2013 Holstein Award – Helen Prejean, C.S.J.
Sister Helen began her prison ministry in 1981 when she dedicated her life to the poor of New Orleans. Since then she has been committed to educating citizens about the death penalty and counseling individual death row prisoners. She has accompanied six men to their deaths. In 1994, Sister Helen turned her experiences into a book entitled Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty, which held a spot on the New York Times Bestseller List for 31 weeks. Later the book was developed into a major motion picture starring Susan Sarandon as Sister Helen and Sean Penn as a death row inmate. The movie received four Oscar nominations including Tim Robbins for Best Director, Sean Penn for Best Actor, Susan Sarandon for Best Actress, and Bruce Springsteen’s “Dead Man Walkin” for Best Song. Sr. Helen’s second book, The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions, was published in December 2004 and describes her accompanying two men to their executions. She continues her work as a passionate storyteller on speaking tours nationwide and is presently working on her next book, River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey.
Sr. Prejean initially connected with the Ignatian Solidarity Network by speaking to thousands of young people at their annual event, the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice in 2003. At that event she formally introduced the Dead Man Walking School Theater Project, and consequently Jesuit high schools were some of the first institutions in the U.S. to perform the play.