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Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption

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Jennifer Thompson was raped at knifepoint by a man who broke into her apartment while she slept. She was able to escape, and eventually positively identified Ronald Cotton as her attacker. Ronald insisted that she was mistaken-- but Jennifer's positive identification was the compelling evidence that put him behind bars. After eleven years, Ronald was allowed to take a DNA Jennifer Thompson was raped at knifepoint by a man who broke into her apartment while she slept. She was able to escape, and eventually positively identified Ronald Cotton as her attacker. Ronald insisted that she was mistaken-- but Jennifer's positive identification was the compelling evidence that put him behind bars. After eleven years, Ronald was allowed to take a DNA test that proved his innocence. He was released, after serving more than a decade in prison for a crime he never committed. Two years later, Jennifer and Ronald met face to face-- and forged an unlikely friendship that changed both of their lives. In their own words, Jennifer and Ronald unfold the harrowing details of their tragedy, and challenge our ideas of memory and judgment while demonstrating the profound nature of human grace and the healing power of forgiveness.


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Jennifer Thompson was raped at knifepoint by a man who broke into her apartment while she slept. She was able to escape, and eventually positively identified Ronald Cotton as her attacker. Ronald insisted that she was mistaken-- but Jennifer's positive identification was the compelling evidence that put him behind bars. After eleven years, Ronald was allowed to take a DNA Jennifer Thompson was raped at knifepoint by a man who broke into her apartment while she slept. She was able to escape, and eventually positively identified Ronald Cotton as her attacker. Ronald insisted that she was mistaken-- but Jennifer's positive identification was the compelling evidence that put him behind bars. After eleven years, Ronald was allowed to take a DNA test that proved his innocence. He was released, after serving more than a decade in prison for a crime he never committed. Two years later, Jennifer and Ronald met face to face-- and forged an unlikely friendship that changed both of their lives. In their own words, Jennifer and Ronald unfold the harrowing details of their tragedy, and challenge our ideas of memory and judgment while demonstrating the profound nature of human grace and the healing power of forgiveness.

30 review for Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption

  1. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    Jennifer Thompson was a student at Elon College in Burlington, North Carolina. In the summer of July 1984, Jennifer is awakened from sleep around 3 AM, perhaps by a noise but definitely knowing something was amiss. ”Suddenly a man is on her. Shut up or I’ll cut you!” Jennifer is being raped at knifepoint. Though terrified, she thinks about her choices. ”At five-foot two, I knew I wouldn’t win a physical struggle.” Jennifer tries to talk him out of it, offering money. She wills herself to note det Jennifer Thompson was a student at Elon College in Burlington, North Carolina. In the summer of July 1984, Jennifer is awakened from sleep around 3 AM, perhaps by a noise but definitely knowing something was amiss. ”Suddenly a man is on her. Shut up or I’ll cut you!” Jennifer is being raped at knifepoint. Though terrified, she thinks about her choices. ”At five-foot two, I knew I wouldn’t win a physical struggle.” Jennifer tries to talk him out of it, offering money. She wills herself to note details of his appearance. ”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?” She manages to construct a plan and escapes to a neighbor’s house where she bangs on the door. ”Help me, please! I’ve been raped by a black man! He’s after me!” The man who answered is hesitant but finally realizes this naked woman wrapped in a blanket is for real and in need of help. What follows is history, the exam at the hospital, the interview with police. Jennifer is able to provide an excellent sketch of her assailant and eventually picks him out in a photo and then a line-up. Ronald Cotton. She is positive that this is the man. Ronald Cotton maintains his innocence but is convicted of the rape of Jennifer Thompson and in January 1985 is sentenced to life in prison plus fifty years. ”During the trial I would steal a few glances at Jennifer Thomspon, thinking, Why? Why are you doing this? She just stared back at me with hate. After being in prison 11 years, a test of Ronald’s DNA proves his innocence. How could this have happened? How could Jennifer be so certain that Ronald raped her and how was he convicted when he was innocent? Jennifer and Ronald tell their own stories and each is as tragic as it fascinating. Two lives that are entwined in actions of a fateful night, two lives that continue to be entwined today. Their story, becomes one, as each heal, guilt is eased and forgiveness is granted. It will haunt me. There is no judging whose situation was worse as each is a victim in his or her own way. I truly admire them both for reaching out to each other, for their bravery in telling their stories and the advocacy work they continue to do. Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption has been on my list since it was published in 2009. I’m not certain why I decided to read it now but it could be recent headlines in my local papers. In January Connecticut awarded Kenneth Ireland $6,000,000 for his wrongful conviction for rape and murder. Ireland served 21 years in prison. Just this past week Richard Lapointe, was released on bail after 26 years in a renewed effort to prove his innocence of the murder and rape of his Wife's elderly grandmother. There are many examples of the same, men and women, serving times for crimes they did not commit. The issue of capital punishment is one that always has opposing viewpoints, with arguments for and against. We all want to see our justice system work. It is a story such as Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton that begs judicial reform. Organizations such as Centurion Ministries which is dedicated to exonerating wrongly convicted prisoners and the Innocence Project, which takes cases that can be exonerated by DNA testing have limited resources to make headway in the many who claim ”I didn’t do it. The Centurion Ministries, 32 years in existence, have arranged the release of 53 accused. The Innocence Project has been involved in approximately 176 of over 300 DNA exonerations, including Ronald Cotton’s. I listened to the audio version of this book, excellently narrated by Karen White and the late Richard Allen. I plan to watch the Frontline Episode, What Jennifer Saw and 60 Minutes, Eyewitness concerning this case. Supplemental thoughts: Last evening I watched The 60 Minutes interviews with both Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton. It was interesting to hear their voices and their verbal accounts of the events. Other principal players, including Detective Mike Gauldin. The program also explored the subject of memory and its role in eyewitness testimony. In addition I was reading the April 13th issue of The New Yorker which featured article, The Price of A Life about John Restivo, another wrongfully accused man who was exonerated after being imprisoned for 18 years. It is an interesting case study.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    This co-authored true crime memoir depicting the 1984 rape of Jennifer Thompson and wrongful conviction of Ronald Cotton is an emotional and inspiring read.Thanks to DNA testing, after nearly eleven long years of claiming innocence and fighting "the system", Ronald Cotton is finally and thankfully released for crimes he did not commit. I could feel his frustration as he told his story, and admire his stamina and methods of survival to find his place each time he was shipped off to yet another pr This co-authored true crime memoir depicting the 1984 rape of Jennifer Thompson and wrongful conviction of Ronald Cotton is an emotional and inspiring read.Thanks to DNA testing, after nearly eleven long years of claiming innocence and fighting "the system", Ronald Cotton is finally and thankfully released for crimes he did not commit. I could feel his frustration as he told his story, and admire his stamina and methods of survival to find his place each time he was shipped off to yet another prison location, but most of all, I admire his ability to give total absolution to the one person who sealed his fate, and establish a close friendship........what an unbelievable act of forgiveness. (view spoiler)[I was horrified during the lineup when Jennifer was made to stand so close and visible to the prospective suspects with only a table between them, and I do have to admit to being surprised when during the act of brutality Bobby Poole actually removed the knife from J's neck at her request, got up, put on his shoes and placed it outside the door of her apartment. Anyway, thankfully Jennifer was given an opportunity to escape. Brave girl! (hide spoiler)] This work of non-fiction will make you think about the procedures of the Criminal Justice System and experience the true meaning of compassion.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Dana

    Jennifer Thompson was a senior in college planning to get married when the unthinkable happened. One evening a man broke into her apartment and raped her at knifepoint. Jennifer memorized his face and her quick thinking allowed her to escape. She was able to come up with a composite drawing with the police and later was able to pick out Ronald Cotton in a lineup. Her testimony put him away in jail for a life sentence. A later re-trial would give Ronald two life sentences. After eleven years Cotto Jennifer Thompson was a senior in college planning to get married when the unthinkable happened. One evening a man broke into her apartment and raped her at knifepoint. Jennifer memorized his face and her quick thinking allowed her to escape. She was able to come up with a composite drawing with the police and later was able to pick out Ronald Cotton in a lineup. Her testimony put him away in jail for a life sentence. A later re-trial would give Ronald two life sentences. After eleven years Cotton was allowed to take a DNA test which cleared him. Under overwhelming evidence, the perpetrator eventually confessed. Two years later Jennifer met Ronald and forged a friendship. This may all seem like a great plot for a fiction book but this is an amazingly true story. Jennifer and Ronald come together to tell their sides of the story. Jennifer's account shows how frail eyewitness accounts can be. She was totally convinced she had the right man. The justice system unfortunately does have flaws and Jennifer and Ronald are aiming to fix some of them. Jennifer's account also shows how hard it is to find 'closure'. Even though the trial is done, there are appeals and appeals and it never goes away. This book is about faith and forgiveness. Ronald had faith he would be found innocent and his forgiveness of Jennifer is uplifting and touching. He does speak about his initial rage but he overcomes this and never loses hope. I was amazed by the forgiveness by Ronald. He is an unbelievable person. Both Ronald and Jennifer speak of being the victims of the perpetrator. Jennifer and Ronald show us all what human grace is all about.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Randy

    I’m fascinated by redemption, forgiveness, and the power of being ‘strong at the broken places,’ so Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton with Erin Torneo had me at hello, but it was the complicated shape-shifting of relationships in this story that burned this book into me. Picking Cotton made me need to be a better person; just reading it allowed me a glimpse into hope. Jennifer Thompson woke up to a man in her apartment; he raped I’m fascinated by redemption, forgiveness, and the power of being ‘strong at the broken places,’ so Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton with Erin Torneo had me at hello, but it was the complicated shape-shifting of relationships in this story that burned this book into me. Picking Cotton made me need to be a better person; just reading it allowed me a glimpse into hope. Jennifer Thompson woke up to a man in her apartment; he raped her at knifepoint. She identified Ronald Thompson as her attacker, suffered great trauma, and though she eventually moved on, the attack on her body left a wide swath of emotional scar tissue. However, Jennifer used the legal system as her way to fight back. Lesson one: One doesn’t really recover from rape; one reconfigures themselves. Ronald Thompson swore his innocence as surely as Jennifer Thompson testified to his guilt. At times, his lock-up seemed what allowed Jennifer to walk through the world. But after eleven years, DNA proved Ronald an innocent man. The amazing thing is that he walked out, not only an innocent man, but also a strong one. Lesson two: There are miraculous stores of strength inside us. Ronald’s innocence stunned Jennifer (the real rapist was found) and tested her courage in an entirely different manner than had the rape. Despite her profound guilt at knowing she’d wrongfully identified her rapist, and taken eleven years, family, love, work, and all else from this man, she found the guts to meet with him. And despite eleven grinding wasted years in jail, time served for a crime he’d never committed, he found the valor to say yes, seeking closure and offering forgiveness. Jennifer and Ronald eventually went on to work together for judicial reform. They speak out together, addressing the issues that kept Ronald in jail. More amazing, they became true friends. I closed this book sorry for the ordeal Jennifer and Ronald suffered, but grateful they had the wisdom and grace to offer themselves to us: through this memoir, through speaking out, and through their example of true goodness. Lesson three: Buy this book. Lesson four: Read this book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    2.5 stars. I first saw this compelling story on 60 Minutes: A victim of a horrible crime mistakenly identifies her attacker, and wrongfully accuses a man who ultimately spends 11 years of his life in prison for a rape he did not commit. A very personal story, from both victims, told with much earnestness and sincerity, but I think I longed for a little more depth. Perhaps this comes from being a Criminal Justice major, but I wanted there to be more about police procedural background, the science 2.5 stars. I first saw this compelling story on 60 Minutes: A victim of a horrible crime mistakenly identifies her attacker, and wrongfully accuses a man who ultimately spends 11 years of his life in prison for a rape he did not commit. A very personal story, from both victims, told with much earnestness and sincerity, but I think I longed for a little more depth. Perhaps this comes from being a Criminal Justice major, but I wanted there to be more about police procedural background, the science of DNA, the psychology of eyewitness testimony, etc. It wasn't a bad book without those things, but since Jennifer and Ron are both advocates for those in similar circumstances as their own (those in the prison system convicted on the evidence of eyewitness testimony alone), I think it may have been a missed opportunity to have a discourse on how the criminal justice system is affected by what happened in their situation.

  6. 4 out of 5

    J.C. Ahmed

    It's crazy to think someone can be sent to prison for life (or in some cases get the death penalty) on nothing more than a victim or witness picking them out of a lineup, despite how fragile human memory can be. When Jennifer Thompson picked Ronald Cotton out of a lineup, she was certain she had the right man. Cotton was sentenced to life in prison based solely on her testimony. Nothing else tied him to the crime. Juries are supposed to convict only if it's proven beyond a reasonable doubt the a It's crazy to think someone can be sent to prison for life (or in some cases get the death penalty) on nothing more than a victim or witness picking them out of a lineup, despite how fragile human memory can be. When Jennifer Thompson picked Ronald Cotton out of a lineup, she was certain she had the right man. Cotton was sentenced to life in prison based solely on her testimony. Nothing else tied him to the crime. Juries are supposed to convict only if it's proven beyond a reasonable doubt the accused is guilty but jurors don't always take that responsibility as seriously as they should. The man who raped Thompson wasn't in the lineup, and that's why everything went so terribly wrong. Assuming the guy who did it had to be there, she chose the person who looked most like her attacker. And Cotton looked an awful lot like Bobby Poole, the guy who actually raped her. Cotton was cleared 11 years later through the use of DNA testing. Thompson was understandably devastated and blamed herself for sending an innocent man to prison. Two years later, Thompson and Cotton met and forged a close friendship. They now use their story to educate others on flaws in the justice system. Books like this are hugely important because many people have very simplistic ideas about our justice system. - if someone is arrested they must be guilty - police officers and district attorneys will only prosecute someone if they know they're guilty - if someone confesses to a crime they must have done it - if DNA ties someone to a crime they must be guilty - if an eyewitness points to someone that person must be guilty All of these things can seem to be true, but in actual fact they're false - innocent people do get arrested and charged with crimes they didn't commit - corrupt police and prosecutors will at times prosecute people for crimes they know they didn't commit, even in cases where they know who did it - confessions can be coerced - mistakes often occur in crime labs, so DNA evidence isn't always reliable - eyewitnesses may not see someone well enough, memory can be unreliable, and if the perp isn't in the lineup, the eyewitness will gravitate toward whoever looks most like them Picking Cotton is a fascinating story, but also one that is incredibly important.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Marjorie Faulstich

    Read this book as a possible choice for a "UCLA Common Book" selection for all incoming students. I was disappointed. The story is framed as being about the unreliability of memory and the power of forgiveness. A woman is raped and picks a man out of a lineup and is convinced throughout his trial that this is the man who raped her. After 13 (?) years in jail the man is exonerated on DNA evidence. The man holds no grudge and the two become friends. So on the one hand it's a sweet redemptive tale. W Read this book as a possible choice for a "UCLA Common Book" selection for all incoming students. I was disappointed. The story is framed as being about the unreliability of memory and the power of forgiveness. A woman is raped and picks a man out of a lineup and is convinced throughout his trial that this is the man who raped her. After 13 (?) years in jail the man is exonerated on DNA evidence. The man holds no grudge and the two become friends. So on the one hand it's a sweet redemptive tale. What's my disappointment? The way race was skirted in so many places. The woman is white and the man is African American and this is so much about race. There were a few places where race was named in rather odd ways, and many where it was not. Nor were the core issues of historical gendered/raced relations taken on.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kira Simion

    So a while ago there was an interesting 60 minute show about this report of trauma and mistake in identity. I found it intriguing how this woman could be so brave as to try and memorize her rapist's face, but her mind may have had so much trauma that her mind blocked some of the memory. As a result, as she was trying to pick the culprit from a line up, many new points and improvements for line ups in general were made. I'm intrigued and so I hope to see how this story is told.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Therese Wiese

    True story of a woman raped, and a man falsely accused, in the days before DNA testing was being done. Amazing story of forgiveness. Spoiler here - the truth does eventually come out, and these two become friends. If I was Mr Cotton, I'm not sure I could have forgiven her. But if I was Ms Thompson, I'm not sure I could forgive myself. Very inspiring story, and first hand insight into the justice system.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jonna Ventura

    This story deserves to be told and that's why I am giving it 4 stars. The subtitle says injustice and redemption and you feel every bit of both. The experience of being able to walk in both of their shoes leads you to ask of yourself some hard questions. What would you have done? How would you have felt? It's thought provoking and shines light on a much larger problem that plagues our justice system.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Cindy Huffman

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I have to curtail this post to the book. I can go on and on about my beliefs in the 'justice' system. For those that know me, I apply these beliefs to some of the high profile crimes. And this book, much like the other great book Bloodsworth, shows how mistakes can be made. The crux, I think, of this book is the fact that the victim, who so KNEW her attacker and made sure he would rot in hell, would come back and admit her mistake at identifying the wrong person. That is what this novel is about. I have to curtail this post to the book. I can go on and on about my beliefs in the 'justice' system. For those that know me, I apply these beliefs to some of the high profile crimes. And this book, much like the other great book Bloodsworth, shows how mistakes can be made. The crux, I think, of this book is the fact that the victim, who so KNEW her attacker and made sure he would rot in hell, would come back and admit her mistake at identifying the wrong person. That is what this novel is about. And it's something I think more and more people should read about...make themselves more aware of: the fact that thousands of men (and women) are wrongfully accused and convicted. There's the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, a probable innocent man who was executed in 2004, based on outdated arson theories. And as Ronald Cotton states in the book, had he been convicted in the 70s for the rape that Jennifer Thompson accused him of doing, he could have been executed. Instead, he spent 11 years in prison. He proclaimed his innocence, only to fall onto deaf ears. Who would believe him? Well, someone did and those people were able to (eventually) use DNA in a rape kit to find the real rapist. The real rapist that had admitted to the crime to several people, who worked alongside Ronald Cotton in prison, and yet would never confess to the proper authorities to release the innocent man. The book focuses more on the general aspects of how they felt, what was happening during the legal events. I thought it was extremely noble for all parties involved to come out and admit the flaws. Jennifer Thompson can truly relay the 'sorry' she felt for convicting an innocent man, for taking away 11 years of her life, for HATING him, because she KNEW IN HER HEART THAT HE DID IT. And yet, she was yet another victim of just a bad person: Bobby Poole, who was her actual rapist. It's just an awful story that lends to a happier ending. I don't think the 'redemption' part - releasing a wrongfully-convicted man as quickly as Ronald Cotton was released - is that easy for everyone. Who wants to admit they were wrong? From the victim to the prosecution, it's embarrassing to stand up and say "Oops. We made a big boo-boo." But I'd rather see that -- and yes, they face the consequences of their bad investigations -- and release innocent people pronto. But they don't. Currently, in this day and age, our system still limits DNA testing to prove innocence (or not). In other words, THERE IS DNA AND WE WON'T TEST IT because 1) the conviction is the conviction by a jury of their peers 2) the inmate has to pay for the test 3) some courts simply will not allow DNA testing. It simply is a big ball of red tape and ignorance and, the attitude that 'this is the way the system works'. This book gave us a happy ending. But the sad truth is that we are convicting on flimsy evidence. We are using some statistics to proclaim suspects: how many times do you hear the media broadcast '80% of the times, it's the spouse' (I made that up...but I've heard similar, without validity). So the '20%' that are innocent are already suspected and if your alibi is a little bit flimsy, think about how easily you can be convicted. We have that going on in Raleigh right now... I don't know if Brad Cooper is guilty or not, but the media and the Kary Keystone Kops seemed to be convinced he is guilty...now, it's finding evidence to build their case. So I couldn't curtail this post to just the book. There's just too much going on in the country that makes me think 'why are we still following archaic methods? why are we still excited to quickly convict? what happened to innocent until proven guilty?' I missed my calling. I don't know if being a lawyer was my calling but it was certainly working for the innocent *and* convicting the guilty so they can rot in hell.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

    Quick, easy read. What I like about this book is the authors made this book informative but also appealing to read for a broad audience. The accounts in the book are their personal stories, written by them, and not over technical where it would scare people off. Jennifer Thompson is raped in her apartment and vows to identify her rapist. The police show her a photo line up and a physical line up - both where she picks Ronald Cotton. Cotton is found guilty and since he professes his innocence, ends Quick, easy read. What I like about this book is the authors made this book informative but also appealing to read for a broad audience. The accounts in the book are their personal stories, written by them, and not over technical where it would scare people off. Jennifer Thompson is raped in her apartment and vows to identify her rapist. The police show her a photo line up and a physical line up - both where she picks Ronald Cotton. Cotton is found guilty and since he professes his innocence, ends up with a life sentence. Over the course of time, the advance in science, and some dedicated attorneys - Cotton is able to get his conviction overturned through DNA testing. It's a landmark case in North Carolina and ultimately leads to reforms and the birth of Innocence Projects throughout the state. To me, the most extraordinary thing about this entire story is that Thompson and Cotton end becoming friends and tour the country telling their story and asking for reforms in our justice system. I really liked how the book was presented - Part 1 - Jennifer tells her side of the story; Part 2 - Ronald tells his side; Part 3 - Jennifer and Ronald alternate chapters recalling the new evidence and aftermath of Ronald's release. The book also wasn't repetitive despite them telling their sides of the same story. I rated this a 4 for two reasons. One, I think the ending could have been stronger with more descriptions about the impact they have had on reforming the justice system. Jennifer ends up joining the Innocence Commission in North Carolina - but she doesn't mention it. In Ghost of the Innocent Man: A True Story of Trial and Redemption, Rachlin quotes Jennifer quite often, she is very inspiring. However, reading her own account, I felt her spirit is not translated as strong. This was odd to me. Also, there is no conclusion with Mary Reynolds, another rape victim that Cotton was convicted for, but also cleared. She is briefly mentioned at the end - but the reader is never told - was she informed the mistakes that occurred? Why wasn't Cotton as interested in connecting to her as he was Thompson?

  13. 5 out of 5

    Liza Fireman

    Picking Cotton is not only a wonderful book and an amazing story, it is also important that each and every one of should read. It is a true and scary story, scary how we cannot and should not believe our own eyes, how we cannot trust our eyes or our memory, how even if we are really trying to pay attention to every detail we can get it all wrong, and why we should be so careful not to rely only on eye witnessing in court. So many innocent people are wrongly convicted all around the world by eye Picking Cotton is not only a wonderful book and an amazing story, it is also important that each and every one of should read. It is a true and scary story, scary how we cannot and should not believe our own eyes, how we cannot trust our eyes or our memory, how even if we are really trying to pay attention to every detail we can get it all wrong, and why we should be so careful not to rely only on eye witnessing in court. So many innocent people are wrongly convicted all around the world by eye witnesses, people that really and truly believe that they saw the crime happening in front of them. And they are wrong, and innocent people pay the price, the price of freedom, away from their love, their family, their friends, with years that are getting lost. Ronald Cotton spent 11 years in jail because Jennifer Thompson wrongly identified him as her rapist. But this is a bigger story, it is a story about two huge souls, two beautiful kind people that are able now of helping others, and were able to forgive an impossible forgiveness. And it seems not real because of so many things, and that makes the book even more facsinating. It is a heartwarming and heartbreaking story, and includes people full of heart and other that completely lack any. It is also a story about how society treats rape victims, how family and friends treat them, how their beloved treat them, and how the law does (and it is not always what you would expect). And we should probably know that too, just another reason of why this is an important book to be read. 4 stars for the book, well written and super-interesting. 5+ stars for the importance and raising awareness.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Paisley

    This book was very "Night" by Wiesel ish. I really appreciated it for what it was worth, and overall it gives an amazing message to everyone about how to treat others, and forgiving people for their transgressions. I actually met Ronald and Jennifer at a book signing and have a picture with them which is also pretty cool! I attended a Q&A that they did as well, and they are just two extremely inspirational people. Although it's not exactly a page turner, I would recommend for all older teens This book was very "Night" by Wiesel ish. I really appreciated it for what it was worth, and overall it gives an amazing message to everyone about how to treat others, and forgiving people for their transgressions. I actually met Ronald and Jennifer at a book signing and have a picture with them which is also pretty cool! I attended a Q&A that they did as well, and they are just two extremely inspirational people. Although it's not exactly a page turner, I would recommend for all older teens and above (it's kind of graphic at some points because of the rape) purely for the magnificent message it leaves you with.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Gina

    This book really captured the injustice of what happened to these two people - the horror of being raped, and the horror of being incorrectly incarcerated. It truly is inspiring to see how they both, Cotton in particular, recover from the injustice. And the book gives one much to think about related to the justice system, the total unreliability of eye witness testimony, most obviously, but also the experience of a falsely accused, not-squeaky-clean young black man. It is disturbing. This is in This book really captured the injustice of what happened to these two people - the horror of being raped, and the horror of being incorrectly incarcerated. It truly is inspiring to see how they both, Cotton in particular, recover from the injustice. And the book gives one much to think about related to the justice system, the total unreliability of eye witness testimony, most obviously, but also the experience of a falsely accused, not-squeaky-clean young black man. It is disturbing. This is in many ways a great companion book to Just Mercy and gives a good perspective from the point of view of someone saved by the heroic and generous efforts of attorneys who work for justice.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Judy

    I'm not a fan of the true crime genre, but am a huge fan of this particular book. Low on gruesomeness, high on forgiveness without being powderpuff or sentimentality, an excellent narrative from both the alleged rapist and rape victim's viewpoint. This book is well-paced and well-done.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kathryn Lethig

    When starting this book I was nervous, primarily of the way it would portray rape victims or its effect on victim testimony in a time when so many rapists walk free. Written by both the victim, Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and the man who was wrongfully convicted, Ronald Cotton, this book gave amazing points of view. This book showed how Jennifer suffered from her rape, her recovery, and also how defenders and her friends and family in her every day life would often "victim blame". From Ronald Cott When starting this book I was nervous, primarily of the way it would portray rape victims or its effect on victim testimony in a time when so many rapists walk free. Written by both the victim, Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and the man who was wrongfully convicted, Ronald Cotton, this book gave amazing points of view. This book showed how Jennifer suffered from her rape, her recovery, and also how defenders and her friends and family in her every day life would often "victim blame". From Ronald Cotton's view it showed how being black, his juvenile record, and interracial relationship, made him a target by the police department. This book was so raw with emotion and a true insight to both victims experiences that gave light to the importance of programs such as The Innocence Project, the need for thorough rape testing and crime scene analysis, and insight into the questioning of memory and eye witness testimony. I am generally a fiction reader but this book has struck a chord in my heart and shown viewpoints I may have never had. I would recommend it to anybody

  18. 4 out of 5

    Brandi Breezee

    A great read and a raw look at how wrongful convictions affect both parties. The good that resulted from the post conviction exoneration of Ronald Cotton was strikingly beautiful. I loved the relationship they formed and the light they worked towards in regards to wrongful convictions. A very worthwhile read.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    Compelling memoir. It is a sad yet hopeful story and I'm glad I read it.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Alicia Thompson

