My Review of Picking Cotton

By · Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

Title: Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption

Date Read: February 14, 2009

Authors: Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton, with Erin Torneo

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (2009)

Nonfiction/298 pages

Why I read Picking Cotton:

A publicist for Picking Cotton requested through an e-mail that I write a review for this book. Carole responded to the e-mail with a message of appreciation for the invitation and encouraged the publicity team to send me the book.

What I learned from reading Picking Cotton:

This memoir hooked me from the opening pages. I read the entire book, from cover to cover, on Valentine’s Day 2009. It opened with a vivid description of Jennifer’s horrific experience as a rape victim. The traumatic crime derailed the young college student’s life. Understandably, she wanted justice, and to her, justice meant vengeance by participating in the process of putting her rapist in prison.

Jennifer was influenced by the criminal justice system that measured success by obtaining convictions. She accused Ronald Cotton as her rapist. Jennifer’s hatred for Ronald Cotton ran deep as she became convinced that he was her attacker. The problem was that Ronald Cotton was absolutely innocent. Despite his protestations, the system convicted Cotton. His judge sentenced him to serve the rest of his life in prison.

Ironically, while he served his life sentence, Ronald lived alongside a man he believed had perpetrated the vicious rape. Cotton tried to serve his term with dignity, while reaching out in seemingly futile efforts to exonerate himself. Months turned into years. Eventually he won a right to a new trial, but that Pyrrhic victory resulted in Cotton’s being falsely charged with a second rape. The system responded to Cotton’s appeal with two convictions, and two life sentences for Cotton to serve.

After more than a decade in confinement, in high-security prisons, science advanced. A dedicated team of legal professionals pursued justice for Cotton, and DNA testing provided incontrovertible truth that Ronald Cotton was absolutely innocent. He had no more to do with Jennifer’s rape than the judge who sentenced him. Yet Ronald served 11 years in prison, and could have been incarcerated for the remainder of his life.

Upon Ronald’s release from prison, he expressed gratitude for his freedom rather than resentment for his wrongful incarceration. After an awkward adjustment, Jennifer made an effort to apologize to Ronald Cotton for the profound sorrow she felt. Her mistakenly identifying him had caused Cotton to suffer through his unwarranted torment of confinement. Ronald immediately absolved Jennifer of any guilt or sorrow she felt with his simple and sincere three words. “I forgive you.”

The story advances with Ronald and Jennifer working together to form a friendship, one that allows their spouses to interact and their children to play together. Rather than being consumed with bitterness, this powerful story shows the empowering liberation that comes through love and forgiveness, redemption and remorse.

How reading Picking Cotton will contribute to my success upon release:

This moving and powerful story fortifies my belief in the human spirit. I felt Ronald’s sense of indignity as he struggled through the harshness of confinement, yet admired his commitment to focus on the possibility of freedom. I respected his choice to refrain from exacting revenge, and his commitment to forgive with total sincerity. The love he expressed through his actions spread, as Jennifer learned from his example. Through forgiveness, she was able to forgive her own mistake, to make efforts to forgive her actual rapist, and to contribute to society by working to advance the pursuit of justice.

I urge those in my audience to read this remarkable story. Readers who want to learn more may visit the Web site at

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