I like to read true stories of people who have overcome obstacles and have been able to prevail. I also read fiction – fiction that could be real. I read some true crime. I like to know how the police caught the perpetrator and what the evidence was against him.
Just Mercy – Bryan Stevenson
336 pp. (2014)
Just Mercy is an inspiring story of a lawyer who starts the Equal Justice Initiative to help those who are unjustly put on death row. He began his work at the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee in Atlanta before he started the Equal Justice Initiative. Stevenson features the story of Walter McMillan of Monroeville, Alabama, the childhood home of Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird. McMillan is one of five people that Stevenson interviews at the Alabama State Penitentiary. McMillan swears to Stevenson that he is innocent, and the lawyer promises McMillan that he will look into it.
As Stevenson soon discovers, the case against McMillan hinged on one man’s (Ralph Myers) false testimony that McMillan was with him. When the sheriff and law enforcement could not find anyone responsible for the murder of Ronda Morrison, a clerk at Monroe Cleaners, they try to find a way to link Walter McMillan to the crime. Criticism of law enforcement, and Sheriff Tate especially, was mounting. They desperately needed an arrest. The only thing they knew for sure was that McMillan was a black man having an affair with a white woman. That was not illegal in 1986, but it was such a taboo that Tate probably saw him as reckless and dangerous. Tate put pressure on Ralph Myers to testify that he was with Walter McMillan and saw him go into the dry cleaners where the woman was killed.
Stevenson acknowledges the iron that the people of the town take great pride in being the home of famed novelist Harper Lee, yet there is a deep-seated prejudice, especially when it comes to crime and justice. In their very town the police were manufacturing evidence so they would have someone to prosecute for murder. Another irony is that the sheriff in the novel is “Sheriff Tate,” and the real sheriff of Monroeville is named Tate as well. The big difference is that the fictional “Tate” was a good and decent man. The real Sheriff Tate is a wicked man who is willing to have an innocent man put to death, so he could say that he solved the murder.
Just Mercy will make you angry at the injustice, but it will also make you feel hopeful for people like Bryan Stevenson who dedicate their lives to righting the wrongs of a judicial system that is broken. I highly recommend the book.
A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy – Sue Klebold
305 pp. (2016)
A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold is the story of the family of Dylan Klebold, one of the killers of the Columbine massacre. Mrs. Klebold and her husband were totally shocked that their son was involved in the killings. That may seem hard to believe, but when I read her story I was struck by how normal her family was. There is a forward written by Andrew Solomon who has written a couple of books on troubled children. Before he meets the family, he is sure that there must be something wrong in the the home. He was sure that he would notice what this family did or did not do that caused Dylan to murder and kill. He found that he was wrong. They were a normal family, but Dylan has been estimated to be a suicidal depressive. Experts have claimed that Eric Harris was a homicidal psychopath. They were a deadly combination. To quote from Andrew Solomon’s introduction, “Dylan’s depressiveness would not have turned into murderousness without the thrill of dragging Dylan down with him. Eric’s malice is shocking, Dylan’s Acquiescence, equally so.”
In time Sue Klebold turns her grief into supporting suicide prevention organizations. With her son, first and foremost he was suicidal. One of her greatest wishes is that she would have “known it was possible for everything to seem fine with my son when it was not.” With her book she hopes that people will be able to see the subtle changes in their child, so that they can get them the help that they need. It’s very informative. She goes through what happened as she learns about it. Sue Klebold is an inspiration in the way that she is able to turn her grief and anguish into reaching out to others.
The Boy on the Wooden Box – Leon Leyson
231 pp. (2013)
This is the story of Leon Leyson and his family. His mother, father, brother, sister and Leon were all on Oskar Schindler’s list. They were able to work in his factory and were listed as essential to the operation of his factory. There were times when Leon risked his life to make sure that he and his family were on the list.
Once he discovered that his father, brother and he were not on the list. For some reason their names were scratched off. Leon was with a group of men to be transferred. When Leon stepped out of line to get Schindler’s attention, a Nazi guard hit him with the butt of a gun and knocked a jar out of his hand to fall and break. Schindler and a guard had been walking past the men, and when he heard the commotion and turned around, Leon cried out, “We are being sent away! My father, my brother and I!” Schindler immediately motioned for the guards to get the three of them back to his factory. By being on Schindler’s list, Leon was able to survive as well has his father, mother, brother and sister, but not all of his family survives. He lost two brothers in the war.
Leyson’s story is unique in that his is the only story of Schindler’s list written from a child’s point of view. It’s a very engaging story.
Saving Alex – Alex Cooper
248 pp. (2016)
Alex is a 15 year old girl in a Mormon family in Southern California. Everything was fine until Alex met Yvette and discovered that she was in love with the young woman. Yvette was 18 at the time. Alex keeps their relationship a secret for as long as she can, but there comes a time when she feels that she has to tell them. She tells her parents that she likes girls, and they immediately kick her out of the house. She stays with her friends’ family for a little while. Soon her parents come and get her. She thinks things are going back to normal, but soon they take her to her grandmother’s house in St. George, Utah. She is only there for a short time until they turn her over to a Mormon family that runs an unlicensed treatment center in their home where they promise to save Alex from her homosexuality. Alex was physically and verbally abused. She was forced to wear a backpack loaded with rocks and to stand at a wall. She was to stand at the wall with the backpack until she revealed to them the name of her girlfriend. To keep her from escaping they told her that they knew the police, and people at the school and church. They all knew that this family took in troubled kids.
Alex suffered under this treatment for eight months. She got the courage to leave after meeting a couple of supportive people at her school. It’s a riveting book, and she has an amazing story to tell. It’s hard to believe that her parents were willing to send her to live with this family, and they had no idea what kind of treatment that she would be getting. When she tried to tell them what it was like for her to live there, they didn’t believe her. I wish the couple that ran the treatment center would have been prosecuted, but Alex just wanted to be done with it all after she won her right to live as a gay teenager. At least they were exposed after Alex’s legal fight.