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Ann, Prejean’s sister, describes watching the SWAT team
outside of the prison during the execution. Ann, a doctor, has a
difficult time finding resources to take care of her patients. Prejean
spends the night at her mother’s house. The next day, friends and
reporters call. Patrick will be buried in the nuns’ cemetery. On
Friday, approximately thirty people gather for Patrick’s funeral.
Eddie attends, handcuffed and flanked by guards. Bishop Stanley
Ott delivers the homily. He says that God is a God of compassion
and love, not retribution. Eddie says goodbye to his family, most
of whom will never see him again. Patrick is buried next to Sister
Isabel, a friend of Prejean’s. A reporter at the funeral asks Prejean
if she was in love with Patrick.
Patrick’s possessions arrive at Prejean’s mother’s house.
Prejean decides to meet with C. Paul Phelps, head of the Corrections
Department. Phelps is personally opposed to the death penalty, which
he believes is biased and arbitrary. He says he does not believe
the execution accomplished anything, but his job is to obey the
law and make the death process as humane as possible. Prejean acknowledges
that a man like Phelps can do a lot of good in his position. Phelps
explains the execution process he created. The electrician who wired
the chair refused to accept payment for it, and the executioner
works anonymously, with no contract. Phelps says he will never witness
an execution himself. Prejean is disturbed that such a good man
could be a participant in such a process. She vows to make no more
prison visits except to see Eddie.
Prejean and her sister deliver Patrick’s belongings to
his mother, Gladys Sonnier, who lives in a small project apartment.
Gladys’s daughter, sister, and niece tell Prejean about the misrepresentation of
the family in the press. Prejean tells Gladys about Patrick’s last moments.
Back in St. Thomas, Prejean looks forward to returning
to normal life. She wonders if the execution has left an indelible
mark on her. Over the next six weeks, she reads a number of newspaper
articles expressing outrage at Patrick’s seemingly preferential
treatment by the Catholic Church. The only criticism Prejean takes
seriously blames her for failing to visit with the victims’ families.
Prejean reads an article describing a murder very similar
to the one Patrick committed. She wonders whether executions actually cause
more violence and cites several statistics that indicate a rise
in crime following an execution. Prejean and Tom Dybdahl begin a training
program for people willing to become spiritual advisors. They later
decide they need a lawyer to work only on death-row cases. They
raise $25,000 and open an office in September 1984.
Prejean goes on her annual retreat. Several days into
it, she reads a newspaper clipping showing Bishop Ott speaking in
favor of abolishing the death penalty. She discusses the Supreme
Court’s ruling in Furman v. Georgia and Gregg
v. Georgia, in which the Court said capital punishment
is not cruel, but retributive.
Bill Quigley takes Prejean to a meeting of death row abolitionists.
The participants decide to walk from New Orleans to Baton Rouge
to protest and raise awareness. Although support for the death penalty
is very high, Prejean notes that support drastically drops with
more information. Prejean decides to work full time on death penalty
abolition and education. Six months after Patrick’s execution, Millard
Farmer asks Prejean to become spiritual advisor to a man named Robert
Lee Willie, who is about to be executed.
As with her earlier religious awakening, Prejean undergoes
a gradual transformation from socially active nun to full-time death
row abolitionist. The first part of that journey began with Chava
Colon’s simple request for Prejean to correspond with Patrick. In
this chapter, Prejean decides to work with Robert Lee Willie and
to become a full-time advocate. Her new path in life is the product
of reflection, experience, and direct confrontation with the world.
In the wake of Patrick’s execution, Prejean’s initial desire to
return to a normal life is understandable. But just as Prejean was
unable to live the life of a quiet nun after hearing her faith’s
call to action, she finds herself unable to return to her former
life. The experience of watching Patrick’s execution has indeed
left an indelible mark on her, and the course of her life changes
as a result.
Prejean’s experiences with the individuals involved in
Patrick’s execution are as much a guiding force for her activism
as are her faith and convictions. Bill Quigley, Bishop Ott, Millard
Farmer, her sister Ann, and Tom Dybdahl are sources of inspiration
and hope. After seeing the newspaper clipping describing Bishop
Ott’s speech, Prejean knows she cannot step away from anti-death
The challenges presented by figures such as the D.A. and
C. Paul Phelps are another call to action. Both men are honest,
decent, law-abiding individuals who nonetheless participate in state-sanctioned killing.
Most of the startlingly large number of Americans who support the
death penalty are good people who desire a safe, healthy community,
and the same applies to officers in the prison system. In order
to change the system, everyone from the head of the Department of
Corrections to the average citizen must refuse to participate.
Underpinning Prejean’s arguments against the death penalty
is a philosophical perspective that holds the individual responsible
for his or her actions. For Prejean, people like C. Paul Phelps
or Governor Edwards cannot hide behind their jobs. In addition to
being employees of the state, they are individuals responsible for
the decisions they make. Prejean acknowledges that the situation
is complex. Despite their participation in capital punishment, compassionate
men like Phelps can and do make an important difference by treating
prisoners as humanely as possible. Nonetheless, in order for capital
punishment to succeed, the system of men and women who enforce it
must agree, passively or actively, to its continuation. From the
electrician who wires the chair to the warden who nods his or her
head, each individual is accountable for the preservation of the
Prejean is aware of the power of information. The death
penalty will never be abolished unless society understands its ineffectiveness as
a social tool. Prejean’s narrative is meant to convince readers using
facts and figures, not just win their hearts. In this chapter, information
about Supreme Court decisions and reports from Amnesty International
present a harsh portrayal of capital punishment in America, one
of only two NATO countries that still has capital punishment.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Dead Man Walking!