Book Review: Surviving Justice

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This book made me angry. Enraged, in fact. So, why am I writing a review of it? More to the point, why am I not posting a review under ANGRY JOE!!!’s name?

Because this is the intent of the book, and it does it well. Surviving Justice is a collection of 12 cases featuring 13 people who spent time in prison for heinous crimes they didn’t commit. Rape and murder are the most frequent crimes represented in the book — aside, of course, from falsification of evidence, withholding of evidence and gross incompetence. One particularly enraging case follows John Stoll of Bakersfield, CA who spent 19 years of his life in prison for being part of a child molestation ring. A ring that was made up out of whole cloth by social workers trying to make a name for themselves, coaching children to tell made-up stories of abuse. Stories that didn’t make sense or connect with other children’s stories leading up to a whole.

Another story, of Joseph Amrine, who spent 17 years on Death Row for a murder conviction, features a complete monster. That monster is Missouri State Assistant Attorney General Frank A. Jung — who appears to still have that position — who claimed that even if the DNA evidence exonerated Amrine (which it did), he should still be executed. Jung was arguing against reopening Amrine’s case, saying that as long as the prisoner got a fair trial, his actual innocence was irrelevant and the sentence — execution, if you need reminding — should stand. Luckily, the judge, Missouri Supreme Court Justice Laura Denvir Stith had the sense to reject such horrible law, saying that if an innocent man were executed, it’d be a “manifest injustice”. In my opinion, Jung should not only no longer have his position of Assistant State Attorney General, but should be disbarred all together.

The book is also peppered with sidebar articles talking about other aspects of prison and the tough road of exonerees even after being released from prison. Often times, there is no compensation given — other times, it’s pitifully small and it takes an additional couple years to even find out whether or not it is due you. This post by Fred Clark at Slacktivist could act as a sidebar to the sidebar article about the use of prison rape and attacks as an additional method to keep prisoners in line. Even with recent legislation, prison rape still happens frequently and those raped “must prove ‘deliberate indifference'” on the part of the prison guards. (If you ask me — the mere fact that someone was raped should prove ‘deliberate indifference’, but hey.) The book’s article on rape — “Predators and Prey” even quotes an anonymous corrections officer saying that the guards and wardens DO use abuse and rape as “the coin of the realm”. The officer says that an administrator would say “you and Hank and Willie work him over, but be sure you don’t break any bones and send him to the hospital. If you do a good job, I’ll see that you get the blondest boy in the next shipment.”

The type of anger generated in Surviving Justice is perhaps the best kind, however. It’s the kind of anger that spurs you to DO SOMETHING. The Innocence Project. a non-profit organization, is working hard to get innocent people out of jail, exonerating those like Beverly Monroe who are railroaded by over-zealous detectives and prosecutors trying to boost their conviction ratings. You can donate funds to their cause, or contact them to find out how you can help stop this injustice.

Many countries, including Canada and the UK, have an independent case review board to look at excessive sentences and wrongful convictions. The US, however, has no such board, lest politicians seem “Soft On Crime”. Sadly, they see no difference between being hard on crime and being soft on true justice.

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