Stolen Years: Stories of the Wrongfully Imprisoned
Author: Reuven Fenton
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Review Copy Provided by Publisher
There is a horrible murder in your neighborhood. You stand outside with your neighbors and watch, or maybe you peek out of your curtains. Hours pass, then days, maybe even years. Until one day there is a knock at your door, and the police take you in for questioning. Do you remember what happened? Do you have an alibi? Can you take countless hours of interrogation without breaking? Can this happen to you?
It can happen, and it happens more than you think.
From The Fixer to The Shawshank Redemption to Orange Is the New Black, books, films, and TV shows have, for decades, fed the public’s endless hunger for nitty-gritty details about prison life. Stolen Years will not deny readers those details, but it will also offer something more satisfying: the stories of ten former inmates who fended off the blackest kind of despair so they could keep fighting for freedom; the years they spent waiting for an appeal; and their struggles to get back to living after losing so many years behind bars.
There are some books that when I read them, it takes me time to decompress from the reading experience before I can write a review, Stolen Years was one of those books. I’ll admit that I’m one of those people who honestly wants to believe that those people who are in jail, especially those for long periods of time, actually deserve to be there – but with the rise of podcast’s like Serial, and the Netflix documentary, Making of a Murderer, I’ve started to question my belief of and in the legal system. Its kind of coincidental, that as I am writing this review, a Law & Order: SVU episode came on with a false accusation premise that actually echoed one of the stories in Stolen Years.
The book itself was a fairly simple read, 10 stories about different people from all walks of life: different states, different socio-economic classes; some parents, some not; some young and some old; male and female – but the one thing these people all had in common, was that they were found guilty (either via a judge or a jury) for a crime that they didn’t commit and all of whom spent significant time in prison – the least amount of time in the book was ten years, others were in the twenty year plus range. I think for me, the story that really hit me the hardest was the one about the father who spent 10 years in jail for raping his daughter, only to have her recant – her reasoning, she was angry that he wasn’t spending enough time with her and her sister. And even after his release, she continued to threaten him with reporting him again whenever she got mad at him. I was honestly just dumbstruck after reading his story, I couldn’t believe what that girl (now woman did).
One of the things that has come in some of my recent non-fiction reading has been the need for prison reform – the need to better rehabilitate prisoners who are released (either due to their sentences being complete, or in cases such as this, being found innocent and sentences vacated). The lack of social reintegration for these former prisoners was emphasized the issue even more – when you have individuals who have been in jail for sometimes decades, when they make comments like computers being very limited when they went to prison and now they are an integral part of our lives. How do you overcome something like this? Stolen Years is one of those books that anyone interested in social justice should read; it should be required reading for any student who may become involved in the legal system; people who are involved with making laws and working in the prison system. Heck, it should be required reading for pretty much anyone, I would lay odds, if you had asked any of the people who had their stories told in Stolen Years, prior to their convictions, if they would have thought this would have happened to them – and I’ll lay odds, they’d say never!