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: