Standing outside the Angola State Penitentiary after witnessing the execution of Patrick Sonnier, Sister Helen Prejean
struggled to wrap her head around what she had just seen. After all, in the United States, executions are hidden from the public, and few people ever witness the state killing a person -- much less deal with the complexity of advocating for a murderer who's about to be executed at the same time they're trying to support the victims' families. As one of the nation's leading advocates in the fight to abolish the death penalty, Sister Prejean faces these tensions daily and uses the power of story to advance a nationwide dialogue about the immorality of capital punishment. The memoir of her work on death row, Dead Man Walking
, was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film and, most recently, an opera, written by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. Sister Prejean will be in Denver for a screening and book signing on Wednesday, March 12, and a death-penalty symposium on Thursday, March 13, as part of Central City Opera
's Prisons, Compassion and Redemption Project
, a series of public events leading up to the July performance of Dead Man Walking
. In advance of those appearances, Westword
spoke with Sister Prejean about the opera, the death penalty and the role of art in addressing social issues.