This book, which has a foreword by Sister Helen Prejean, is a strong and graphic condemnation of capital punishment in America. Sinclair, now an award-winning journalist, spent 40 years in the Louisiana prison system, part of it on death row, for a shooting in a botched robbery. His sentence was commuted in 1972 under Furman v. Georgia, and he was released in 2006 to continue his life as a writer and opponent of the death penalty. The first chapter gives graphic details about methods of execution. It is followed by a chapter, "The Cocktail," which discusses lethal injection. In the next 12 chapters, Sinclair discusses cases of innocence, DNA exoneration, child rape, youth violence, killers of women, and corruption in Louisiana's criminal justice system. His graphic details may be disturbing to some, but this is exactly what Sinclair wants. He brings home in no uncertain terms the horrors as well as the capricious and arbitrary nature of the death penalty. An informative source for anyone interested in criminal justice.
Uneven collection of arguments against the death penalty..A Life in the Balance (2001), also written with his wife Jodie, chronicled Sinclair's brutal experiences as a prisoner in the Louisiana state penitentiary at Angola. He spent nearly six years there on death row before the Supreme Court struck down the death penalty in 1972 on the grounds that it was inequitably applied. (States scrambled to come up with constitutionally acceptable death-penalty laws, and executions recommenced in 1977.) Resentenced to life without parole, Sinclair became a writer and jailhouse lawyer during his subsequent 40 years in the Louisiana prison system; he was released in 2006 and is now a paralegal in Houston. Primarily a bland, though admittedly thorough catalogue of statistics, this book is not the gripping anti–capital punishment blast one might expect from a survivor of death row. His main argument—that the death penalty is cruel and cannot be administered fairly under our legal system—will be familiar to most and unlikely to change any minds. Some of the stories ably highlight the laws' arbitrariness and unfairness, such as the one about a death-row inmate's lawyers who missed the deadline for a last-minute appeal due to a computer crash. But many of Sinclair's overstated assertions may alienate more readers than they convince. While most people probably agree that murder is worse than rape, they may not be so quick to concur with the statement that "raping a child is despicable, but killing someone is far worse." Other choices are simply odd, as when the author quotes at length from Thomas Wolfe's 1939 novel The Web and the Rock to convey "the mindset of lynch justice." The best sections,regrettably few, deal with the author's personal experiences, as when he tries to convince a prisoner to plead to a life sentence rather than risk execution...A disappointing screed that ultimately adds little to the death-penalty debate..First printing of 12,500.