Ever since I started being a pen pal with inmates, I feel that my world and my perspective of it has changed. I read Why Miller Turned Killer and started looking at other books by inmates. I stopped seeing the guilty – not guilty verdict and began to see the story, events, and everything that led up to that one fateful decision that destroyed and changed lives.
I am not talking about repeat offenders or criminals who feel no remorse, but people who made a mistake, a terrible one, yes, but who want a second chance. Regardless of what they did, no one can be branded with the same mark.
In this article I would like to share some books I have come across over the last weeks, written by men who are incarcerated in different states in the United States. Each one of them tells a story or shares poetry in his own unique voice.
1. Kenneth E. Foster Jr.
In 1997, Kenneth Foster was sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit. Due to a law in Texas (the Texas law of parties) which states that if you are present at the murder (Kenneth was driving the car) you can be sentenced to die. You can see his full story on the Netflix series “I am a Killer”, season 1 (episode: “Killer in the Eyes of the Law”). It was the only episode that affected me to such an extent that I had tears in my eyes at the end.
He spent 10 years on death row, and in 2007 – at only 6 hours from being executed – his sentence was commuted to life in prison. For over 20 years, Kenneth Foster has been engaged in a political, mental, and spiritual struggle. He is a political activist to end the death penalty and he is also active for other causes such as empowering industries in Africa and promoting AIDS awareness, the latter being close to his heart, since he lost four family members to the virus, including his mother.
Kenneth doesn’t give up, now fighting his life sentence, and dedicated to changing the law of parties. If you google his name, you will find lots of information, support groups who believe that he has paid his debt to society, and his website freekenneth.com . You can also find a support group on the following Facebook page:
Kenneth is the author of A Voice From the Killing Machine: a Trilogy of Poems.
His writing aims to shed light on mass incarcerations, youth outreach, and his work with National Lawyers Guild, Prison Justice League, and the Campaign to end the death penalty.
I read the first pages of the book and will order it soon as well. His poetry is from the heart and illustrates his journey through prison and all that comes with it.
The book has 9 Amazon reviews with 4.5 stars. All reviews are excellent.
“An unimaginable journey through a first-hand account”
“Definitely worth a read”
The author “is one of those roses that grew from the concrete walls of US prisons.” Some readers also questioned the so-called justice of the US courts.
This is exceptionally well written poetry, filled with the raw voice of his trials and tribulations.
“War is fear disguised in courage” – quote by Kenneth Foster
2. Bobby Bostic
At the age of 16, Bobby Bostic was sentenced to … 241 years in prison … making him eligible for parole when he is 112 …
He robbed a group of people at gun point, with 18-year-old Donald Hutson. After that they carjacked a woman, taking her coat, purse, and jewels. Hutson was given a plea deal and got 30 years.
His story is shocking, not so much for what he did (or didn’t do), but for the harsh punishment he received. Bobbi Bostic is serving the longest sentence in Missouri given to a juvenile for a non-homicide crime. Throughout his imprisonment he has seen men accused of murder come and go while he remains behind bars …
Even the judge who delivered the sentence says that this was the only time in her life that she regretted the sentencing she had handed out. She is now petitioning to get Bobby released.
Hutson later admitted that he had been the instigator of the crimes and that Bostic just followed along. Furthermore, even the victim of the crime claimed that Bobby Bostic didn’t do anything, didn’t hurt anyone, she said “he just stood there looking stupid” (source: Wikipedia). Appeals and petitions have been done to obtain his release, but so far nothing has come of it. Even the victims of the crimes have written letters of support for his release.
A paralegal, poet, and a writer, in prison Bobby completed a general educational development, 30 rehabilitation programs, and he obtained an associates degree in social science, with a few classes left to achieve his Bachelors degree.
He has published several books on Amazon. Although not all have reviews, the ones that do all boast 4 and 5 star reviews.
Mind Diamonds, Shining on Your Minds is a collection of poetry about love, pain, family, work, inspiration, war, poverty, and more.
Dear Mama, the Life and Struggles of a Single Mother is the story of Diane “Dee-Dee” Brown, “the girl who turned into a woman even before she saw the real world”.
A Generation Misunderstood: Generation Next
This book is an exploration into the minds of youths and what makes them violent and disrespectful nowadays.
And more poetry in When Life Gives you Lemons, Make Lemonade
3. Eric Miller
I mentioned a little of his story in my book review of Why Miller Turned Killer. Eric Miller was accused of murder in the first degree when in fact it was manslaughter. Murder in the first degree carries a life sentence, manslaughter does not, that can be between 10 to 15 years. Huge difference … life changing …
Although Eric admits in his book that he was no angel when he was younger, we cannot sentence someone based on pranks he pulled as a teenager, prior to the crime. Self defense is self defense and should be judged as such.
As a teacher, I cannot punish student A harder than student B for the same offense, just because A is always testing my patience and B is a model student. Although this is by far a very different circumstance and the offenses are of course quite different, it relies on the same principles, because we should always strive to be fair when we give consequences.
In Eric’s case, the state of Iowa gave him a punishment that did not apply; he was over-convicted. He has already spent 15 years behind bars; he has done his time. Isn’t it time the justice system focused more on understanding, rehabilitation, looking at the whole story, and bringing justice, instead of just winning a case at any cost and going for an eye for an eye (or make that 5 eyes for 1 eye)?
For 15 years, Eric Miller has tried to get attention for his case, to obtain a fair verdict by law. The State of Iowa hasn’t listened, yet.
==> Click here <== to read the full book review of Why Miller Turned Killer, the article will open in a new window, so you don’t lose this one 🙂
One reviewer commented: “For those of you that have made snap judgments about Eric, the author of this book – you don’t know him, you only know what he’s done. It could easily be your own children or grandchildren who write a book like this.”
Why Miller Turned Killer has received various book reviews, a few who criticized his actions, but most express understanding and sympathy for his case, and as one reviewer commented, “this could happen to anyone.”
Three different authors, three different crimes, three different cases, three different states, and one thing in common: an unfair sentence. It isn’t always as just as it is made out to be. This isn’t like CSI Miami where the culprit is always found in less than 30 minutes and the innocent are always released from prison. In real life, that doesn’t seem to happen.
These three men deserve attention, and this is why I am sharing their books here. They deserve to be heard. They have done their time, they have paid their debt to society. Let them go now.
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These are some great books that you have described here. Especially the Kenneth E. foster Jr. I couldn’t imagine being wrongfully accused of murder and being given a life sentence. It scares me to think of what I would be thinking or what would happen inside prison.
I remember reading Chopper Reid’s books that he wrote while inside prison. They were some graphic stories but they were so interesting. The reason they were interesting is because I was trying to put myself in his shoes and why he thought what he thought.
I can highly recommend the books by Chopper Reid and also the movie Chopper.
Thank you for sharing and keep up the great work.
All the best,
The thought is scary, being wrongfully accused of a murder. It’s really scary … Foster was even on death row because of the law of parties which can place people on death row just for being present at the murder … I am glad he got off death row. The battle to free Kenneth is still ongoing, I hope he achieves his freedom.
I love you for being such an advocate for the books as well as the writers, Lila. Marvelous.
I always wonder how people can hold on when they are treated unjustly. Especially in a prison system. Pff. The books you describe seem to be very interesting. I haven’t read any of these 3 books, so unfortunately I can’t comment on them.
I hope you don’t mind I mention a Dutch book I read a couple of years ago. It’s from Joseph Oubelkas (400 brieven van mijn moeder). It made a huge impression on me. He was in a Moroccan prison for 5 years but refused to give in, despite the fact that he was innocent.
He started giving English classes to his fellow inmates, who taught him Arabic. He made a kitchen garden in prison and maintained it with a group.
I have no idea where people get the strength to go on like that and even are able to put a positive mark on their fellow inmates. Marvelous, don’t you think?
Joseph Oubelkas sounds like an incredibly strong person who made the best of his situation – despite his circumstances – and even helped others while going through those five years … in a Moroccan prison … I can’t even imagine what that’s like. I am glad he was released! I would be interested in reading his book too.
Hi Christine, I borrowed it from the library, being in the Netherlands back then. But I found a YouTube video in English from him:
Thanks! I’ll check it out 🙂
I just watched it. It’s incredible, very inspirational! Thanks for sharing the video!
Just reading these introductions had such a profound influence on me. You sure have selected some great books. The ones about Kenneth and Bobby are so sad. Life can be so cruel sometimes.
Thank u for this moment when we stop to ponder over how lucky we are that we did not get into the wrong company or circumstances.
Thank you, Aparna!
It makes one think indeed, right? Ever since I became more involved in this, I learned to appreciate many more things in life.
Thank you for your comment!
These seem like interesting books! I read closely to your explanation of Bobby Bostic’s situation. It seems like a sad tale of struggle for him. Also, I think that reading these books could help others see a different side of inmates.
There are a few great books here. Which one would you recommend the most? It seems like there are several others out there as well. Thank you for your article! I really enjoyed it.
These books certainly help see a different side of inmates.
Which one would I recommend? If you like poetry, I would definitely recommend Kenneth Foster’s book. For a raw, honest account of how a man’s healthy mind can slip from rage to darkness and ultimately to manslaughter, I recommend Why Miller Turned Killer. Bobby Bostic’s books are also highly recommended, so all in all, I can’t specifically say which one I recommend the most. They’re all worth a read 🙂
Hey Lila, I’m saddened by these cases… I can’t believe there’s so much injustice in the world. These people did not commit such heinous crimes that they would be so cruelly punished. I think there is a lot of loopholes in the law and unfortunately a lot of innocent people is suffering because of that. I was fascinated by the stories of these wonderful people and their fighting spirit! I was especially fascinated by Kenneth Foster’s story. These people deserve a chance to improve, all people should be given a chance to be better. That is why I am strictly against the death penalty and about life imprisonment only in some extremely difficult cases. This with prison of over two hundred years is total nonsense! We are not even aware of how many innocent people are convicted and how many people are suffering… Thank you for drawing our attention to this important topic.
I couldn’t agree with you more. It is extremely saddening. So much injustice. A system that should bring us justice has turned into a system we cannot trust … I hope that these three men (and others in similar situations) achieve their freedom.
Thank you for your comment!
Wow, what a post!
I feel really sorry for these men who have to go through such inhumane and unfair sentences. And I also really admire their bravery and resilience over the years! I mean, it’s enough to break one’s spirit.
Especially the story of Bobby, I have gone ahead to read more about him, and my heart is heavy for what he’s had to go through from such a young age!
I really hope something is done and these three men be released, as well as other people who are in similar situation.
Thanks for sharing this piece.
Yes, it is heartbreaking, and unjust. The numbers of people who are wrongfully convicted and excessively punished is scarily high in the US …
All three stories show the unfairness of the “justice” system …
The US is the one country in the world that dishes out life sentences in exceedingly high amounts, for violent but also non-violent crimes. ¨People who lose their lives for a mistake of their youth … Something has to change. Mass incarceration and over-convictions are obviously not working …
Hi Lila, I agree with Hannie! I love you too for bringing this up.
It is a crime to over punish them for what they have done or not done. Thank God that we don’t have the death penalty anymore in Europe. Every person has deserved a second chance. If Jesus forgives us, we have to forgive others. To be imprisoned by injustice is breaking people, realizing they can’t escape. How will-strong are these people to fight for their rights and others? I am so impressed but also saddened to read their stories. Hopefully, they will get released very soon.
I also hope they will win their freedom. The strength they have to go through this is impressive …
I really enjoyed reading your article. It was touching reading their story and seeing how the justice systems didn’t protect them as it should. The Bobby Bostic story was mind boggling, I just don’t understand why he would be sentenced for so long. Even the judge didn’t agree with her decision, and has petitioned on his sentence.
It is indeed mindblowing, 241 years … and even the victims said that he didn’t even do that much, most of the time he just stood there … I hope that he will be released soon. I hope the same for the other two people too.
Thank you for your comment!
I would like to read some of these books starting with the Miller account. I follow a lot of legal battles, real battles and not just movies, and sometimes there are so many issues with the case, the line of defense, the jury, the state in which the case is tried, the judgement. There are so many stories of people who have been convicted and who still claim innocence. My interest comes from what is expressed by the prisoner himself, what he knows, how he feels and what his future holds for him. So many profound views can come from one who has time to think, and develop an awareness of what is happening to him .
Very true! If you’d like to start with Miller’s account, could you leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads? It would help the author get more attention for his book, and the other authors too 🙂
Thank you for your comment!
The legal system often seems to be unfair and it is very interesting to see these books that have been written by inmates. It is great that they can share their stories and insights through their writing. It is a crazy law that somebody who is an accomplice, like Kenneth Foster driving the car, can be sentenced to death. Life can be so cruel sometimes and surely there must be a pardon for somebody that has done his time.
There is an ongoing movement to free Kenneth Foster. I hope that he will achieve his freedom.
Thank you so much for the amazing post! This is actually very interesting and its not something I thought there was a big market on. It is nice to read all sides of a story, even if the person who is in prison is guilty of whatever crime they have committed. I love how you have given us three different inmates we can look up and read from!
Yes, each story is very different. It’s certainly eye-opening. Thank you for your comment!
I am so touched by your courage to commune with prisoners, I know it is not only Kenneth Foster, Jr. , Bobby Boostic and Eric Miller whom you have talked with.
Watching CSI Miami TV Series gave me the impression that justice in USA has quite more speed than other countries especially my country which is Asian. So, justice is also slow in some parts of the world? Or should I say, around the world? Would that be appropriate to say?
I admire you in helping these people secure their second chance in life. What you are doing is not just a passion, but a mission, helping people with genuine love.
I also believe in second chances. In fact the Bible speaks of forgiving seventy times seven. I pray that they may truly find transformation of the heart and realize their physical freedom.
To your success for this endeavor!
Thank you, Rose,
I haven’t spoken to Bobby Bostic, but I am pen pal with others too. I hope that these men here can obtain their freedom again.
Thank you for your comment!
Wow! Being a pen pal to inmates. That’s very interesting. I like that you are sharing the good along with the injustices that caused both bad and good. I was wondering if you had gotten any letters that were truly chilling? Do those types of inmates write novels as well? Finally, is this something you are considering continuing what you are doing? Awesome work!
The people I write to never write anything chilling. Some never talk about what they did and with three of my pen pals I don’t know what they did and I will not ask if this is something they don’t like to talk about. They all are nice and respectful to me, and friendship is growing.
As for the truly chilling ones, those who feel no remorse, I think that they are usually not the ones who write the books but the ones other people write books about.
I will definitely continue being a pen pal and I will also help them spread the word about their books or in any other way that I can.
Thank you for your comment!
I am interested in this subject, I also watched the Netflix show that you mentioned and am familiar with the case. The Kenneth Foster case was an interesting one because honestly, I could see both sides. The case was never whether or not he was guilty because he admitted that he was there, and under Texas law, all people involved in the murder can be charged with murder, even if he was not the one who pulled the trigger. I’m not saying it is right that he was given the death penalty, just that I understand how, and why he was charged the way he was based on the Texas law.
These books definitely shine a light on issues with our justice system. Unfortunately, I think a lot of times detectives and prosecutors focus more on “winning” than they do on really discovering the truth.
Yes, he admitted that he was there, and what I meant with not being guilty was that he wasn’t guilty of pulling the trigger, but I understand what you mean and how and why he was charged based on that Texas law of parties. What happened was devastating for both sides, for the family who lost their son and for Kenneth’s family as well. I agree that most of the time prosecutors focus more on winning.
It’s a difficult topic, but yes, definitely something that needs to be addressed.
Thank you for your comment!
Wow, interesting! The law enforcement system in the US has a lot of room for improvement. Capital punishment is extreme even when you are 100% certain that the accused is truly guilty, but it’s a tragedy for the cases where the jury (or judge) got things wrong and end up executing someone who was not actually guilty. It’s also insane that someone who did not physically kill a person could end up punished with execution. So incredibly sad.
Each of these stories looks like a very interesting read.
Greetings! I went through your article about books by inmates. I find this post very important and informative too. I have not heard about this book” WHY MILLER TURNED KILLER” but, from what I’ve just read here, I feel I need a complete copy. it is true that some incidents are an unfortunate mistake, and people need to be given a second chance to amend or sometimes make things right. I thank you so much for sharing this amazing post. I will be sharing it further too.
Thank you for sharing!
Have a nice day! 🙂
Ηi. Thanks for your article. I loved these recommendations and, as a book lover, I can’t wait to check them out when I get the chance. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to visit stores (due to covid) but I will check them out online. Your summaries were great. Thanks again.
Which story spoke to you the most? Each book has a unique story to tell and is part of a battle for the authors’ freedom.