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Dead Man Walking

Chapter 2

Summary Chapter 2

Prejean asks Patrick if he believes God has forgiven him, and he says he believes he has. He describes what happened on the night of the murders. Eddie was distraught over a girl and shot the two kids in a rage. Patrick says he will go to his grave feeling “bad” about what happened. He says he confessed to the murders out of fear and to confuse the authorities.

A stay of execution is granted pending Patrick’s appeal. During Prejean’s next visit to Patrick and Eddie, Eddie confesses that he was the one who pulled the trigger. He says during the trial, he was confused about what to say. The court denies Patrick’s appeal. Prejean decides to contact Millard Farmer, a well-known death row attorney in Atlanta.

Analysis

After she describes visiting Patrick and entering Angola prison, Prejean begins to highlight two distinct and opposing themes. She contrasts Patrick’s essential humanity, which remains intact despite the brutality of his crime, with the inhuman conditions of the prison system.

In its plantation days, Angola was a place where people were enslaved and treated as something less than human. As Prejean pulls into the prison, she sees black prisoners surrounded by armed guards on horseback, an image that could have come from the early nineteenth century. The penal system, like the institution of slavery before it, dehumanizes and devalues those trapped in it. Prejean’s descriptions of Angola, and her summation of its brutal history, reveal the institutional legacy of brutality and violence upon which the American prison system rests. Society has progressed, but the prison system has remained entrenched in an antiquated, cruel past.

Prejean uses her first encounter with Patrick to paint a vivid portrait of a man who, despite his crime, remains human. Prejean temporarily hands over the narrative to Patrick, who fills the two hours of their visit with stories, memories, and reflections. In this chapter, she allows his voice to come through as if he were speaking directly to the reader. Still, Prejean makes sure that Patrick’s crime never recedes too far into the background. He is responsible for the murder of two teenagers, and those murders are a part of him. While Prejean looks at his hands, she remembers that those hands once may have taken two lives.

As the narrative progresses, Prejean further explores Patrick’s humanity in order to show just how traumatic the prospect of death is for him. He feels genuine remorse, but the state isn’t interested in what he feels. As Patrick’s execution date draws closer, the last-minute appeals and petitions grow desperate. A life hangs in the balance, and Prejean never loses sight of the enormous stakes. She likens the petition and appeal process to a surgery, or the birth of a baby. Just as a life hangs in the balance during surgery, Patrick’s life is suspended while the judge decides upon his fate. A new life can be granted, or a life can be lost. The state’s perspective on Patrick’s execution, however, is radically different than Prejean’s. As Camus said, the man waiting to die can’t act on his own behalf. He has no agency, and circumstances force him into passivity. For the state, the condemned man is not even human.