Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Picking Cotton

When I first heard about it, I knew I had to read this memoir.

Here's the premise: a white woman is r***d at knife point in her apartment by a black man. She picks Ronald Cotton from a photograph and a police lineup (hence the double meaning of the title). She testifies in court and he is sent to prison.

Eleven years later he is exonerated by DNA.

He forgives her.

Doesn't that give you chills?

The book is written by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald, and shifts from one storyteller to the other. The assault, id and court time are detailed, as well as some of the emotional toll on Jennifer. Ronald explains his background and previous legal problems as well as some of his life in prison.

Jennifer feels anger and hatred and fear, and when Ron is released, guilt and shame are added to the mix. She and Ron participate in a PBS documentary, but have no contact (her request) during the filming. Here's her reaction after watching the video:

"I looked around the den, at the photos of my three children smiling back at me from the walls, and a picture of Vinny and me on our wedding day. Eleven years. How do eleven years pass when you are locked up for a crime you didn't commit? I couldn't begin to imagine. For me, they were eleven years measured in birthdays, first days of school, Christmas mornings.

Ronald Cotton and I were exactly the same age, and he had had none of those things because I'd picked him. He'd lost eleven years of time with his family, eleven years of falling in love, getting married, having kids. He looked forlorn on the television, hurt and bewildered. The guilt suffocated me."

At this point Ron had been out of prison for two years, and Jennifer requested a meeting with him. She asked his forgiveness, which he gave ungrudgingly.

The healing power of forgiveness is beautifully shown. Jennifer and Ronald now consider themselves friends. They both speak publicly and work with organizations committed to helping those who are wrongly convicted.

My rating: 4 stars--a quick read (this is not literature), at times disturbing and inspiring.

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