Prejean sits down for a Q & A

Why is the death penalty wrong?

Because it always involves the torture of a human being, because of the mental torture. The UN convention on torture defines torture as an extreme mental or physical assault on someone who’s been rendered defenseless.

When I’m walking with a man to execution and he’s shackled hand and foot surrounded by guards and being led into a room to be killed … I said, ‘There is no dignity in this death.’

Dignity cannot depend on whether or not we think you’re innocent and you deserve it. This is when faith and the dignity of the human person made in the image of God coincides with what is taking us into the future — and it’s human rights.

You should never torture and you should never kill people. It’s the rendering of people defenseless and then killing them that is what constitutes the violation (of human rights).

How does the Gospel of Christ’s peace, love and justice relate to the dignity of human beings, and how does the death penalty take that dignity away?

The death penalty is a gateway issue. You open the doors of these gates and you come straight into the heart of the Gospel of Jesus. … Everything Jesus stood for was the opposite of returning hate for hate, pain for pain, death for death. Just imagine this: If his last words to Peter, James and John in the garden were that he would be honored by their revenging his death … just think of the bloodbath and the killing that would have unleashed. It’s so opposite to what Jesus is about.

How can society seek restoration for criminals on death row and criminals in general?

Most people don’t even think about the death penalty because it doesn’t affect most of us personally. The Gospel always means, “Waken up! Waken up!” So we do that by a good film to wake people up, or you get on the road and you give talks as a witness. That’s what we have to do.

The average educational level of Louisiana Prison Angola is fifth grade. What if we really educate people? People who are educated and have decent jobs don’t do crimes. That’s really restoring life. It’s estimated that 70 percent of people that do crimes were affected by alcohol or drugs. What if we really helped people deal with addictions instead of just throwing them away because they did drugs?

What are the chances they are going to come right back to prison (after being released)? Because (when) they get out, they’re still not going to have a job, their educational level has not improved and … a friend of mine who came out of prison said the only equal-opportunity employer when you get out of prison is a drug dealer because when you have a felony on your record, you won’t be hired.

Restorative justice means we deal with the root of the reasons, and it’s that dignity of human life, helping people have a dignified life by having their needs met.

Hearing you speak, the death penalty seems so nuanced.

All the deep wounds of our society are in this. It’s not a peripheral issue to pick up the death penalty. If you pull a thread in a fabric and it bunches up when you pull a major thread — that’s what the death penalty is. All our major wounds are in it. Racism is in it — death of whites means a lot more than death of blacks. Poverty is in it — poor people are selected to take the ultimate penalty. And the other wound that’s in it is thinking we can solve our social problems by using violence.