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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