Getting Life: An Innocent Man's 25-Year Journey from Prison to Peace

Getting Life: An Innocent Man's 25-Year Journey from Prison to Peace

by Michael Morton


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“A devastating and infuriating book, more astonishing than any legal thriller by John Grisham” (The New York Times) about a young father who spent twenty-five years in prison for a crime he did not commit…and his eventual exoneration and return to life as a free man.

On August 13, 1986, just one day after his thirty-second birthday, Michael Morton went to work at his usual time. By the end of the day, his wife Christine had been savagely bludgeoned to death in the couple’s bed—and the Williamson County Sherriff’s office in Texas wasted no time in pinning her murder on Michael, despite an absolute lack of physical evidence. Michael was swiftly sentenced to life in prison for a crime he had not committed. He mourned his wife from a prison cell. He lost all contact with their son. Life, as he knew it, was over.

Drawing on his recollections, court transcripts, and more than 1,000 pages of personal journals he wrote in prison, Michael recounts the hidden police reports about an unidentified van parked near his house that were never pursued; the bandana with the killer’s DNA on it, that was never introduced in court; the call from a neighboring county reporting the attempted use of his wife’s credit card, which was never followed up on; and ultimately, how he battled his way through the darkness to become a free man once again.

“Even for readers who may feel practically jaded about stories of injustice in Texas—even those who followed this case closely in the press—could do themselves a favor by picking up Michael Morton’s new memoir…It is extremely well-written [and] insightful” (The Austin Chronicle). Getting Life is an extraordinary story of unfathomable tragedy, grave injustice, and the strength and courage it takes to find forgiveness.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781476756837
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 07/28/2015
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 240,693
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Michael Morton was born in Texas, grew up in California, and moved back to Texas in high school. While living in Austin, Michael was convicted of murdering his wife—a crime he did not commit. He spent almost twenty-five years in prison before being exonerated through the efforts of the Innocence Project, pro bono lawyer John Raley, and advances in DNA technology. Michael is now remarried and lives on a lake in rural East Texas, relishing and appreciating what others may take for granted.

Read an Excerpt

Getting Life

  • Prologue

    The door closed.

    Not with a click or the sound of tumblers finally hitting their marks or the sturdy clunk of wood and metal meshing as if they were made for each other.

    This was different.

    It began with the long, hard sound of steel sliding against steel.

    Like a train, the heavy door built speed as it barreled along its worn track, the portal to the real world growing smaller as the barrier of thick and battered bars roared into place.

    It locked with a cold, bone-shaking boom that rattled me—­literally—me, the guard outside my door, and any other inmates unlucky enough to be nearby.

    I was alone in my cell, alone in the world, as alone as I had ever been in my life.

    And I would stay there—alone—listening to that door close, over and over and over again, for the next twenty-five years.

    Twenty-five years.

    My wife, Chris, had been savagely beaten to death several months earlier. Before I had time to begin mourning, I was fighting for my own life against a legal system that seemed hell-bent on making me pay for the murder of the woman I would gladly have died for.

    I was innocent.

    Naïvely, I believed the error would soon be set right.

    I could not have been more wrong.

    As the years went by, I saw the three-year-old son my wife and I had doted on grow up and grow away. He believed his father was the murderer who’d killed the person he loved most.

    And why wouldn’t he? That’s what everyone told him. On each of the rare occasions Eric saw me, my imprisonment—my inmate uniform, the guards and the guns, the bars and the buzzers—was a stark reminder that the world had decided I wasn’t fit to walk free.

    Ironically, Eric was one of the two people who knew what had really happened. He was in the house when something evil entered and destroyed our lives. At the time, our son tried to tell others what he had seen, but no one believed him.

    And through all my time in prison, through all of my son’s heartache, through our whole family’s grief, the man who killed my wife was free—free to travel, free to commit crimes, free to kill again.

    And again.

    As the years passed, I watched the world go on without me through the keyhole of a door I could not unlock.

    For a quarter century—a generation—my life was lived in penitentiary television rooms where you could get killed for changing the channel and on hard labor farms where violent men would feign fainting just to get a brief break from the unrelenting Texas sun.

    I ate every meal in chaotic and cavernous prison chow halls where, as the old joke goes, the food was terrible, but at least you got a lot of it.

    Needless to say, my dining companions were much the same—they were terrible and there were a lot of them.

    If I was very lucky, weekends were spent in packed visiting rooms that were either too hot or too cold, and were always overrun by shattered families—virtually all of them walking wounded, scarred by addiction, abuse, and ignorance.

    While I was desperate for company from the outside, whenever I entered the visiting room, I knew there was a terrible downside for me, as well as for the people who had made the long trek to see me.

    Everyone who visited had to try to act “normal” in an almost unimaginably strained setting. Because they loved me, they would ask that we pose for pictures together in front of the dirty, cracked walls washed in harsh fluorescent light. I would stand next to my family in their colorful street clothes, while I grinned grimly for the camera—year after year—getting ever grayer, looking more worn out, always in my poorly fitting prison whites.



    And on those visits, I would see my mom and dad—my biggest boosters, my eternal believers—spend year after year in shabby rooms surrounded by failure and sadness, aging before my eyes, struggling to smile through their pain, their shame, and their profound anger.

    I was doing the same.

    We spent all those visits and all those years talking about old times and planning for a future we could only pray would come to pass.

    What none of us knew was that in the small town where I had stood trial, in a nondescript concrete warehouse where police stored old evidence—a dingy place packed with damaged cardboard boxes and haphazardly marked plastic pouches—was hidden the tiny piece of truth that would one day set me free.

    Decades after I entered prison, a DNA test would change everything—­not just for me and for my son but for the man who so unfairly prosecuted me. The DNA test would make huge changes, as well, in the broken legal system that tried to keep me behind bars.

    For the cruel monster of a man who killed my wife, the truth came roaring out of the past with a vengeance.

    This is the story of how I got a life sentence and survived what felt like a lifetime behind bars—only to have everything change again. I got my life back, and this time, I understood it.

    Twenty-five years after I was swept away, the tide turned.

    The wind changed.

    The door opened.

  • Customer Reviews

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    Getting Life: An Innocent Man's 25-Year Journey from Prison to Peace 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
    jofick More than 1 year ago
    This is a very moving, sad, insightful, and compelling book about an innocent man who was sent to prison for 25 yrs. It will touch your heart, make you want to scream ,cry, and then rejoice when he is freed thru the hard work of the Innocence Project.The pain he and his family went thru, especially losing his son,it is amazing he was able to hold onto his Faith.,
    ReaderKate-29 More than 1 year ago
    Having been through many criminal justice/ criminal forensic classes, I was very interested in learning more about the Innocence Project. My professors spoke of this program several times and the work that goes on to free these innocent people who were abused by the system. One of my professors wanted to have someone come and speak to the class, but it didn't work out. When I was offered the opportunity to review Michael Morton's story, I was eager to read it. The way that this memoir is written is like Michael is sitting right there telling you his story and the ghastly struggle with a corrupt police and court system while mourning his wife. As I read each chapter that focused on the the investigation of his wife, Chris, I was shocked and sickened to how he was treated and how the ineptness of this sheriff and deputy handled things. Chris' brother John was a better investigator and had the skills to find the proper evidence. He found three important pieces and kept them from being contaminated like someone from CSU should have done. I mean my goodness, the system in the 80's wasn't as technologically advanced as it is today, with DNA, but it was there, things would have been found in the system. As his story progressed to his time in prison, you got to see how prison can change a person. It doesn't matter if your are guilty or innocent, it's a tough place to live in. Michael showed such strength though. He kept fighting, he never gave up, even when it seemed he hit rock bottom in those years, he still pushed forward. When the Innocence Project got involved and help fight for Michael, the battle they faced from this county was infuriating, but their diligence in proving that he was innocent was amazing. I will say, I don't cry much, but there were a couple of parts that really got to me in his story. There were tears of joy for him and tears of sorrow for his son Eric. The joyful tears where after a hard fought battle, Michael got out of prison. What an amazing day that was! The tears of sorrow was when another trial came along and Michael's son Eric finally saw what all happened to his mother Chris. I will say, what Micheal said in this book is true. When some one is killed their body is now a crime scene and they are also now an exhibit for court. In my studies, I've been taught to keep emotions separate when viewing these things, but in the story, seeing how it affects the family, it really got to me and made me hurt for them. This was a phenomenal account. I believe if some one is interested in going into the police work or criminal law, they should read this. This is a story that will stick with a person. I will give a small warning to those out there, that this book does talk about death and a crime scene and gives descriptions of it and it speaks of the crime scene photos and people's reactions to them. There is a little language, not much, it was used for demonstration purposes only and in testimony for court. Thank you to Simon & Schuster, I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review.
    Emmare More than 1 year ago
    I thought this looked like it would be an interesting read when I spotted it in the bookstore. Well, this book far surpassed my expectations! Once I began, I could not put it down. This is the sort of book that makes you feel bad when you read that last page. It was honest, many times frightening. But, the most important aspect of this book was it's uplifting spirit. Through everything, Mr. Morton persevered. I so admire his spirit and wish him all the best. I highly recommend this book.
    car321 More than 1 year ago
    I enjoyed this book because it was well written and a true store. There are a few sad parts that brought tears. I reminds me to keep and open mind as thing are not alwars as they seem to be and our judges, law enforcement are not always honest.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Couldn't put the book down.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I knew cases like this existed but this story is a huge eye opener on our justice system. It's certainly not perfect but when law enforcement and the judicial system are corrupt it becomes something of a nightmare for innocent men and women. Powerful read. Highly recommend.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Very well written! Makes one stop & appreciate the many, simple pleasures of freedom!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I could not put Michael's book down when I started reading it. Michael is a gifted writer and I felt that I was at his side living through this horrible ordeal with him. I went through a myriad of emotions, and sobbed many times. I'm amazed at this man's strength, tenacity, and perseverance! If you like studying/reading true crime, you will thoroughly enjoy this book.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    After watching the documentary, Unreal Dream, I wanted to know more about Michael Morton's illegal conviction since I live in the neighboring county where this tragedy happened. The book brought me to tears so many times. His faith is incredible and a true testament of God's love for us. I highly recommend. Have tissues handy.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I devoured this book in two days and it lead me through the gambit of emotions from smiling while reading their love story to rage and profound sadness at reading how horribly corrupt our justice system can be and the unbearable injustice and heartbreak that chaos can wreak on the human sprit. This is truly a must-read. An eye-opening, life-changing, masterfully crafted book.
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