Non-fiction doesn’t have to mean inaccessible.
So after my friend suggested a website that sells largely socio-political themed books at a discount price, I might have gone on a crazy spending spree, which will largely be reflected in the coming months with my book choices. This is the first of the books I ordered from the site that I decided to read.
I was a little intimidated at first, because I haven’t read anything (other than celeb bios) longer than a news article on a non-fiction topic. I’ve always considered these types of books dense, and able to make even an interesting subject boring in the layers of language and research.
I was excited to read these books I ordered anyway, but was strategic in choosing this particular book as the first one. It is a collection of 4 case studies that document the lives of these chosen individuals after having been exonerated from prison for crimes they did not commit. This book is researched and written by Alison Flowers, who is primarily known for being a journalist that writes for newspapers as far as I knew. This gave me hope that her writing style would be more accessible and enthralling than someone who wrote primarily works meant to be used in an academic setting. I also believed because there were 4 stories, this broken down style might be a little easier for someone who was not used to reading non-fiction. I was pleased to see both these assumptions proved true with this book.
Things that surprised me? It was completely human driven, or rather, ENTIRELY and unapologetically the story of these 4 people from their points of view. There are no attempts to really tie this into the larger picture (other than mentions of when players in these individuals cases might have contributed to others wrongly convictions, or mentions of exoneree support groups that the individuals attended). There are no statistics, and other than in the introduction and the conclusion, no mention that these cases might tie into a larger picture.
This lack of a tie-in to the larger story wasn’t a deal breaker for me. I feel like it was a missed opportunity to appeal to academics that might have had some background knowledge on mass incarceration and wrongful imprisonments to share an actual deep study, but in turn, it becomes a better book for the average person. This book is written in a way that could ignite an average person to a new cause, as they are allowed to make connections through the individual cases themselves.
As someone reads about the struggle of the woman who spent 16 years behind bars to reconnect with her living son, mourn her dead son, and anguish over the children she can never have, the reader can start to think of the struggles of woman losing her child-bearing years to a system she didn’t contribute to, but somehow got pulled in by. As someone reads about the man that tried to turn his life before getting wrongly accused, then struggling with extreme anxiety after being released, one starts to think about proper ways to aid not only exonerees but anyone transitioning out of the prison system to re-acclimating to outside life.
These types of stories an inspire someone to take a greater interest in the criminal justice system. This is important, but, only if they are read or listened to.
I’m on a time crunch today, but the last thing I’ll mention about this is the inkling the whole time I was reading I had this weird feeling that a huge section of exonerees are not being represented here. The four individuals that were written about had very strong will and VERY strong support systems, so they were largely able to make their time after being released positive. This made me think about those who did not have these advantages.
There is a very brief mention to a case where an exoneree did end up committing a crime after being released, I just wish an opportunity to learn some of the intricate details and motivations of a scenario of this, which, I fear, may be uncomfortably common. When someone is put in jail innocent, how are they made into a criminal?
There’s A LOT more I can and want to say about this book, but time has caught up to me. I will say that although lacking, this was definitely a good, and a worthy, read.