The University of Michigan-Flint Common Read Committee has selected Sister Helen Prejean's memoir, Dead Man Walking, for the 2015-16 Common Read. Published in 1994, the book is widely heralded as a profound reflection on capital punishment. Available in paperback and as an audio book, it has also been the basis for a film and an opera. Prejean’s more recent 2006 book is Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions.
In Dead Man Walking, Prejean wrestles in complex ways with important moral questions, drawing on her religious tradition (she is a member of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Medaille) and social science data and argument. The memoir speaks to issues of capital punishment, the criminal justice system, the humanity of perpetrators, and the claims and needs of direct and indirect victims of brutal crimes.
“When I wrote Dead Man Walking, I wrote it in present tense, and I take you with me, I just take you with me and describe everything that I experienced so that you can experience it, too. Reading is a very holy, prayerful thing to do, because you don’t have to debate anybody, you don’t have to say, ‘Yeah, but I think this.’ You can go to a quiet place. You can bring in all these experiences and get information along the way, and you can maybe change your life. Maybe. It’s a free act."
—Sister Helen Prejean speaking at Villanova University (Pennsylvania) in 2010