Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States

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In 1982, Sister Helen Prejean became the spiritual advisor to Patrick Sonnier, the convicted killer of two teenagers who was sentenced to die in the electric chair of Louisiana’s Angola State Prison. In the months before Sonnier’s death, the Roman Catholic nun came to know a man who was as terrified as he had once been terrifying. She also came to know the families of the victims and the men whose job it was to execute—men who often harbored doubts about the rightness of what they were doing.
        Out of that dreadful intimacy comes a profoundly moving spiritual journey through our system of capital punishment. Here Sister Helen confronts both the plight of the condemned and the rage of the bereaved, the fears of a society shattered by violence and the Christian imperative of love. On its original publication in 1993, Dead Man Walking emerged as an unprecedented look at the human consequences of the death penalty. Now, some two decades later, this story—which has inspired a film, a stage play, an opera and a musical album—is more gut-wrenching than ever, stirring deep and life-changing reflection in all who encounter it.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
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About the author

Helen Prejean, C. S. J., is a writer, lecturer, and community organizer who was born in Baton Rouge and has lived and worked in Louisiana all her life. Her groundbreaking firsthand account of the death penalty, Dead Man Walking, has been adapted into a movie, an opera, and a play for high schools and colleges. She is also the author of The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions. She has lectured extensively on the subject of capital punishment and has appeared on 60 Minutes, NBC’s Today Show, NPR’s Weekend Edition and Fresh Air, PBS’s Frontline, BBC World Service radio, and an NBC special series on the death penalty. She has received honorary degrees from colleges and universities across the United States. She is a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph.
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Published on
Feb 2, 2011
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Biography & Autobiography / Religious
Law / Criminal Law / General
Social Science / Criminology
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This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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The West Memphis Three. Accused, convicted…and set free. Do you know their story?

In 2011, one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in American legal history was set right when Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley were released after eighteen years in prison. Award-winning journalist Mara Leveritt’s The Devil’s Knot remains the most comprehensive, insightful reporting ever done on the investigation, trials, and convictions of three teenage boys who became known as the West Memphis Three.

For weeks in 1993, after the murders of three eight-year-old boys, police in West Memphis, Arkansas seemed stymied. Then suddenly, detectives charged three teenagers—alleged members of a satanic cult—with the killings. Despite the witch-hunt atmosphere of the trials, and a case which included stunning investigative blunders, a confession riddled with errors, and an absence of physical evidence linking any of the accused to the crime, the teenagers were convicted. Jurors sentenced Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley to life in prison and Damien Echols, the accused ringleader, to death. The guilty verdicts were popular in their home state—even upheld on appeal—and all three remained in prison until their unprecedented release in August 2011.

With close-up views of its key participants, this award-winning account unravels the many tangled knots of this endlessly shocking case, one which will shape the American legal landscape for years to come.
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Immediately after graduating from college in 1991, McCandless had roamed through the West and Southwest on a vision quest like those made by his heroes Jack London and John Muir.  In the Mojave Desert he abandoned his car, stripped it of its license plates, and burned all of his  cash.  He would give himself a new name, Alexander Supertramp, and , unencumbered by money and belongings, he would be free to wallow in the raw, unfiltered experiences that nature presented.  Craving a blank spot on the map, McCandless simply threw the maps away.  Leaving behind his desperate parents and sister, he vanished into the wild.

Jon Krakauer constructs a clarifying prism through which he reassembles the disquieting facts of McCandless's short life.  Admitting an interst that borders on obsession, he searches for the clues to the dries and desires that propelled McCandless.  Digging deeply, he takes an inherently compelling mystery and unravels the larger riddles it holds: the profound pull of the American wilderness on our imagination; the allure of high-risk activities to young men of a certain cast of mind; the complex, charged bond between fathers and sons.

When McCandless's innocent mistakes turn out to be irreversible and fatal, he becomes the stuff of tabloid headlines and is dismissed for his naiveté, pretensions, and hubris.  He is said  to have had a death wish but wanting to die is a very different thing from being compelled to look over the edge. Krakauer brings McCandless's uncompromising pilgrimage out of the shadows, and the peril, adversity , and renunciation sought by this enigmatic young man are illuminated with a rare understanding--and not an ounce of sentimentality. Mesmerizing, heartbreaking, Into the Wild is a tour de force. The power and luminosity of Jon Krakauer's stoytelling blaze through every page.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
#1 New York Times best-seller with more than 11 million copies sold and Amazon’s #17 best-selling book of all time. Heaven Is for Real was the best-selling non-fiction book of 2011 as reported by Nielsen’s Bookscan, and it was made in to a major motion picture by Sony in 2014.

“Do you remember the hospital, Colton?” Sonja said. “Yes, mommy, I remember,” he said. “That’s where the angels sang to me.”

When Colton Burpo made it through an emergency appendectomy, his family was overjoyed at his miraculous survival. What they weren’t expecting, though, was the story that emerged in the months that followed—a story as beautiful as it was extraordinary, detailing their little boy’s trip to heaven and back.

Colton, not yet four years old, told his parents he left his body during the surgery–and authenticated that claim by describing exactly what his parents were doing in another part of the hospital while he was being operated on. He talked of visiting heaven and relayed stories told to him by people he met there whom he had never met in life, sharing events that happened even before he was born. He also astonished his parents with descriptions and obscure details about heaven that matched the Bible exactly, though he had not yet learned to read.

With disarming innocence and the plainspoken boldness of a child, Colton tells of meeting long-departed family members. He describes Jesus, the angels, how “really, really big” God is, and how much God loves us. Retold by his father, but using Colton’s uniquely simple words, Heaven Is for Real offers a glimpse of the world that awaits us, where as Colton says, “Nobody is old and nobody wears glasses.”

Heaven Is for Real will forever change the way you think of eternity, offering the chance to see, and believe, like a child.

Continue the Burpos story in Heaven Changes Everything: The Rest of Our Story. Heaven Is for Real also is available in Spanish, El cielo es real.

Bonus material in this special movie edition includes:

Photos from the movie setUpdates from father, Todd, and son, Colton, on recent events including the making-of-the-movie experience“From the Set” Q&A’s with the movie’s filmmakers and actors
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