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Airs Tuesday, June 23, 2020 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV / Not available to stream

Death penalty abolitionist Sister Helen Prejean, Sept. 19, 2006.

Credit: Don LaVange from Pleasant Grove, UT, USA / CC BY-SA (

Above: Death penalty abolitionist Sister Helen Prejean, Sept. 19, 2006.

"SISTER" is a one-hour documentary highlighting the work of death penalty abolitionist Sister Helen Prejean. It examines the life and influences of Sister Helen, and delves into the evolving role of Catholic nuns in America.

In 1984, Sister Helen Prejean watched as Patrick Sonnier died, strapped to Gruesome Gertie, Louisiana's electric chair. The execution took place at a few minutes past midnight in Angola Prison in the State's remote backwoods. It was an almost secret ritual, and Prejean realized that the public would never know the reality of capital punishment unless she spoke up.

She not only spoke up but also wrote a best-selling book, "Dead Man Walking," that ignited a debate about executions. The book was turned into an Oscar-winning movie, a play, and one of the most performed modern operas.

In the end, this middle-class white nun, who grew up in the Jim Crow South, ended up becoming the world's most famous voice against the death penalty.

The documentary takes viewers from New Orleans' segregated projects to inside the State's most infamous prison.

It examines how the upheavals of a church, struggling to find its place in the modern world, brought about momentous change in the work and lives of nuns and also examines how art-literature, film and music-can be forces for justice and social change.

This film is not currently available to stream on demand.

Sister Helen Prejean is on Facebook and Instagram.


Directed and filmed by Joe Cardona and José L. Vázquez, and is co-produced by WPBT PBS South Florida.


Join KPBS’s summer-long celebration of women trailblazers in honor of the women’s vote centennial, featuring special programming commemorating U.S. women’s suffrage, the feminist movement and modern-day changemakers.


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