By Chelsea Delnero
“We are worth more than the worst act we commit,” said Sister Helen Prejean as she addressed the Keene community with a lecture on capital punishment Oct. 11.
Prejean gave a speech in the Mabel Brown Room to a large audience of Keene State College students, faculty and other community members.
Prejean, author of the book “Dead Man Walking,” which later became an award-winning movie, spoke of her experiences working with prisoners on death row and offering condolences to their families as well as the families of murder victims.
Prejean got involved in social injustice in the 1980s when she became the pen pal of death row inmate Patrick Sonnier.
She was his spiritual adviser and friend until he was executed in the electric chair, which inspired her first book.
“Very few people get to witness social injustice. I had to tell the story; I was a witness,” she said.
Prejean urged the community to get involved with social justice issues, saying “if we all did one concrete act to change things, we would change the world.”
New Hampshire has a death penalty but it hasn’t been used since the 1930s. Prejean told the audience to talk to the state government and work to rid New Hampshire of the death penalty.
“It’s not even a political issue anymore; the political wind is gone,” she said. “It’s a good time to stand up for why we don’t need the death penalty. We’ve got to help [politicians] see that [they’re] not risking anything politically by not supporting the death penalty.”
Since writing “Dead Man Walking,” Prejean has traveled the world speaking to anyone who will listen about the injustice of the death penalty in the United States.
She continues her work with inmates and their families and has started a group for families coping with the murder of a loved one called “Survive.”
She has also written a second book, “the Death of Innocents,” which tells the story of prisoners on death row who have been proven innocent.
In her speech, Prejean urged forgiveness. She explained it’s hard to do but in the long run forgiveness is a much better option.
“Outrage is an ethical way to feel about the death of innocent people,” she said. “It’s what we do with that outrage that matters.”
Students at the event were very impressed with Prejean’s lecture and so was Provost Mel Netzhammer, who introduced Prejean.
“She is tireless in bringing her efforts for social justice to us,” he said. “I’ve had many conversations with her and she has pushed me to do something, to act.”
Junior Liz Harvey said, “She was amazing. You have no idea how excited I was to see her. This was the first speech I went to that wasn’t required for a class and it was the most beneficial to me.”
Freshman John Mandel said, “She’s a very good presenter, very powerful. You can tell she has experience.”
He continued to say Prejean reminded him that prisoners on death row are human too and “she presented both sides.”