Dead Man Walking Author and Activist to Speak at TU

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sister Helen PrejeanSister Helen Prejean will discuss issues of capital punishment at The University of Tulsa's Lorton Performance Center, 550 S. Gary Place, on February 21 at 6 p.m.

Sister Helen's visit to Tulsa is in support of Tulsa Opera's production of Dead Man Walking, opening on February 25. The lecture, a collaborative effort of The University of Tulsa College of Law and Tulsa Opera, is free and open to the public.

Sister Helen, a Catholic nun from Louisiana, became the spiritual adviser and witness to the execution of Patrick Sonnier and Robert Lee Willie. In 1993, she documented her life-changing experiences in a best-selling book, Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States, which was later adapted for an Oscar-winning film featuring Susan Sarandon as Sister Helen in 1995. In 2000, the San Francisco Opera commissioned the adaptation of the book and film into what became one of the most revered American contemporary operas.

"The TU College of Law is pleased to partner with Tulsa Opera in presenting a lecture by Sister Helen Prejean, who will speak about the death penalty," said Janet Levit, Dean and Dean John Rogers Endowed Chair. "This event is a perfect fit for TU Law, as one of our professors, Lyn Entzeroth, is one of the nation's leading scholars on the death penalty. Sister Helen’s presentation is also a great example of how diverse entities from art and higher education can join to enrich the community."

Dead Man Walking and Sister Helen’s latest book, The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions, will be on sale before her lecture.

A Nobel Prize-nominated activist and advocate, Sister Helen describes herself as "an ordinary person who got involved in extraordinary events." She continues to travel the world bringing the issues of capital punishment to a public forum.

"Larger-than-life and down-to-earth, she is truly the kind of person that makes the perfect opera heroine," said Kostis Protopapas, Tulsa Opera artistic director.

Performances of Dead Man Walking will be held in the Chapman Music Hall at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center on Saturday, February 25, 2012, and Friday, March 2, 2012, at 7:30 p.m. and a matinee on Sunday, March 4, 2012, at 2:30 p.m. All performances will be sung in English. Because of the mature subject matter and a brief nudity scene, this production is not recommended for those under 18 years of age.

About Sister Helen Prejean - Sister Helen began her prison ministry in 1981 when she dedicated her life to the poor of New Orleans. While living in the St. Thomas housing project, she became pen pals with Patrick Sonnier, the convicted killer of two teenagers, sentenced to die in the electric chair of Louisiana’s Angola State Prison. Upon Sonnier's request, Sister Helen repeatedly visited him as his spiritual adviser. In doing so, her eyes were opened to the Louisiana execution process. Sister Helen turned her experiences into a book that made the 1994 American Library Associates Notable Book List and was nominated for a 1993 Pulitzer Prize. Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States was No. 1 on the New York Times Best Seller List for 31 weeks. In January 1996, the book was developed into a major motion picture starring Susan Sarandon, who portrayed Sister Helen, and Sean Penn. The movie received four Oscar nominations, and Sarandon won the Academy Award for Best Actress. The book also is the basis for a new opera first presented by the San Francisco Opera in October 2000.

About Tulsa Opera – Founded in 1948, Tulsa Opera enhances the cultural landscape of Oklahoma by providing high quality, locally produced opera and contributes to the future of the operatic art form by educating the community about opera and its role in our culture. Tulsa Opera is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization presenting productions made possible, in part, by generous funding from our patrons, the Oklahoma Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.

About The University of Tulsa College of Law - Founded in 1923, the TU College of Law is a private law school that provides an academically rigorous, yet congenial atmosphere with opportunities for scholarship, leadership and faculty and alumni mentoring. Students develop practical skills through participation with student-driven legal journals, award-winning moot court teams, and an on-campus clinic. In addition to being one of the nation’s leading legal centers for energy law and Indian law, TU Law prepares students for a broad range of fields and offers joint interdisciplinary degrees, such as a JD/MBA and a JD/MTAX. TU’s Mabee Legal Information Center is recognized as one of the nation’s top university law libraries. For more information on the University of Tulsa’s College of Law, visit

Scott Been