Picking Cotton is a non-fiction memoir told alternately by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton. I’m going to assume the third author, Erin Torneo, is actually the ghost writer, which probably explains the seemingly disjointed writing.
(Normally I tackle writing style at the end of a review, but I’m going to do it here. I’ve read one other book that I know for sure was written by a ghost writer, and while I liked the supposed author, I didn’t like how the ghost writer said everything pretty much verbatim of how the author said things. I mean, I didn’t get anything new out of the book that I didn’t know from just listening to the guy on the radio. I understand on a theoretical level what a ghost writer’s job is, I just have yet to see it done well. While the writing in Picking Cotton wasn’t ideal, it certainly got the story across and I ignored the writing style.)
Here’s the story: Jennifer Thompson-Cannino was just 22 when she was raped at knife point by a black man. While it was happening, she studied his face and told herself that if by some miracle she made it out alive, she would be sure to put this bastard in prison. Her rapist didn’t kill her, so the next day she went to the police station and worked with a sketch artist. When they brought in a lineup so she could identify her attacker, she picked out Ronald Cotton and swore that was the man who raped her.
Ronald Cotton was sure he would beat this accusation, because he hadn’t raped Jennifer, and he was sure he could prove it! Unfortunately, his alibi fell through (he got confused as to the date of the rape and actually didn’t have an alibi for the night Jennifer was raped), and it was based on Jennifer’s testimony that Ronald was convicted to life plus 50 years in prison.
Ronald worked really hard to get his conviction thrown out so he could get a new trial, because he’d met the guy who’d actually raped Jennifer, and so he was hoping that either a) this guy would confess at a new trial or b) Jennifer would remember her real rapist when she saw him, but sadly neither of those happened and Ronald was sentenced to two life terms, which was more time in prison than he was sentenced to at his first trial!
Seriously, this story just kept getting worse and worse. And when Ronald was finally exonerated, Jennifer obviously didn’t get in touch with him right away, because how could you deal with that guilt that you’d stolen 11 years of someone’s life? After a couple of years, they met AND RONALD FORGIVES HER. He forgives the woman who STOLE 11 years of his life. Talk about forgiveness. That is the ultimate forgiveness, the way that we ultimately should lead our lives (but have a hard time doing because let’s face it: anger is easier than forgiveness). Ronald and Jennifer now work together now to educate people on the fallibility of eyewitness testimony and they try to help others who’ve been wrongly convicted based on eyewitness testimony.
If you’ve been reading this blog for longer than, oh, say 30 days, you’ll know I DON’T READ NON-FICTION. I just don’t. It’s not my thing. So a non-fiction book getting MY stamp of approval, is, well, rare. Please, go read this book. Having read my review and watching the videos I’ve posted below doesn’t make up for reading this book. This is an amazing story that everyone should read.
Rating: 90 out of 100
Here’s the book trailer that will give you a great overview of the book:
Here’s two videos from 60 Minutes when they covered this case: