Why I read it:
Years ago a friend’s ex-husband did something that could have landed him in prison. He’d been desperate, but, still, had broken the law. Around this time I was reading in bed one evening, my cat snuggled against my leg, when I was overwhelmed by the thought of what it must be like to go to prison. I shivered, then got up, grabbed a beverage and a snack, and snuggled back into bed with my book and cat, resolving to never do anything to land in prison.
But what if you land in prison for a crime you didn’t commit? It couldn’t happen to you, right?
In Stolen Years journalist Reuven Fenton tells the story of ten people who didn’t think it could happen to them either. Yet these ten people were wrongfully convicted for crimes they didn’t commit. These eight men and two women spent a combined total of 176 years in prison. The shortest time was nine years, the longest thirty. Can you imagine?
False accusations, eyewitness miss-identification, false confessions made under duress, improper forensic science, and official/government misconduct are what wrongfully put these people behind bars. Studies estimate that between 2.3 to 5 per cent of people currently serving time in U.S. prisons are innocent. That’s up to around one hundred thousand people wrongfully convicted. Not only are the inmates’ life ruined, but the impact on family and friends is monumental. Not to mention that the real murders were left to walk the streets.
These stories are compulsively readable yet I found myself only able to read one or two per sitting. It’s overwhelming to read about real people who are plucked out of their lives and thrown into a nightmare. At the heart of the matter is a legal system that’s based on winning or losing rather than justice.
In his conclusion Fenton offers suggestions on how to change the system, what reforms some states are already implementing, and what citizens can do to help. One of the easiest things citizens can do is thank journalists who write about people who have been exonerated and share the stories on social media. Doing this will help keep the focus on such stories. The more the public learns about problems in the justice system and begin the put pressure on elected officials, the sooner reforms will be implemented. Visit innocencenetwork.org to learn more.
Stolen Years is a quick read that will stay with me for a very long time. I highly recommend it to readers who are new to the issue of wrongful imprisonment and/or interested in our criminal justice system. It will no doubt make for interesting book group discussion.
Stolen Years: Stories of the Wrongfully Imprisoned
Tantor Media, Inc. Release date: November 10, 2015
Available in paperback and audio
Source: Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours.