Saturday, March 14, 2009

Review: Picking Cotton

Summary: Jennifer Thompson was raped at knifepoint by a man who broke into her apartment while she slept. She was able to escape, and eventually positively identified Ronald Cotton as her attacker. Ronald insisted that she was mistaken-- but Jennifer's positive identification was the compelling evidence that put him behind bars. After eleven years, Ronald was allowed to take a DNA test that proved his innocence. He was released, after serving more than a decade in prison for a crime he never committed. Two years later, Jennifer and Ronald met face to face-- and forged an unlikely friendship that changed both of their lives.

In their own words, Jennifer and Ronald unfold the harrowing details of their tragedy, and challenge our ideas of memory and judgment while demonstrating the profound nature of human grace and the healing power of forgiveness. -- St. Martin's Press

I don't know if any of you watched 60 Minutes this past Sunday, but there was a fascinating feature on the reliability of eyewitness testimony. I was especially interested in this story because I had just finished reading PICKING COTTON: OUR MEMOIR OF INJUSTICE AND REDEMPTION by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton with Erin Torneo. The 60 minutes story covered a lot of the same information in PICKING COTTON; however, while I appreciated hearing the victims interviewed, I thought the book was much more informative and, of course, more thorough.

I found this book to be an amazing story. The story of Ms. Thompson's rape and the prosecution and imprisonment of Mr. Cotton was quite interesting, but I was blown away by the eventual friendship that developed between these two people. The first section of the book told Ms. Thompson's story of the crime and the second part told Mr. Cotton's. The book then went back and forth between these two to explain the story of Mr. Cotton's eventual release from prison and their unlikely friendship.

You can't help but be affected by this book. My heart went out to both of them because they were both victims of this crime. I felt so bad for Ms. Thompson and her error, and I can't imagine how strong she must be to deal with her guilt. My favorite part of this book was when Mr. Cotton and Ms. Thompson actually met after his release and became very close friends. I am completely and utterly amazed by Mr. Cotton's ability to cope with this travesty of justice and his willingness to forgive -- he is truly an inspiration to us all.

One thing that the 60 Minutes story delved into more than the book was demonstrating how our memory isn't always credible. There were some experts on memory that showed how our mind can play tricks on us. I knew the story and what the experts were going to say about memory and I still fell for all the tricks. One can easily see how someone like Ms. Thompson, with the very best of intentions, could be confused into thinking Mr. Cotton was her actual rapist. It's completely mind-boggling to me how our minds and memory work.

As a result of what happened to both of them, Ms. Thompson and Mr. Cotton have become quite outspoken about the flaws with eyewitness testimony and they want to educate the public about their story. They work closely with The Innocence Project -- "a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent further injustice." It's just incredible to see how many men were wrongfully convicted based on eyewitness testimony that have since been released with DNA evidence.

Take a look at the book trailer for PICKING COTTON. I watched this after I read the book and found myself crying. I just found this to be an amazing story in so many ways.




Thanks to Anna from The Book Report Network for sending me this incredibly powerful book.

7 comments:

Beth F said...

Whoa! What a powerful and important book. And you did an awesome job with your review. Thanks for sharing the video.

bermudaonion said...

Oh my gosh! I'd never heard of that book, but really want to read it. I had tears in my eyes as I watched the book trailer too. Great review, Julie.

Cheryl said...

I have not heard of this book but it sounds good. I am adding it to my wish list

Amy said...

This does sound like a really great book. Thanks for your review, Julie!

S. Krishna said...

Wow, wow, wow. This book sounds amazing but I don't know if I could handle it. Thanks for the review though!

Heather J. said...

Wow. This is heartbreakingly amazing. It is a must read for me for sure.

Anna said...

This sounds like a powerful book. I'll have to keep it in mind. Thanks for the review.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric