I've been excited to talk about this book since I finished it, so excited in fact, that I've actually been talking to people about it instead of writing a review. So, I'm going to cut the yammering and try and get straight to the book review today, especially since we've seen so few of such things here lately!
In July 1984, Jennifer Thompson was raped at knifepoint by a black man in her own apartment. With courage and words, she survived and was able to use her memories of the night to bring her rapist to trial. In January 1985, her supposed rapist, Ronald Cotton, was sentenced to life in prison plus fifty years. Eleven long years later he was set free based on DNA evidence that proved that he was innocent of the crime. Now Ronald and Jennifer are what no one would expect - friends.
Picking Cotton is first a brilliant indictment of the flaws in our justice system, flaws based on the inability of humans to ever be completely impartial, completely unprejudiced, and completely able to rely on their memories to perform dependably. It shows that despite our best efforts and intentions, the justice system can and does fail, and when it does, innocent people can surprisingly easily be put in prison for crimes they haven't committed. At the same time, though, Picking Cotton is about a victim, a victim each and every one us can sympathize with. A victim who just desperately wants to see her rapist go to jail so that she can stop existing in a constant terror and start living her life again. A victim who will do anything she can to make that happen, even if it means relying on a faulty memory.
Above all, however, Picking Cotton is a transcendent story of forgiveness. Just as we hear from the victim and easily sympathize with her feelings, we also get the story from the man that she picked, the man that she helped to send to jail for her rape, the wrong man. In his own words, we follow Ronald Cotton through his eleven years of wrongful imprisonment, eleven years in which he managed to stay alive, to stay out of trouble despite being imprisoned with the man who he's certain actually committed the crime that has robbed him of his life, and to never give up hope that the truth would come to light and he would be exonerated. And yet, even after being robbed of eleven years of his life, when Jennifer requests a meeting with him, her heartfelt apology is met with his heartfelt forgiveness making Picking Cotton the story of the the unlikeliest pair of friends that can be imagined.
In her blurb on the front cover, Janet Reno comments on the "human face" this book puts on the many issues facing the justice system, and I couldn't agree more. There are innumerable scholarly books on just such issues, but this book highlights those and does so much more by taking us inside a real story of two people both horribly wronged by the justice system. The writing really flows, the story is raw with the power to completely engage both readers' minds and emotions, and I heartily recommend it to...well...everyone.
Thanks to Anna at Authors on the Web for providing me with a review copy.