    MADE ME DEEPLY UNCOMFORTABLE WHICH I EXPECTED BUT ALSO MADE ME CRY TWICE WHICH I DID NOT

  21. 4 out of 5

    Shannon

    I saw in the newspaper a couple of weeks ago that this book was selected for the 2010 Summer Reading Program for the UNC's incoming freshman and transfer students. So, when I was in the library and saw it on the shelf not far away from our next book club selection, I though "why not?" This is the story of a woman who was brutally raped while in college who mistakenly identified a man who subsequently was imprisoned for 11 years as her attacker. The man, Ronald Cotton, who was first convicted in J I saw in the newspaper a couple of weeks ago that this book was selected for the 2010 Summer Reading Program for the UNC's incoming freshman and transfer students. So, when I was in the library and saw it on the shelf not far away from our next book club selection, I though "why not?" This is the story of a woman who was brutally raped while in college who mistakenly identified a man who subsequently was imprisoned for 11 years as her attacker. The man, Ronald Cotton, who was first convicted in Jennifer's case and then convicted of a second crime upon appeal, was sentenced to life imprisonment plus 54 years. He ultimately was freed after DNA exonerated him and proved that another man, whom Ron ironically was imprisoned with and was repeatedly confused with because they looked so similar, was responsible for the crimes as well as several others. This book was different than others than I had read on a similar subject (e.g., The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town by John Grisham) or the documentary that I saw about Darryl Hunt a few years ago. Specifically, I don't think that anyone, including Cotton, could argue that anyone did anything "wrong" per se (except maybe the real perpertrator who could have been a man and coped to crimes). There was no prosecuterial misconduct, there was not coersion, I didn't sit there through the book and constantly say "oh my gosh" or "no way!"...it was just a mistake. Everyone thought that they were doing the right thing. Surprisingly (if you know anything about the Grisham book or Hunt's case), both the police detective as well as the original prosecutor admitted the mistake and apologized to Cotton, who has handled his ordeal with grace, strength, maturity, and, ultimately, forgiveness. I think that it is only fitting that Thompson and Cotton have become friends as well as advocates of the wrongly-convicted. The book goes into why convictions based solely on eyewitness accounts are tenuous at best. I found this to be fascinating. I also found it interesting that the police detective, who later became police chief of the town that was the setting of this crime (i.e., Burlington), was the first in North Carolina to make some pretty major changes to the identification process (i.e., sequential showing of photos instead of an array as well as double-blind line-ups). Ironically, the Durham Police Department could have learned this lesson a bit earlier... I have to admit that I felt that the writing in this book was a bit stilted at first, and I got a bit annoyed at the jumping around in time. But, it started to grow on me, and I think that once I accepted it more as a one-step-above-stream-of-consciousness-train-of-thought-type writing, I enjoyed it a bunch more and was glad that the writer that helped Thompson and Cotton get their thoughts organized and on paper did not polish it too much. I don't think that I would have found the book as sincere as I did.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jenn

    This is a book I won't forget. It's a true and compelling story about a terrible crime, a wrongful conviction, and forgiveness. I couldn't put it down. There's nothing special about the writing, but the story carries the book. If you're a fan of this book, you have GOT to read Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. Stevenson is an absolute hero of a guy, working for almost nothing, fighting for the unjustly convicted or unfairly sentenced souls on death row.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mary Whisner

    The authors' friendship is improbable and compelling. In 1984 Jennifer Thompson was raped at knifepoint by a stranger who broke into her apartment. She studied the man's face so she could describe him to the police. A tip based on the composite sketch led to Ronald Cotton, whom she identified in a lineup and in court. She was sure of her identification. But 11 years later, DNA testing confirmed his claim of innocence. Cotton was freed from prison. The book vividly conveys the awfulness of the cri The authors' friendship is improbable and compelling. In 1984 Jennifer Thompson was raped at knifepoint by a stranger who broke into her apartment. She studied the man's face so she could describe him to the police. A tip based on the composite sketch led to Ronald Cotton, whom she identified in a lineup and in court. She was sure of her identification. But 11 years later, DNA testing confirmed his claim of innocence. Cotton was freed from prison. The book vividly conveys the awfulness of the crime committed against Jennifer Thompson as well the injustice and misery suffered by Ronald Cotton. When witnesses are given a choice of, say, six men, they will often pick the one who looks most like the person they saw commit the crime. Then that person's image becomes part of their memory. Because of this case, their town's police department changed its procedures for photo arrays and lineups. Now witnesses are shown pictures or suspects one at a time to reduce that effect.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Suzanne

