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A lot of people likely expected me to be that classic nun—only all into Jesus and forgive your enemies stuff—and that I was going to be unable to dive into the horror of the crime and the victim’s family.I had this great editor, Jason Epstein at Random House, who really helped me shape my story.
The first thing he did was show me that it took too long in the first draft to acknowledge the terrible crimes that Pat Sonnier and his brother Eddie had done—killing two innocent teenage kids.
Jason said, “Helen, they’ll say this is a nun full of platitudes—‘Jesus said to forgive’—and can’t really stand in the horror of this crime, and acknowledge it, and be outraged by it.
NEW ORLEANS REVIEW When we first met, I quickly realized you weren’t anything like what I was expecting from a typical nun.
How has that helped you, and how has that hindered you over the years?
” And you begin to see how arbitrary the whole thing is, and you can’t apply it—or you make a mess of applying it. That book is about how someone could be innocent and still be thrown into the death machine.
This is nothing to say for the biggest mistake: the huge number of innocent people we’ve wrongfully convicted, put on death row, and then exonerate—162 and counting. For it, I had to learn a lot about the appeal courts.PREJEAN I’ve never thought of the rooting question. NOR It’s helped me—when I feel like a character is too goody-goody or too unreliable—because as long as you’re rooting for the character, you want to see them get over whatever challenge they’re facing. Tim Robbins remarked once that I was “the nun who was in over her head,” and that is just what people thought, and rightly so, when they saw me getting into this.I knew nothing about the courts, the criminal justice system, how politics work—nothing.The sentencing trial can take double or triple the time because everything is open in looking into the life of the defendant, and what might be a mitigating circumstance. Almost everybody wants the death penalty if you kill a policeman, but then not if you kill a fireman. He was killed, our son, he was the light of our eyes.” But he was 14 years old, and the law says that a child is 12 years old or younger.They respond, “But doesn’t his death call for the ultimate penalty?NOR Many states have, in fact, pulled back on the death penalty?PREJEAN The number of executions and death sentences is going down year by year.As Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first black justice, pointed out, your life experiences have a lot to do with the way you interpret words.You have privileged white people, who went to privileged schools, interpreting words such as “equal justice under law” whereas those from humbler backgrounds, like Marshall, have an entirely different take on what those words mean.The reason, for instance, most people are on death row is because they didn’t get a really good, top-notch lawyer.If you don’t have a lawyer who raises a formal objection to so many things, you are in trouble.