Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption

Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption

by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, Ronald Cotton, Erin Torneo

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312599539
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 01/05/2010
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 89,216
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.32(h) x 0.85(d)

About the Author

JENNIFER THOMPSON-CANNINO lives in North Carolina with her family. RONALD COTTON also lives with his wife and daughter North Carolina. ERIN TORNEO is a Los Angeles-based writer. She was a 2007 New York Foundation for the Arts Nonfiction Fellow. The authors received the 2008 Soros Justice Media Fellowship for this title.

Read an Excerpt

Picking Cotton

Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption


By Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, Ronald Cotton, Erin Torneo

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2009 Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, Ronald Cotton, and Erin Torneo
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-6215-5


CHAPTER 1

I USED TO WALK three miles to campus and back every day from my apartment in Burlington. There weren't any sidewalks on West Front Street, so during the summer I hugged the edge of the road, trying to stay in the patches of shade when the magnolia trees provided them. I didn't know many people in my neighborhood, although I passed their houses and proud lawns every day. I don't know if I ever even noticed the brick home with white trim just beyond my apartment complex, but on the night that I ran through the damp grass, wearing only a blanket, it was that door I pounded on.

On my way to school, my head was always buried in index cards. I had stacks and stacks of them, careful notes all hole punched and ring bound — a different ring for every class. Just across from campus was a Hardee's, where I'd stop and get a coffee, then sit outside and keep studying. I didn't look over my shoulder or pay too much attention. My focus was on what lay ahead: I was going to graduate in the fall with a perfect 4.0, and my boyfriend, Paul, and I were talking about getting married. He was in his first year of business school at UNC–Chapel Hill. That's all my life was really about: college and my boyfriend. I was twenty-two years old and those were the kind of crystal-clear pictures I carried in my mind.

One night coming home in the dark — it must have been the beginning of July — I noticed a small orange glow as I was walking up to my door. It was just a pinprick of light cutting through the branches. The dry burn caught in the back of my throat. In the tree across from my bedroom window, someone was smoking a cigarette. I couldn't see who it was, but someone was there. I told myself it must be a kid — someone who had climbed up the tree to sneak a smoke. I gave it no further thought.

But that's the picture that flashed in my mind afterward, a snapshot uncovered by my brain as it was reeling for answers to what happened later that month — July 1984.


Burlington, North Carolina, is like most college towns: It swells during the school year with kids from Elon College, and contracts during the summer, when many of them return to their hometowns, to their parents, to the summer jobs they've had since they were in high school. I'd decided to stay that summer because I was taking classes, and because Paul was from Burlington, and would be home for the summer break from his classes in Chapel Hill. His parents ran a barbecue place in downtown, or what was left of it. Already the little mom-and-pop stores were emptying out or moving closer to the newly built mall near Huffman Mill Road, right off of I-40. But people still came to J.J.'s BBQ no matter what. They came for the vinegared pork and sweet tea that were as much a part of the Burlington summer as the humidity.

Most days I taught aerobics at Spa Lady, and on Saturdays, when I finished teaching, I would stay to lift some weights and put in a few hours at the sales desk. That Saturday was no different. When I got off, Paul and I spent the afternoon together, browsing at a shopping mall and eating lunch nearby until the heat finally got to us. We ended up back at my apartment, napping in the comfort of the air-conditioning. In the early evening, it cooled off enough for us to play tennis at the Alamance County Country Club, where he and his family were members. We were famished when we finished our showers, so we headed over to China Inn Restaurant — a favorite of ours. It was one of those all-you-can-eat deals, and I loaded up on fried rice, spring rolls, and refill after refill of sweet iced tea. I'm sure all the MSG had something to do with it — by the time we got to his friend's party, a fierce headache was blooming behind my eyes. We didn't stay very long.

Back at my apartment we turned up the A/C unit in the den full blast. Paul came into my room, carrying a glass of water and some aspirin. I fell asleep to his rubbing my back. The police report would later indicate that he slipped out around 11:00 P.M., taking care not to wake me.


Around 3:00 A.M., something pulled me from sleep, the sound of feet shuffling. At the twilight edge of consciousness, I searched the dim borders between sleep and wakefulness. Was it a noise from my dream? A nightmare? Or something outside my head? All I heard was the thrum and rattle of the air conditioner against the metal frame of the window. My weighted eyelids closed and sank me right back into sleep.

Something grazed my arm. I opened my eyes and felt my heart hammering through my chest. Everything was still and quiet, save for the percussion of blood in my ears, the rush of my breath. My body was terrified although my mind hadn't caught up yet. I struggled to focus my eyes in the fuzzy dark of my room. Instinctively, I pulled the sheets up around my neck. I began to make out the contours of my white dresser, my Smurfette doll, the pale blue and peach knickknacks my mom and I had cheerily decorated the apartment with when I'd moved in the previous fall. By the side of my bed, as I made out an unfamiliar roundness, a stab of pure panic hit my gut. It was the top of someone's head. Somebody was crouching by my right side.

"Who is that? Who's there?" I said, allowing myself to think it must be Paul, or someone playing a stupid joke.

A man sprang up and was on me in seconds. I heard myself scream. Something cold, flat, and metallic pressed into my neck. My mind snapped awake.

"Shut up or I'll cut you!" he hissed, clamping a gloved hand down over my mouth. His breath was inches from my own, and it reeked like an old ashtray someone had spilled beer all over.

Can't breathe, I tried to say, my words muffled by the rough material of his glove. He moved his hand away from my mouth and used it to pin my arms back over my head. "Scream and I'll kill you," he said, pushing the point of the blade harder into my neck with his other hand. My first thought was that he was robbing me and that, when I woke up, I'd startled him. I told him he didn't have to hurt me. I would give him my credit cards, my car keys. I would not call the police.

"My wallet is in the den," I offered, my voice strangled and small from the lack of air in my constricted chest. "Take all my money." I squirmed under him but he was too heavy, the lamp on my night table too far out of my reach. Without anything to use as a weapon, I had little to help me fight back. I was certain that even if I freed my hands, the best I could do was slap him before he stabbed me. I couldn't kick him because he was sitting on my legs. At five foot two, I knew I wouldn't win a physical struggle.

There in my memory, at the knife-edge of fear, time distorted: Some moments hurtled by; others seeped by slowly, as if they were becoming one with everything I was ever going to be. In this particular moment, he sneered at me.

"I got your ten dollars," he said, "but I don't want your fucking money." He reached down, yanked the sheet away from me, and pulled off my purple underwear.

The definitiveness of that knowledge — that I was going to be raped — settled on me like his weight, crushing me. Was this how I was going to die? Was this the last thing I would see? My head ran its own track of protest while my body lay there, unable to move. I don't want to die! I want to live! I want to see my mom and dad again! Paul!

"Just relax. It's been a long time for you, hasn't it, baby?" He put his head down between my legs. The intimacy of this gesture revolted me. My body went rigid, an unconscious resistance all the way down to the muscle: Don't touch me. The Chinese food I'd eaten with Paul churned in my stomach. Was it only a few hours ago that we'd sat at China Inn? My disbelief was a kind of vertigo, and I clutched dumbly for anything to prove that this wasn't really happening. But those hours were already part of something else that seemed to drift further and further out of reach: before — a perpetual yesterday before this night ripped a hole in my life that I tumbled into, bottomless and dark. I swallowed back my nausea, grateful that all I had drunk at dinner was iced tea. It seemed vital that my mind was clear because I was imploring it to figure out what to do. Think. Think! My mind wanted to leave, to dull the sensate horror of his hands and mouth on me, but I knew I must stay present if I was going to have any chance of staying alive.

"Your man's overseas in Germany, ain't he?" He was wrong. It was my brother Joe who was backpacking over there, but I didn't bother to correct him. He took my stunned silence for what it was, interpreted it. "I know all about you, Jennifer. You from Winston-Salem. They burned witches there, ain't that right?" he said. "Yeah, you a witch. We gonna have a good time tonight."

Again I didn't correct him, but I registered that he wasn't as smart as he thought. In school, we had studied the Salem witch trials in Massachusetts, and I never forgot Giles Corey, the only man in American history ever pressed to death. To force him to talk, the court had placed a board upon his chest and piled on stone after stone. His last words were, "More weight," before his lungs collapsed and his rib cage snapped all around him.

My bones didn't give way. I was alive and breathing, alert to the sounds of his unzipping and kicking off his shoes and my silent dread of anticipating what was next. I smelled the scent of cigarette smoke all over him and then he was inside me, his face just above mine. He told me he knew I wore glasses, so he thought I couldn't see him. He was wrong again. My glasses were for distance; everything right in front of me, I could see. Light from the parking lot lamppost filtered through the blinds — it wasn't a lot but it was enough. In blinks, I willed myself to note the details. I studied his face for features to identify. The hairline, his awful mouth. Did he have scars? Tattoos? He had close-cropped hair. Although I didn't want to look at him, I had to. How much could I bear?

I tried to look in his eyes. They were distinctly almond shaped, small, and set deep into his face. I searched for something human to connect to, some kind of appeal I could make through eye contact. But he kept shifting his dark gaze from my eyes. He had high, broad cheekbones, and his mouth was not overly large. A faint shadow of hair framed his upper lip; it looked more like dirt than a mustache.

He kept talking to me, telling me I probably never had a man like him. It was sick what he did, as if we were lovers meeting surreptitiously in the middle of the night, as if this was some kind of fantasy. I was never so enraged and frightened at the same time. My hands balled up into fists — I couldn't stop the fight in them, useless as they were under him. I thought if I could just keep him talking, if I could win his trust, maybe I could get him to put his weapon down. Maybe I could figure out a way to run. I was trying to learn anything about where he lived, or went to school, how old he was, any clue to who this monster in the dark was. The only way I could fight him was to outsmart him.

"I'm afraid of knives," I told him. "I can't relax until you put it down. Can you put it outside? On my car?" I lied. But it was all a twisted lie anyway: his kissing me, talking to me. Like it was a game we were playing together.

I could sense his giving in. He stopped and looked at me. "You ain't gonna call the police?" Here it was: my will staking a claim, this first tiny victory giving way to a hope that maybe I would survive the night.

"No. Just drop it outside on my car. Please, I can't relax." I used his words. He didn't get angrier. If he did this, I thought, I could shut the door behind him fast. It'll give me enough time to call 911. I had no way of knowing that the phone lines had already been cut.

He began to get off me. He reached for his shoes on the floor, the ones he'd removed as he got on me, punctuating the moment with a thud. They were black canvas shoes. He moved slowly, testing me, unsure. I didn't feel powerful, but we were at least negotiating now. His uncertainty about what I was going to do reminded me that he hadn't taken everything from me.

"I have to pee," I announced. I wasn't asking for his permission. I headed out to the hallway, toward the bathroom. "First, I have to watch you go outside so I know you really went. While you're out there, I'll go to the bathroom." I grabbed the soft stadium blanket and wrapped it around me — Hennie, our housekeeper, my second mother, gave this to me — the red, yellow, and blue plaid that I was hoping, wishing, and praying would keep him from touching me again. I trembled with fear and he accepted it was because I was cold. But the blanket was a deliberate choice. I wasn't wearing any clothes, but that wasn't going to stop me from running if I got a chance. Once in the bathroom, I turned on the light, getting another glimpse of his face.

"Turn it off!" he yelled, retreating like a wounded animal into the shadows. I closed the door and ran the water. The bathroom window was too small for me to climb out; if he came after me in here, I'd be trapped. I rushed out into the hallway.

There was a night-light in the den, breaking up the inky corners of the hallway. My eyes continued to adjust to the dark, giving me more detail on him. Standing next to him for a few minutes, I tried to record information about how tall he was, if he walked pigeon toed or duck footed. Based on my height, I figured he must be about six feet tall. As he inched his way toward the front door, he didn't take his eyes off me. "You gonna let me back in, right?"

I reassured him, did my best to sound natural. But I frantically wondered if I could be fast enough to get to the front door before he came back in. It was a chance I'd have to take. I heard the knife hit the table on the porch, his frame still in the doorway. He never even stepped outside; in an instant, he shut and locked the front door. I remained in the hallway, moving toward the den — anything to keep from going back into the bedroom with him. I needed a new plan.

"Turn on the stereo," he commanded. I walked into the living room, and I saw my postcards and pictures scattered all over the coffee table. I hit the power button on the radio, the DJ's voice on KISS coming through the speakers. I needed to get to the back door. Maybe it was open.

"I'm thirsty. I'm gonna get a drink. You want something?" Another stalling tactic I hoped would buy me some time.

He fiddled with the dial, and the blue LCD light illuminated his profile as he trolled for a station. He didn't have a wide nose. "Yeah, fix me something with Seagram's and let's make it a party." Then he held up something.

"Can I have this?" he said. It was a picture of me, standing in a bathing suit at Apex Lake. Why he asked me this still baffles me, since permission was so beside the point. I nodded and he put it in his back pocket.

I headed into the kitchen. If I survived, I told myself, I would tell the police he was a light-skinned black man, wearing dark khakis, a blue shirt with white stripes on the sleeve, and canvas boat shoes. He wore white knit gloves on his hands. I still had the fibrous taste of them in my mouth.

I flipped on the light switch, because I knew it would protect me. It was a small buffer zone: he wouldn't come too close to me with the light on. On the table I saw a pack of Vantage cigarettes from my purse, empty Coors cans, my wallet with my license out. How long was he here while I slept?

Maybe only fifteen feet were between us, but he was behind a corner, just out of sight. I turned on the faucet. The water hitting the basin made a loud, tinny sound. I opened the cupboards, clanked glasses together, threw ice cubes in the sink. I zeroed in on the door in my kitchen. His way in was my only way out. I heard his voice coming toward the kitchen. "Is that door locked?" he yelled. Run!


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Picking Cotton by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, Ronald Cotton, Erin Torneo. Copyright © 2009 Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, Ronald Cotton, and Erin Torneo. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

1. Picking Cotton is told through a unique pattern of alternating first-person narration. The first section is Jennifer's voice, the second is Ronald's and the final section alternates between the two voices. What did you think of this style? Why do you think the authors chose to present their stories this way?

2. This memoir opens with a graphic description of Jennifer's rape and the hours following it. What did you think of the choice to describe the crime in such detail? Do you think that it was important for you, as a reader, to experience the crime from Jennifer's perspective? What did Picking Cotton demonstrate about how rape victims are treated and/or how rape cases are handled in the hours and days after the crime?

3. Compare the experience of reading about Ronald's arrest and first trial from Jennifer's perspective to the experience of reading about the arrest and first trial from Ronald's perspective. How were their recollections different? Was it important to read descriptions of the same events from two utterly opposite viewpoints? Did your sympathies change or grow from Jennifer's descriptions of the events to Ronald's?

4. Were you surprised by what happened at Ronald's second trial? How did you react to the knowledge that Bobby Poole had been bragging about his crimes? How did you feel when Jennifer looked Bobby Poole in the eye and did not recognize him? How did you respond when Ronald was convicted a second time?

5. Throughout Picking Cotton, Ronald describes the extreme challenges of serving time in prison as an innocent man. He writes, "Put a man in a cage with beasts and throw away the key, and it's usually not very long before the man is a beast himself." In what ways does this apply to Ronald's time in prison? How did you react to his descriptions of prison life? What do you think sustained Ronald while he was in prison?

6. How much of a role, if any, do you think race played in this case?

7. In Picking Cotton, Jennifer comes to learn that memory can be "contaminated." Did you realize this about memory? What actions by the investigating detectives inadvertently led to this happening? Have you ever experienced a situation where your memory proved unreliable?

8. What role does the act of asking for forgiveness play in the narrative? What about the act of granting forgiveness? Were you surprised by how strongly Jennifer felt about asking to be forgiven for her mistakes? Were you surprised that Ronald chose to forgive Jennifer? How did you feel about Jennifer's choice to forgive Bobby Poole?

9. Jennifer writes of Ron, "To say we were friends just wasn't enough." How would you characterize Ronald and Jennifer's friendship? What purpose does the friendship seem to serve in both their lives? Were you surprised that they were able to become such good friends?

10. How do you feel about the reliability of eyewitness testimony after reading Picking Cotton? Did Picking Cotton change any of your opinions about the judicial system?

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Picking Cotton 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 195 reviews.
Lojie More than 1 year ago
I purchased this book because I saw Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton interviewed about how their lives became intertwined forever. Any woman who ever thought about how she would deal with being raped likely believes she would remember that man's face forever. Because of many factors, Jennifer believed she had identified the right man only to find after two trials and eleven years passed that she was wrong. What was so amazing about this story is that Ronald Cotton was able to accept Jennifer's apology and that she was brave enough to offer it. I can't imagine the kind of heart it would take to forgive someone for taking eleven years of your life. Both Jennifer and Ronald were the victims of the same man....the one who raped Jennifer and the one who allowed Ronald to spend eleven years in prison for a crime he did not commit. He was able to blame the real perpetrator and not Jennifer for his incarceration. It's just an amazing and uplifting story. If you are a believer in capital punishment this is a story you need to read. We certainly are finding, with the advances in DNA testing, that there are innocent people....especially black men, who are locked up or executed for crimes they did not commit. My heart goes out to both of these victims. Jennifer and Ronald will never be the same, but they have certainly shown how forgiveness can change lives.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found this story so inspiring at a time that we are all struggling for a reason that our world is in such disarray. It shows how very sensitive a rape can be and what can be done to overcome a judgement gone wrong. Truly goes deep into one's thoughts and emotions.
ChristmasCarol09 More than 1 year ago
Feel the emotions of both sides of the story. Feel the consequences of how what you say , can affect others. Learn how forgiveness can improve your life and the lives of those around you. A sad and heartwarming story full of love, in one. Inspiring!
Jen_NY10021 More than 1 year ago
No need to say much about Picking Cotton except that I think everyone ought to read it. Powerful message of forgiveness.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I actually had the chance to hear Jennifer Thompson-Cannino speak about her story and it was the most powerful, amazing, wonderful, heartbreaking story that i have ever heard. I was truly touched by the forgiveness of Ronald for Jennifer. Their friendship is one for the ages. I applaude both Ronald and Jennifer for publishing their story, it is truly amazing.
bookslug More than 1 year ago
Picking Cotton...it is a great story of forgiveness and not letting your circumstances be your fall. We all have something to learn from Ronald Cotton and his story of grace of mercy. How in the most horrible of situations he never gave up hope that the LORD would see him through, and that he was innocent. Eleven years of his life was taking from him, but after it was all over, he looked to God for His purpose in it all. And teaches each reader how to forgive the way our LORD so gracefully did for us! As a woman, I will not lie, at parts it was very difficult to read, through are some disturbing parts, but still a good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a must read. It's a compelling true story, beautifully written.
Brannflakes More than 1 year ago
To preface my review - I had just started working at Burlington Times-News the summer Ronald Cotton was finally set free and was in the middle of the unfolding drama. I grew up 15 miles from the Brookwood Condos but was a child at the time of the rape and trials. So the book is a mix of "ooh, I remember that" and "heh, I don't remember that." The park that Ronald and Jennifer are in at the start of the book is in the neighborhood of my childhood home. So, that said, this book hits really close to home. And doubtless, that colors my perception of this book. I did really enjoy the back and forth his and her viewpoints. And their voices do come through loud and clear - Jennifer is a young and innocent girl forced to deal with some very harsh realities and how that changed her. Ronald is a good soul who suffers horrible injustice but his soul isn't changed. Their descriptions of the places and people are spot-on with my viewpoints, and I think that they do a very eloquent job of bringing the reader into that place at that time. While the book is about the harsh realities of racism, revenge and remorse - it also brings with it a good dose of hope that while wrongs may be done in the past we can rise above them and find an inner peace and forgiveness.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a wonderfully written, heart warming story of courage and forgiveness. To read what both people in the book went through but still, some how, were able to come out even stronger is amazing. I can only hope that I could show such warmth and forgiveness in such a horrible situation. I thank them both for sharing their story. It reminds me to enjoy every day and just how wonderful people can be!!!!!
trusunshine More than 1 year ago
This is by far one of the best books that I have ever read. The story is simply amazing and it touches the heart. It's a journey that will have you reading until the book is through, not want to put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Picking Cotton" is an absorbing story of a man that is wrongly convicted, mostly by eyewitness account, of the rape of a young woman. Write in first person back and forth between the victim and the "suspect," it gives an interesting firsthand account of how each was dealing with the situation as it unfolded. I enjoyed reading the women's point of view and how she had to learn to forgive. I did not, however, think the book was well written. There were some awkward points where things were left unexplained and something that was seemingly unimportant to the story was talked about. I thought the editing could have been better and that's why I gave the book a 3 star rating. I've read a lot of Innocence Project books but this one you actually get to hear the accounts from each person. I'm glad that, at least, this story had a happy ending.
Radella on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Once I started reading, I couldn't put it down (although it was slightly disconcerting to be from the area this story takes place... there was little separation from the reality of the story). This is the true story of a college student, Jennifer Thompson, who was raped. She identifies a man as her attacker, and he is given a life sentence. Two years later, he is granted a retrial, only to be convicted of an additional rape. Eleven years later, DNA proves what Ronald Cotton was saying all along- he was innocent. Remarkably, the story doesn't end there. Jennifer and Ronald discover what forgiveness and strength really mean. They become friends, and speak out against injustice in the justice system.
abbylibrarian on LibraryThing 5 months ago
On July 29, 1984, Jennifer Thompson was raped in her North Carolina apartment. She made a conscious effort to notice the details of her attacker's face and was able to pick him out of a lineup. Ronald Cotton was convicted of the crime and sent to prison. Eleven years later, new DNA testing revealed that Ronald Cotton was not Jennifer Thompson's attacker. This memoir, written by both Jennifer and Ron, explores forgiveness, redemption, and what you have to do to move on with your life. It's not the best-written thing I've ever read, but it's certainly an interesting and important story.
assistantacml on LibraryThing 5 months ago
A moving story of courage & forgiveness through the eyes of both victims. Effectively puts you right there as the story unfolds from the begining of this horrible crime. A truely inspiring book for anyone who has had to forgive someone and anyone who thought they should not.
dablackwood on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I read this book for my book club and though I don't think it is beautifully written, it is definitely a compelling story. Who doesn't like to read of wrongs being righted? Jennifer Thompson was positive that she had identified correctly the man who broke into her home and raped her. She confidently testified to his identity in court and aided in his conviction and ultimate life sentence. However, DNA testing 11 years later proved she was wrong and that the man she was so sure about, Ronald Cotton, was not the man who raped her. Told in alternating voices, this book tells the story of these two people and how they came in the end to be friends - mostly because Cotton forgave Thompson and told her he wanted her to be happy. She had to learn to forgive herself and they both had to figure out what to do next with their lives. A very interesting story.
janismack on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I thought i would like this book a bit more. The interesting part was when the main character, Ronald Cotton, was in jail trying to prove his innocence. Also, it isn't often when a victim and an accused rapist become friends after the accused rapist is proven innocent.
TooBusyReading on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Although I already knew the basic facts of this story from TV coverage, I wanted to read the whole story. When a book group picked it for the June read, I had to join in.********Minor Spoiler that you'll know anyway if you read the inside flap of the book *******Jennifer Thompson was a young woman when a young black man broke into her apartment and raped her at knife point. As it was happening, Jennifer had the presence of mind to try to memorize her attacker's face so that she could identify him later. She picked Cotton out of photos and a line-up, and he spent eleven years in prison, claiming innocence. The only problem is that in picking Cotton, Jennifer picked the wrong guy.This story is written from their separate viewpoints. Both were fascinating. Jennifer was urged to just get on with her life, and because she didn't fight the rapist, was made to feel it was her fault. Ronald had been in trouble before. Except for his family, everyone knew he was guilty.More than just the stories of these two very different people, this is a tale of our justice system, and about the reliability of eyewitness testimony. While there is much right with our justice system, there is still much wrong. Of course, I am not naive enough to believe that every person who says he is innocent actually is, or even that many of them are. Still, I can't help but wonder how many innocent people have been executed in the name of justice because of mistakes made and preconceived notions of guilt. The book is thought provoking and well written, a very good read.
harpua on LibraryThing 5 months ago
What a great book. This is not the typical genre of book that I read, so when I picked this up, a bit hesitantly I must add, I wasn't sure what to expect nor if I would even finish. Much to my surprise, four hours later, I turned the last page to one of the best books I've read all year. Why did I enjoy it so much? I'm actually not really sure. Like I mentioned, this is not the genre of book I usually enjoy. I don't have any particular empathy for the subject matter. No rape victims in my immediate family or friends. Nor have anyone I know been wrongly convicted of a crime serious or otherwise. I am not an activist for any kind of prisoner rights nor am I an advocate for special victim rights. What kept the pages turning for me? I suppose it was just the well written look into the lives of two people and their circumstances that brought them together and how their plight changed their lives and that of those around them. I finished the book, not with a renewed sympathy for either of the players, nor the cause that the represent and fought for, but instead found that this is a genre that I may enjoy in the future. I have found a new type of book to read and am looking forward to many more of this type. Kudos to Cotton and Jennifer for persevering and being able to bring their story to us. Well done.
yourotherleft on LibraryThing 5 months ago
In July 1984, Jennifer Thompson was raped at knifepoint by a black man in her own apartment. With courage and words, she survived and was able to use her memories of the night to bring her rapist to trial. In January 1985, her supposed rapist, Ronald Cotton, was sentenced to life in prison plus fifty years. Eleven long years later he was set free based on DNA evidence that proved that he was innocent of the crime. Now Ronald and Jennifer are what no one would expect - friends. Picking Cotton is first a brilliant indictment of the flaws in our justice system, flaws based on the inability of humans to ever be completely impartial, completely unprejudiced, and completely able to rely on their memories to perform dependably. It shows that despite our best efforts and intentions, the justice system can and does fail, and when it does, innocent people can surprisingly easily be put in prison for crimes they haven't committed. At the same time, though, Picking Cotton is about a victim, a victim each and every one us can sympathize with. A victim who just desperately wants to see her rapist go to jail so that she can stop existing in a constant terror and start living her life again. A victim who will do anything she can to make that happen, even if it means relying on a faulty memory. Above all, however, Picking Cotton is a transcendent story of forgiveness. Just as we hear from the victim and easily sympathize with her feelings, we also get the story from the man that she picked, the man that she helped to send to jail for her rape, the wrong man. In his own words, we follow Ronald Cotton through his eleven years of wrongful imprisonment, eleven years in which he managed to stay alive, to stay out of trouble despite being imprisoned with the man who he's certain actually committed the crime that has robbed him of his life, and to never give up hope that the truth would come to light and he would be exonerated. And yet, even after being robbed of eleven years of his life, when Jennifer requests a meeting with him, her heartfelt apology is met with his heartfelt forgiveness making Picking Cotton the story of the the unlikeliest pair of friends that can be imagined. In her blurb on the front cover, Janet Reno comments on the "human face" this book puts on the many issues facing the justice system, and I couldn't agree more. There are innumerable scholarly books on just such issues, but this book highlights those and does so much more by taking us inside a real story of two people both horribly wronged by the justice system. The writing really flows, the story is raw with the power to completely engage both readers' minds and emotions, and I heartily recommend it to everyone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A great book that looks deeper into a system of justice that continues to support the racial divide in this country. Conversely an excellent portrayal of the the heart of a man who not only restrained himself from becoming a revenge seeking cold blooded killer but displayed a true manifestation of FAITH and Peace within.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In these times of protest this book is the answer to understanding in detail the underlying problems with our justice system and why so many are frustrated. It is a true story where compassion for another race has to be learned the hard way. It opens ones eyes to problems in society, and in particular the justice system and why it just does not work. Since anyone of us could be called to jury duty, this is the book to read so that you do not send an innocent person to prison. It is a quick read and does not get overly graphic so your senses will not be bombarded in too negative of a way. This book needs to be read by every adult in America.
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