If you’ve ever watched a detective show on TV, or followed the court proceedings of any celebrity on trial, then you’ve probably seen a suspect say to anyone who’ll listen, that they’re innocent. In fact, most suspects claim their innocence, even when there is insurmountable evidence to suggest that they are guilty of the crime. But every now and then, that claim is the truth. And sometimes, an ordinary, law-abiding citizen gets arrested, charged and convicted for a crime they didn’t commit.
The justice system in this country states that a person is innocent until proven guilty. However, there are hundreds of cases where the “evidence” is circumstantial at best, the “witnesses” are biased, the “proof” lacking, but the verdict is guilty anyway.
Between 1989 and 2015, over 1,400 former inmates were released from American prisons, finally exonerated after spending years, decades in some cases, behind bars. For some, these newly reinstated ex-cons focus on making a new life in a world that is as foreign to them now as prison was to them then. They focus on trying to repair or rebuild relationships with family members they have long been estranged from, trying to get jobs in a society where a convicted criminal, even a wrongfully-convicted and exonerated one, often doesn’t qualify. Because as former inmate Thomas Kennedy realized after he was freed, “There’s people that say, ‘Man, that’s just horrible you spent nine years in prison. I’m sorry to hear that.’ And there’s some people who say, ‘Well you spent nine years in prison so you did something.” excerpt from page p. 159
Stolen Years: Stories of the Wrongfully Imprisoned is a gripping compilation of stories of ten of these freed men (and women), how they got into jail, how they got out, and what life is like after having your life ripped out from under you and a inferior version of it returned years later.
The stories of Thomas Kennedy, Damon Thibodeaux, Deb Brown and others might shock you with their familiarity – ordinary people going about ordinary lives until one day, everything changes and the system that’s supposed to protect them, fails. In reading this book, you’ll be moved to tears and wonder, If it could happen to them, could it happen to me? Or to someone I know?
Deb Brown wasn’t a perfect woman but society doesn’t give jail sentences to imperfect citizens – otherwise, we’d all be in there. Deb went to check on a friend she hadn’t seen in a couple days and months later, she was in jail for his murder. Kennedy wasn’t a perfect father so his daughter told the police that he raped her -to punish him for not being more available to her. Cornelius Dupree was walking on the street when he fit the description of someone who’d committed a crime. You should read this book to see how much time he served of the whopping seventy-five year sentence he received.
Reuven Fenton, a writer who saw many suspects take the perp-walk and repeat that same “I’m innocent” statement, compiled the book after witnessing a murder conviction after an inmate had served twenty-two years. Fenton’s account is moving in so many ways – while he describes the absolute hell that is a prison experience is, for each one of the ten stories, there’s a happy ending. But there are many others whose stories will never get told, and certainly, countless other inmates who will never be exonerated and will die behind bars, wrongfully imprisoned, never getting to that happy ending.
If you’ve ever heard stories like these and dismissed them because you thought it couldn’t happen to you, give Stolen Years a read. You’ll see how quickly a person’s life could change and they can find themselves on the other side of the law. And maybe from reading these accounts, you’ll be inspired to make a change so it won’t happen to you or anyone you know.
About Reuven FentonRevue Fenton has been covering murder and scandal for the New York Post since 2007. He has earned national recognition for his exclusive reporting on national stories, such as the resignations of political powerhouses Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner; Hurricane Sandy and the devastation it brought on New York and New Jersey; the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School; and the Boston Marathon bombing. Mr. Fenton was inspired to write Stolen Years after covering an unforgettable court hearing in 2013 in which a Brooklyn judge freed David Ranta, a man who’d been wrongfully convicted twenty-two years earlier of murdering a rabbi. The sensational story sparked an investigation into misconduct by both the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office and the lead detective in the case. Mr. Fenton is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School and lives in New York City with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at reuvenfen.
I reviewed a free copy of Stolen Years from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. The book deals with a very important and relevant topic and, after reading it, I was impressed to change the way I view and treat people who’ve spent time in jail. I hope it has a similar impact on you and together, we use our voices to speak up for people, like these ten, so they can get the justice they deserve.
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