Julie Etchingham in conversation with Sister Helen Prejean

Julie Etchingham in conversation with Sister Helen Prejean

11th August 2013 by Natalie Burns

Back to Julie Etchingham in conversation with Sister Helen Prejean

The 2013 Women of the Year Lecture took place on Monday 4 February at the Royal Institution of Great Britain. The guest speaker was the human rights activist and anti-death penalty campaigner Sister Helen Prejean, who was joined in conversation by journalist and ITV broadcaster Julie Etchingham.

Sister Helen was introduced by Women of the Year President Baroness Helena Kennedy, who said that “the opportunity of hearing from this incredible woman was too good to miss.”

Sister Helen recounted her first experiences of working with prisoners on death row in the United States – and of witnessing an execution – and how this determined her life’s work and helped cement her belief in the dignity of human life.

The seventy-three year old New Orleans native spoke of the cultural barriers she has encountered and her commitment to educating people about the realities of capital punishment in order to break these barriers down.

She described her work with death row inmate Patrick Sonnier who was executed in April 1984 and how this experience, along with her encounters with the victims’ families, formed the inspiration for her bestselling book Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States.

Members of the audience were then invited to ask questions and comment on the issues raised. These questions covered the influence of religion, race, women on death row, gun laws and the politics of capital punishment.

In response Sister Helen highlighted the injustice and inhumanity of capital punishment, as well as citing some enlightening statistics about death row inmates and attitudes towards the death penalty.

Guests at the Ri included the ITV London Tonight correspondent Ronke Phillips, Piers Bannister and Claire Jenkins from Amicus, a legal charity helping provide representation for people on death row, Southbank Centre artistic director Jude Kelly and Olympic gold medallist Katherine Grainger.

Sister Helen concluded with a call for people to wake up to the realities of the death penalty and take action to liberate their minds and those of others.

The 2013 lecture ended with Baroness Helena Kennedy presenting Sister Helen with the Women of the Year Lecture Award.

The 2013 Women of the Year lecture was sponsored by Barclays.


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