    What an amazing true story! Ronald was tried and found guilty twice of rape . Beginning in 1985, he was identified by his victim, Jennifer Thompson, for a heinous crime which he did not commit. Sentenced to two lifetimes plus 50 years in prison, this memoir tells of the eleven years he spent in prison and the final outcome. Told by both the accused and victim, this is a great story of injustice, redemption, compassion and forgiveness. A hard book to put down, and one that will stay with you long What an amazing true story! Ronald was tried and found guilty twice of rape . Beginning in 1985, he was identified by his victim, Jennifer Thompson, for a heinous crime which he did not commit. Sentenced to two lifetimes plus 50 years in prison, this memoir tells of the eleven years he spent in prison and the final outcome. Told by both the accused and victim, this is a great story of injustice, redemption, compassion and forgiveness. A hard book to put down, and one that will stay with you long after you gave finished it.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    This was a great book. It's a fascinating story of a wrongful conviction told by both the victim and the wrongfully convicted. I listened to the audiobook and really enjoyed it. It will make you a little emotional at times, but it's very inspirational. I felt compassion for both Jennifer and Ron, and they were on completely opposite ends of the story. I admire their relationship, and I hope to be as graceful (gracious?) as both of them in my own life. Their story made both of them become pursuer This was a great book. It's a fascinating story of a wrongful conviction told by both the victim and the wrongfully convicted. I listened to the audiobook and really enjoyed it. It will make you a little emotional at times, but it's very inspirational. I felt compassion for both Jennifer and Ron, and they were on completely opposite ends of the story. I admire their relationship, and I hope to be as graceful (gracious?) as both of them in my own life. Their story made both of them become pursuers of justice for others, and they share their story well.

  26. 4 out of 5

    rachel

    Between this book and the Paradise Lost documentary, I am kind of appalled at how the US justice system works sometimes, obscuring evidence and convicting to life in prison or the death penalty on the basis of, "well, on paper he looks like the sort of person who might've committed this crime" because he's black or likes heavy metal or whatever. Jennifer and Ron are top-notch people. And I'm about to volunteer for Amnesty International.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Pam

    I finished this yesterday and will be giving it 4 stars. It was pretty eye-opening about the number of overturned convictions. It just seems like we could be doing a better job at setting the innoocent free. It takes money and obviously if you are in prison, you ddo not have access to the resources required to fight this battle. Once again, it appears that are justice systemm has some serious flaws.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Amanda P

    This is an amazing story of sorrow, redemption and forgiveness. I am a huge fan of true crime (and fictionalized books loosely based on true crimes). This book just swooped in and quickly became one of my favorites for multiple reasons. I knew very little about the events that transpired before reading Picking Cotton. I not only learned about the crime/trial, but I learned about their lives before and after it. I really felt like I was a fly on the wall watching the story of their lives. I felt This is an amazing story of sorrow, redemption and forgiveness. I am a huge fan of true crime (and fictionalized books loosely based on true crimes). This book just swooped in and quickly became one of my favorites for multiple reasons. I knew very little about the events that transpired before reading Picking Cotton. I not only learned about the crime/trial, but I learned about their lives before and after it. I really felt like I was a fly on the wall watching the story of their lives. I felt the pain and joy that both Jennifer and Ronald went through during the different stages of their life. I am honestly shocked that this book doesn’t have more reviews. It’s a book that will stick with me for awhile and believe it’s a must read for everyone.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Cindy

    As much as I love true crime and as much as I already knew about this case I would never have thought I could get As much as I did out of this book. Ronald Cotton is such a strong willed human being and I’m so glad I was able to hear his side of the story. Jennifer Thompson is another great person that through everything she went through she still maintained her strength and wanted to help others as much as she could. Their story needs to be read even if you know all about this case already. A w As much as I love true crime and as much as I already knew about this case I would never have thought I could get As much as I did out of this book. Ronald Cotton is such a strong willed human being and I’m so glad I was able to hear his side of the story. Jennifer Thompson is another great person that through everything she went through she still maintained her strength and wanted to help others as much as she could. Their story needs to be read even if you know all about this case already. A wonderful and heartbreaking recount of a tragic incident that forever changed the life of the people involved. 5/5

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy Stock

    This is a MUST READ ! Stories such as this should be required reading in school. It's a powerful, true story account of how even the most sincere eye-witness identifications can be utterly and devastatingly wrong. Please read this book. See a glimpse into some of the issues facing our criminal justice system. A system which is all too human. I'm grateful to the authors for taking the time to write and share this transformative story.

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