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Play Debut Of Dead Man Walking In Alamosa Includes Writer Sister Helen Prejean - Community Radio Sum

The production of the play Dead Man Walking has impacted people's opinion about

the death penalty in the rural community of Alamosa, Colorado.The play project was designed by Sister Helen Prejean (who wrote the book) and Tim Robbins (who adapted the movie and play) to "widen the circle of public discourse on the death penalty and to get young people involved through theater and the arts."Sister Prejean attended the opening night performance of the play (April 21st, 2006) put on by Adams State College (ASC) in Alamosa, where a week of activities (art show, debate, symposium, etc.) engaged students and community members.Although this was a local event, the death penalty issue is a topic of national interest.Sister Prejean was excited about the response, she told Tim Robbins saying, "This is the dream!They're doing it!No other community has participated in the play project as fully as Alamosa."

-- TRANSCRIPT --

NARRATOR

In 1982, Sister Helen Prejean was the Spiritual Advisor of two people put to death in Louisiana.She wrote a book about it, had it adapted into a major motion picture by Tim Robbins, and now it is being performed as a play by amateur actors around the country designed to engage communities in a discussion about capital punishment.

Last April, Sister Prejean attended Adams State College's opening performance of the play Dead Man Walking in rural southern Colorado.

SISTER PREJEAN

I was so excited today I called Tim Robbins.I said "Tim, this was the dream, hear in Alamosa, they're doing it!"

NARRATOR

Art shows, symposiums, movies, debates, and national speakers filled a week full of thought provoking activities.Sister Maureen Fenlon is the national coordinator of the theatre project.

SISTER FENLON

It's exactly what Tim Robbins wanted to see happen when he released his play Dead Man Walking.He wanted a discourse on the death penalty by everybody, but he wanted the young people on the campus to lead it.

SISTER PREJEAN

And they are actual collaborators with him on this play because they give him feedback how they did it, what worked, what didn't work, and he's going to use that when he write the definitive version of Dead Man Walking.

NARRATOR

Using local actors, each performance created a new set of people learning the depth of the issues.Shelly Johnson, who played Sister Prejean in Alamosa, affectively demonstrated this connection on opening night.

MILES EDDY

I noticed you were crying in the final scene.Those were real tears.

SHELLY JOHNSON

Those were real tears, absolutely!It's incredible to see her out there and to get to know her and to know the woman that I am play and know that this is a real person.This isn't some sort of figment of an imagination; this is a real person and real conflict and a real life.

SISTER PREJEAN

For me to see it, especially the victim scenes, is like I remember those people, I remember those words, I remember that very scene.

NARRATOR

As part of their education to play these very emotional roles, Adams State College director Dr. John Taylor had the cast spend an evening with a local family who has suffered the lost of a child through murder.

JOHN TAYLOR

They came and spent an hour, hour and a half with us, and talked about their experience and what that was like and the upcoming execution of the man who killed their daughter.

NARRATOR

Artist, cast member, and volunteer prison worker Kathy Park has always been against the death penalty.

KATHY PARK

But after that evening, I moved closer to considering the death penalty than I've ever had before, and that felt important to let it rock my boot a little bit.

NARRATOR

An important part of getting the community involved was the campus debate.Candice Horton and April Gonzales were two of seven debaters on both sides of the issue.

CANDICE HORTON

It's generating a lot of energy and a lot of conversation and a lot of the students are trying to find their position.

APRIL GONZALES

That's exactly what this country is based on, people deciding what they think about things and going from there.

NARRATOR

Sara, a member of the technical crew, also works at a local bar in Alamosa where she gets patrons talking about the death penalty.

SARA

It is a college where I work and they've told me that they never really though about the other side and then once you hear all the different sides, look at it from all the different angles, they were able to also be like 'I'm not so sure any more, maybe I should do research' and I think that by doing this project we have inspired thought.

NARRATOR

Ron Kinney is a national speaker for the Witness to Innocence program.

RON KINNEY

I represent a group of roughly 130 people right now that have been exonerated from death rows across the United States.Now we don't count the people that might be beat on a technicality or something like that.These are proven cases that know body can argue about that these people were innocent.Maybe something is wrong with the system so lets stop killing people until we can figure it out.

NARRATOR

When there is no question about the guilt of a heinous murderer, justice may seem clear.For the families left behind, the question of forgiveness and reconciliation verses watching a man be put to death by the state can prove to be a difficult moral dilemma.Even in rural America, individual people are affected, and Sara lost a cousin to a man who is currently on Colorado Death Row.

SARA

It's one thing to say the words that you forgive somebody and it's another thing to actually feel it in your heart.And I think that to me at least, having this experience and being so involved in it and meeting sister Helen Prejean that I can fully say that, or feel that I have forgiven Nathan Dunlap for the murders that he has caused and I don't want him to be on death row.

NARRATOR

For some, forgiveness isn't the issue at all.Leon is an Alamosa resident whose position is rooted in his religious beliefs.

LEON

Sure it's not nice sitting on death row, it's not nice being in prison, but it's not real punishment like God ordained it to be.

NARRATOR

Part of the discussion in Alamosa included a panel of religious practitioners.

REV YOUNGSOOK CHARLENE KANG

I'm Youngsook Kang, a United Methodist Pastor.Christians believe that the power to forgive comes from God's grace.

PROFESSOR LIYAKAT TAKIM

My name is Professor Liyakat Takim, associate professor at the University of Denver in the department of Religious Studies.In Islam, Muslims do believe in Jesus as a profit of God, as the Son of God, but he does not appear as a redemptive figure.In fact there is nobody that can redeem your sins but yourself in the Islam perspective.

NARRATOR

The National Dead Man Walking Play Project is about bringing the larger social issue back to people, and even the youth in our community have a voice.

YOUTH ONE

I'm 15.If it's a crime to commit murder then why do they have the death penalty?Its murder either way you look at it your killing somebody, you're taking somebody's life.It's not justice; it's just another dead person.

NARRATOR

Reporting from Alamosa, CO. I'm Miles Eddy

by:Miles Eddy

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Play Debut Of Dead Man Walking In Alamosa Includes Writer Sister Helen Prejean - Community Radio Sum