4.01.2009

Book Review: Picking Cotton

Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton

Note: This is the review I recently wrote for both this blog and for my column over at Crucial Pop.

It is true that I tend to read mostly fiction.

I like losing myself in the land of make believe where stories can stretch your mind and warm your heart, whether they feature true love, a quirky story, or even a vampire or dragon or two.

But sometimes, a non-fiction book will cross my path and will have the same effect that fiction has for me - the inability to put it down, a story that will stretch my mind, and will have me yearning for a happy ending.

Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, Ronald Cotton, and Erin Torneo is just such a book.

This memoir is a roller-coaster ride that will grip you from page one until the end, it will keep you awake past your bedtime, and will stay with you long after you close the cover for the last time.

In 1984, Jennifer (a 23-year-old white female) was brutally raped at knifepoint in her apartment. She studied every detail of her attacker's face, memorized everything she could, knowing she would have to identify him in order to put him behind bars.

She reported the crime. She did a composite sketch, and she went through a lineup of seven men, only one of who was suspected of the crime.

She was confident in her decision. She was sure she had picked the right man. She had studied him - she knew he was guilty.

Ronald Cotton (a 23-year-old black male) received a life sentence for the rape of Jennifer and another woman who was also attacked the same night.

But Ronald didn't do it.

For years, Ronald struggled to survive in prison, to have his case heard, to plead that he was truly an innocent man. It was not until the advent of DNA testing that Ronald was set free - 11 years after his conviction.

While the rape is harrowing, the trial wrenching, and the tales of jail life tortuous, the most heartrending part of this amazing memoir is what happened after Ron was released.

He forgave Jennifer.

And they formed a friendship.

This memoir is such a fast, engaging read - even after 300 pages, you know there is so much more of the story to be told, and you want to know more about Ronald and Jennifer, and how their lives have continued to intertwine. It is the kind of friendship that people yearn for, though born out of the most horrible circumstances imaginable.

This is a powerful, uplifting read - though difficult in places, at least the reader knows that redemption is around the corner, therefore able to survive the worst of the story, much like Ron survived in prison to come out the other side a stronger, greater man.

I cannot recommend this book enough - it will keep you awake til the wee hours, it will give you a glimpse into lives turned upside down, but mostly, it will give you hope.

I may enjoy fiction, but sometimes, non-fiction changes my life.

This is one of those stories.

To read more about the authors, examine the case file, or find out more about eyewitness testimony, go to the website dedicated to the book: PickingCottonBook.com

This vid sums up the book perfectly:

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