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Dead Man Walking is a work of non-fiction by Sister Helen Prejean, a Roman Catholic nun and one of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Medaille.


Prejean has become a leading American advocate for the abolition of the death penalty. Her campaign began in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1982, through a correspondence she maintained with two convicted murderers.

The first was Elmo Patrick Sonnier, who was sentenced to death by electrocution. She visited Sonnier in prison and agreed to be his spiritual advisor in the months leading up to his death.

The second was Robert Lee Willie, for whom she once again served as spiritual advisor.

The experience gave Prejean greater insight into the process involved in executions and she began speaking out against capital punishment. At the same time, she also founded Survive, an organization devoted to providing counseling to the families of victims of violence.


The title comes from the traditional call in the United States of "Dead man walking, dead man walking here" from a prison guard as a condemned prisoner is led from Death Row to be executed. The phrase may have originally come from the 1909 poem by Thomas Hardy titled The Dead Man Walking.



In 1995, a film based on the book was made, starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn.


The book was also made into an opera with the same name, composed by Jake Heggie from a libretto by Terrence McNally which premiered at the San Francisco Opera in October 2000. The international premiere of the opera was in January 2006, at the Calgary Opera in Calgary, Canada.

Stage version of the book/film


  • Prejean, Helen (1993). Dead Man Walking. Random House. ISBN 0-679-75131-9 (paperback)

External links

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