By LAUREL BUSBY
Special to Circling the News
A false accusation of rape sent 17-year-old Jarrett Adams to prison for almost a decade.
His odyssey, detailed in his new book, “Redeeming Justice,” covers his trial with an inept defense attorney, his soul-crushing years in prison, his eventual exoneration after years of effort, and his determination after his release to help others in similar circumstances by earning both a bachelor’s and a law school degree in only seven years while working a full-time job.
The memoir, written with Palisadian Alan Eisenstock, who has co-authored numerous memoirs of people ranging from L.A. Laker Elgin Baylor to comedian George Lopez, is both a moving portrait of one man’s perseverance against horrendous odds and an indictment of a justice system that penalizes those without the money to afford an attorney.
“I think the reader will have a strong visceral, emotional reaction” to Adams’ story, Eisenstock said. “You will also come away with what Jarrett would want you to take away, which is how inadequate the criminal justice system is.”
One fascinating tidbit of Adams’ experience was how his assigned public defender chose a “no-defense strategy” wherein he called no witnesses and made no effort to fight the charges. Unsurprisingly, this technique did not work.
Once convicted, Adams, one of three young men who were falsely accused, fought to learn the law through the prison library while also combing local papers for names of attorneys who might be able to help him. He sent letter after letter requesting legal assistance until his efforts eventually paid off when the Wisconsin Innocence Project took up his cause.
After more than nine years in prison, Adams was finally exonerated. The two other young men accused with him each had different experiences. The family of one had the means to hire a good attorney, and he never spent a day in prison. The third was released three months after Adams, but he was never cleared since his appeal was filed too late. Thus, he is falsely labeled a sex offender and is still fighting to clear his name.
“Redeeming Justice” shares insights on many unfair aspects of not only the judicial system, but the prison system. Adams and his fellow prisoners are at the mercy of guards who can lie and write them up for minor in-prison offenses that subsequently lengthen their prison time. If a prisoner incurs such an infraction, he may be unable to get time off for good behavior. Adams became skilled at helping them fight these accusations and so was twice transferred to solitary confinement for a year at a time in retribution.
“He’s had an extraordinary experience in his life,” Eisenstock said. “I want people to experience that and be as outraged and emotional as I felt.”
Aspects of that experience include the stress of recovering from life in prison, because Adams spent so many years always on alert to make sure he wasn’t a victim of prison violence. When he returned home, sleep was difficult, because it was so difficult to relax and feel safe.
He went to therapy to help him process his experience and also developed a relentless drive to make up for the lost decade of his life. Adams shared all of these details with Eisenstock during almost a year of interviews that required him to dredge up incredibly painful experiences.
“He was absolutely tremendous,” Eisenstock said. “He trusted me, and he allowed himself to really relive all of it.”
Using about 2,000 pages of transcriptions of those interviews, Eisenstock began to craft the book, which was released on September 14 by the Random House imprint Convergent and named a “Best Book of September” by Amazon.
It has also received glowing reviews, including a piece in the October 8 Washington Post, and a lengthy write-up by Gil Garcetti, former LA district attorney, in the Los Angeles Review of Books.
Garcetti wrote that Adams’ “story affected me, as has none other, telling the tragedy of a life broken, if not ruined, by a failed criminal justice system imbued with racism.”
Garcetti encourages readers by saying, “I am certain you will be moved, outraged, and even charmed” by the book and later comments that Adams’ story “left me with hope that the injustice he suffered can be leveraged for lasting change and perhaps even systemic transformation.”