‘Dead Man’ succeeds at PSU
Jessica Sewing | Collegio Reporter
“Dead Man Walking” is more than your ordinary play. To perform the play, two requirements that each school must meet are: involving at least two other academic departments and sponsoring creative art and music projects on the issue of the death penalty.
Tim Robbins, who wrote the stage play of Sister Helen Prejean’s “Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty,” added these provisions in an effort to create deeper reflections on the death penalty in high schools and colleges.
“Dead Man Walking” is based on Prejean’s experiences while working with an inmate on death row. It began after Prejean started working at Hope House, a center that assists public housing residents. She was asked to correspond with a death row inmate, and in 1982 she started visiting Patrick Sonnier at Louisiana’s Angola Prison.
Louisiana still has the death penalty system in place and Prejean became his spiritual adviser. She worked to prevent his execution and finally walked with him to the electric chair.
She has accompanied six men to their death, including Sonnier. Prejean’s book was published in 1993 and became a best seller and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
Since the launch of the Dead Man Walking School Theatre Project in the fall of 2003, more than 200 high schools and colleges across the country have produced the play, including Washburn and Wichita State University.
Kristy Magee directed and organized the project on PSU’s campus. She says it took nearly two years to complete the requirements. Magee says when she began the project she had no idea of the amount of support and dedication it would involve from Pitt State and the community of Pittsburg. As to the requirements, the campus had to incorporate other departments and groups to collaborate on the undertaking.
“Pitt State had over 10 classes and organizations involved on campus,” said Magee, graduate student. “The students participating in these classes and discussions were able to research the subject of capital punishment, debate about it or apply it to their own majors in very unique ways.”
Magee says it was all about collaboration, respecting different academic disciplines and contrasting opinions, and how the arts can be used as an educational tool to bring people together. The cross-campus involvement led to a Performing Arts and Lecture Series appearance by Prejean herself.
“I can certainly say that I am already forever changed by this experience at Pitt State,” Magee said. “I hope each person involved with the Dead Man Walking School Theatre Project is as well.”
An unplanned event that occurred the same week the play was opening on campus was Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy signed a bill repealing the death penalty. In Connecticut alone, the bill is expected to save the state $850,000 per year for the next two years. That number is expected to grow to $5 million in following years.
For Connecticut, and a majority of states that still practice the death penalty, it cost about $5 million a year to maintain the system, despite barely using it. There has only been one person executed by the state since 1960.
The death penalty is more costly than life without parole because the Constitution requires a long and complex judicial process for capital cases to ensure innocent people aren’t wrongfully executed.
In Kansas, a trial seeking the death penalty costs $116,700 more than an ordinary murder trial.
Connecticut is now the 17th state to abolish the death penalty; Kansas is currently not one of those states.
Many states that aren’t in good financial standing are currently reevaluating their decision to practice the death penalty as a way to save taxpayer dollars. California has an initiative on the November 2012 ballot to replace its death penalty system.