Common Read

The Common Read book selection engages the community through readings, speakers and other events throughout the fall semester. You will discuss this book with fellow freshman as you enter life at Arcadia.

2018 Book

Dead Man Walking by Sister Helen Prejean

Sister Helen Prejean has been instrumental in sparking national dialogue on the death penalty and helping to shape the Catholic Church’s newly vigorous opposition to state executions.  She travels around the world giving talks about her ministry.  She considers herself a southern storyteller.

Sister Helen is a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph.  She spent her first years with the Sisters teaching religion to junior high school students.  Realizing that being on the side of poor people is an essential part of the Gospel she moved into the St. Thomas Housing Project in New Orleans and began working at Hope House from 1981 – 1984.

During this time, she was asked to correspond with a death row inmate Patrick Sonnier at Angola.  She agreed and became his spiritual adviser.  After witnessing his execution, she wrote a book about the experience.  The result was Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States.  It became a movie, an opera and a play for high schools and colleges.

Since 1984, Sister Helen has divided her time between educating citizens about the death penalty and counseling individual death row prisoners.  She has accompanied six men to their deaths.  In doing so, she began to suspect that some of those executed were not guilty.  This realization inspired her second book, The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions, which was released by Random House in December of 2004.

2018 Essay Contest: Dead Man Walking

Read and share your ideas!

The Common Read provides an opportunity for all first-year students at Arcadia University to have a shared intellectual experience during their first semester on campus. The essay contest invites students to begin voicing their own opinions around the book’s major themes.

2018 Contest Topic
Deadline: September 20, 2018 at 5:00 pm

You have read Sister Helen Prejean’s Dead Man Walking, which explores the many ways that capital punishment creates divided consciousness and divided consciences that vary from group to group. Some of the book’s most prominent examples include:

  • Employees within the execution system compartmentalizing any feelings of guilt or discomfort over their role in killing another person
  • Victims’ families struggling between the desire for vengeance and the recognition of forgiveness as a path to peace
  • The perpetrator’s desire to find peace through contrition and apology vs. a sense of injured pride and the recognition of systemic injustice
  • Christian morality that seeks mercy for perpetrators but also demands sympathy for the sufferings of victims’ families, who may well desire execution.

Considering these tensions (or others you identify), which group conflict seems the most difficult to resolve? Which viewpoint makes most sense to you? How is guilt shared among the various parties to capital punishment? Can a person belong to more than one of these groups (that is, be both a perpetrator and victim)? Is the American public (this book’s audience, including you) also a party to the guilt? If so, as a victim, a perpetrator, or both?

Competition Rules and Submission