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Dead Man Walking

Sister Helen Prejean

Chapter 2

Chapter 1

Chapter 2, page 2

page 1 of 2

Summary

Prejean decides to visit death row as Patrick’s spiritual advisor. She visits with the Catholic chaplain of the prison, who tells her that the men inside are the “scum of the earth” and that she should not let herself be conned by them.

Angola prison is on the site of a former plantation that was named for the country from which most of the slaves came. As Prejean arrives at Angola, she sees a row of predominately black prisoners carrying hoes on their way out to the field. They are surrounded by armed guards. Angola has a long history of abuse, including locking prisoners in a cellblock later converted into a dog kennel.

In September, the prison grants Prejean permission to become Patrick’s spiritual advisor and visit him. Prejean describes the inside of death row: the gates closing behind her, the heavy mesh screen that separates visitors and inmates, and the stark isolation. She tries to make sense of what it means for the government of the United States to kill its citizens.

Patrick enters the room rattling his chains and joking with the guard. He has a handsome face, kinder than the one Prejean saw in the photograph. Patrick gives her a gift: a picture frame made out of cigarette packages. He has clean, shapely hands and is eager to please. He talks about his ex-wife, Helen, and his eleven-year-old daughter, Star. He and his brother Eddie grew up poor. Their father wasn’t around much; he died of cancer when Patrick was eleven. As children, Patrick and Eddie hunted rabbits for food. After eighth grade, Patrick dropped out of school and began working as a truck driver; later he moved on to oil rigs. By the time she has to leave, Prejean has a terrible headache and is grateful to be out of the prison. She notes that Patrick never once discussed his crime. She realizes that she should have reached out to the victims’ families, not just to Patrick.

Prejean continues to write and visit Patrick every month. Patrick, unlike his brother Eddie, has no disciplinary write-ups. In March of 1983, Prejean visits Eddie for the first time. He is a nervous, “tortured man” who lives in lock-down. Eddie tells Prejean about prison life, saying he prefers lock-down to being with the general population. In July, Patrick learns that his new execution date has been set for August 19, 1983. She begins to visit him every week. One day, the guards weigh and measure Patrick so they will be prepared if he resists on his execution day.

The day before his scheduled execution, Patrick waits to be moved to the death house. He has lost weight and is unable to sleep. Prejean tells Patrick that his attorney has filed a petition asking for a stay of execution. Another lawyer working on Patrick’s behalf, Tom Dybdahl, says he is ninety-five percent sure they will get one. Prejean tells Patrick that if he dies, she wants to be there with him so that he can see at least one loving face. He says he wishes he knew if his death would be swift or drawn out.

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