Sister Helen Prejean, friend of the show, author, and advocate for the abolition of the death penalty, chats with Father Dave about her new memoir, “River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey.”
Sister Helen discusses the death penalty through a faith lens. “Father Dave, you can’t believe the number of people who say, ‘I’m pro life but I’m for the death penalty,’ because they say they’re for innocent life, but not guilty life … Where is the dignity in taking a human being and making him defenseless in a premeditated way?”
Father Dave asks Sister Helen how she got involved with social justice work. “We had a big debate in the community about our mission as nuns. At first, I was resistant to all of this social justice stuff … I believed you were charitable to the people around you pray for people. God would take care of those big problems.” But when Sister Helen attended a conference with her fellow Sisters of Saint Joseph, she heard from one speaker, Sister Mary Augustine, and felt the Holy Spirit calling her to something more.
“This was the line that changed the spiritual trajectory of my life: ‘Jesus preached good news to the poor.’ And she said, ‘Good news for poor people is that they have a right to resist that poverty and seek what is rightfully theirs to have a dignified life.’ After hearing these talks, Sister Helen moved into the Saint Thomas housing projects to live among and serve the poor. From there, she became interested in working with those on the margins of society.
Father Dave asks Sister Helen why she thinks so many people still support the death penalty. “People are good, and they go with what they’re exposed to and what they’re not … I was totally unexposed to the way the criminal justice system works. I was totally unexposed to the way race plays a part in the application of the death penalty. So when I go to talk to audiences, I just take them with me on my journey. That’s what “River of Fire” does. It takes you on the spiritual journey of coming to understand the death penalty.”
“These people are guilty. They crossed a line, so it’s only right that they pay for what they did. You descend deeply into the Gospel of Jesus, and then you begin to realize how affected you are by culture … the law is not okay when it says it’s okay to put a person in a cell for 20 years and then take them out and kill them. People go by their experience, and if they’re never exposed to what happens to people in the criminal justice system, it’s harder to reach them. It’s not that I was bad when I didn’t understand racism and white privilege, I just wasn’t exposed.” Original Air 8-19-19