lee Willie, who later met the same fate as Sonnier. With others, Prejean held vigils and marched to draw attention to capital punishment. She founded a support group for victims’ families called Survive. Published in 1993, Prejean’s Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States sparked national debate on how human choices and consequences are linked in our system of capital punishment. Today, Sister Helen campaigns against the practice, counsels death row prisoners, and works with victims’ families.