‘Dead Man Walking.’ Live nun talking

On my last night in New Orleans, Sister Helen and I visited death penalty attorney Denny LaBoef at her home. Denny took this photo of us.

My journalism brings me face to face with all sorts of interesting people. Over the years I have met extraordinary men and women and ordinary ones who have extraordinary tales to tell.

Occasionally, I run into exceptional people, the kind who make me stop to reflect, respect and admire.

Sister Helen Prejean is one of them.

I’d known about her work for decades — I first learned about her ministry on death row when I, as a young reporter, began covering criminal justice issues in Florida. When her book, “Dead Man Walking” was published, I read it and immediately connected with her. She vomited after witnessing her first execution in the electric chair. So did I.

Last week, I was finally able to spend some time with her. She came to pick me up at the New Orleans airport. “Text me when eagle hits tarmac,” were her orders.

She was waiting patiently for me in her Toyota outside Delta baggage claim. Immediately, I got a first-hand experience of her lead-foot driving.

Over the next few days, I came to know a woman who has dedicated her entire life to the sisterhood, to the Catholic church, to the poor and disenfranchised. I also came to know a woman who is full of life and laughter and joy in her heart, despite the fact that she has been dealing with executions for 30 years. I could not get over her verve for life. I also gained a couple of pounds eating Oyster Po’ Boys with her. They were deelish.

My story on Sister Helen published today on CNN.com. Shortly after, I received another text from her — yes, she loves her iPhone.

“Moniiiiiiii!,” it said. “You amaze me. What a comprehensive, lively, piece. U r an incredible, encyclopedic, compassionate journalist. Even the parrot joke! I’ll call soon.”

I felt tears welling.

I’m raising a glass of Scotch in your honor tonight, Helen.

Sister Helen is perhaps America’s best known abolitionist. You and I may not agree with her position on the death penalty or other issues for that matter.

I was inspired not because she is a death penalty abolitionist but because she is a woman of courage, compassion and conviction. And a whole lot of strength.

Journalists often lose their sense of all the good in this world because we cover so much misery and suffering. Sister Helen gave me back a little bit of my diminishing faith in humanity.

Read the CNN story here:


3 Replies to “‘Dead Man Walking.’ Live nun talking”

  1. It was a great story, Moni. I did not vomit after witnessing my first execution in the electric chair, but I went on a crazy crying jag. Another stellar job. Miss you and hope you’re well.


  2. Superb piece, Moni. I’ve been following Sr. Helen for about five years as part of a book project and am inspired by the energy of your words. Congratulations.


  3. As always Ms Moni you continue to inspire me with your ability to take a subject that others have previously written about but you give us a very personal peak into the compassionate inner soul of Sister Helen Prejean and her tireless Ministry’s courageous work along with her personal battle of exposing our mid evil criminal punitive justice system’s use of the death penalty while she attempts to give some sembelence of dignity to the condemned in our society. I felt the good Sister’s amazing humanity for ALL shining ever so abundantly throughout your overview of her life’s work. “Great Humanitarian” does not begin to sum up Sister Helen…she is so much more as you articulate so very well. Thank you again for taking us where most of us would never venture or have the opportunity to go and see with your incredible depth of insight and warmth on an issue that is so very divisive and taboo in our society. Fantastic job!


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