When I decided to go to college at the sweet young age of fifty-two there was only one career path as I could see it. Teaching was not a passion of mine any longer. I love to write, but goodness knows there are enough awful writers out there who went to college, I didn’t need to go for that. There has been a passion of mine since I was a little girl watching every episode of Perry Mason like it was Disney. That passion has been fueled for decades of some good, some awful legal and criminal investigative shows. In all of that, I am a dedicated liberal. Don’t misunderstand, I hate bad people, I just don’t believe there are all that many truly bad people, just people who are lost and making bad choices everyday of their lives.
In renewing my love of the law I decided to start reading John Grisham’s novels. He is a brilliant writer. He doesn’t get nearly enough credit for telling a gripping story without graphic sex and violence, yet he explains enough about the characters and murder scenes that the reader feels what he needs to feel. Anger about a crime, disgust with the depths of depravity….sometimes a smile about a cute or funny line. His novels don’t always end happy, but somehow they are fulfilling.
I didn’t realize when I started reading An Innocent Man that I was reading non fiction. The first hint was when some characters shared a first name. That happens in real life, but most writers try to avoid confusing their readers with repeating names. Then the details, so perfectly researched, we’re on the mark. Grisham uses real places in his novels and references real laws and background events, but this was too real. When the wrongly accused ended up in prison it painfully hit me that this was real stuff I had missed during the time I was first married and busy raising children, trying to avoid my inner need to right wrongs and rail on the evils in society. The first third of the book was background of the main characters. After that, something strange happened to me. I usually read while exercising as that keeps my off the need to lose weight and the pain I am going to have later. This book couldn’t wait that long. I needed to know how this unfortunate soul was going to survive. How in the world could anyone think justice had been served? What fools live in the great state of Oklahoma? How cold and calloused can the “good” people be?
An innocent man lost years of his tortured life being convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and not receiving the mental health care he desperately needed. I seriously doubt his life would have been much better suffering with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia in Oklahoma, but he didn’t deserve to be treated like he was. Ron’s life was never going to be what his family hoped, but being the odd person he was didn’t mean he should be subjected to a loss of his civil rights and a future.
Grisham’s experience as an attorney is evident in his clear research and expression. He has a unique way of clarifying legalese for the non-legal minds. Anyone who feels the pain and injustice suffered by the mentally ill can appreciate the sentiments Grisham put forth. Anyone who hates the whole concept of capital punishment will likewise cheer at the links listed in the back of the book for The Innocence Project. If you do somehow approve of the eye for eye concept and can read this book without changing your mind, I wonder if you have red blood. This particular case is riddled with all the reasons the death penalty cannot be adjudicated in this country or any other. Everyone has their own agenda and sometimes even the good and decent people forget to be unbiased for just a few moments when judging their fellowman. Grisham makes sure we know the characters as if they lived in our own neighborhoods, reality is, they do.