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Gayle [userpic]
by Gayle (aerdran)
at April 25th, 2010 (10:59 pm)

current mood: sore

It's time for the monthly questions on the current book, "Picking Cotton," and therefore I shall put some up. Before them will be a link to something relevant to the subject matter that Matt and I think is a valuable read. So we'll start with that.


Comment on the link if you like, but here are the pertinent questions (with a little help from the questions in the back of my book):

1. What did you think of the format where the two switched off writing their own sections and then had the one combining the two? Did you find it effective?

I thought it was very effective and I liked it a lot. Having her tell her story in her own words followed by his in his own did a lot to really illustrate the situation, in my opinion. I also think it was crucial to have her story told first so that the reader could better see where she was coming from.

2. After reading Jennifer's section of the book, did you find yourself feeling even a little biased against Ronald even if you knew exactly what the book was about and that he was innocent?

I didn't feel at all biased, but a lot of that might have to do with the fact that I'd heard about this case before I ever read the book and learned quite a bit about it by listening to parts of an interview with Ronald Cotton. I also know several people who have been in prison and know that things aren't as black and white, no pun intended, as they might seem.

3. Conversely, after reading Ronald's part of the book, did you feel any resentment or other negative emotion toward Jennifer?

It's hard to say, really. I think most of my resentment in that area was toward her family and her fiance, who I found totally lacking in compassion. I liked Jennifer quite a bit, but I suppose part of me was wondering how she could possibly be so blind to the facts. I know that she went through a great trauma, however, so honestly, I can't feel harshly toward her.

4. Jennifer's family was less than supportive during her ordeal, while Ronald's was supportive and believed in his innocence. What sort of impact, if any, do you think these had on the two over the years before Ronald was found innocent?

It had to have quite an emotional impact on Jennifer to have a family that was mostly content to distance themselves from the situation. She needed support, and she got little of that. Her fiance and her mother in particularly made me want to slap them, but I'm very glad to see that she found someone to love her and treat her right.

As for Ronald, I'd say that's probably how he got through his ordeal in prison. Knowing that you have family out there that loves you and completely believes in your innocence has to have a strong impact on you and help to keep you strong. That, along with the inner strength of Ronald himself, is very inspiring.

5. Do you believe that race played a part in the equation at all? Why or why not? And if so, how much so?

I do, yes. Just the fact that Ronald dating white women was an issue shows that. So much emphasis was placed on that by some that I don't think it would be possible for it not to have coloured the opinions of many. There comes a lot of resentment and disgust from people who shouldn't let themselves be swayed by such things when a black man has raped a white woman that it seems all they want to do is convict any black man, especially one who's had the "audacity" to want to touch women outside his own race. This feeling is more prevalent in the South, making it all the more difficult for a black man to convince people that he's innocent of such a crime.

6. What were your feelings about Jennifer after she saw Bobby Poole in the courtroom and yet still insisted that Ronald was her rapist?

I felt, really, that she'd convinced herself so deeply that Ronald was the guilty party that her mind actually saw him committing the crime. I briefly wanted to slap her, though. I feel bad saying that since she went through so much, but it was hard to refrain from that feeling knowing that she could have saved Ronald so much more pain and misery just by clearing her mind and letting all her preconceived notions go.

7. Jennifer went to great lengths to memorize what her attacker looked like, and still she chose the wrong man. What does this tell you about eyewitness testimony and its reliability? What impact do you think that investigators had with the identification of Ronald Cotton as the rapist?

The brain is a strange organ, I think. When one goes through a traumatic experience, the mind will often do its best to soften the blow by making things less clear. Even though it might seem that one is remembering things very strongly, it's very often not the case. I think that Jennifer's mind, as is the case with the minds of many victims of violent crime, picked out the most obvious physical trait, skin colour in this case, and focused on that. The fact that Ronald was inches taller than Bobby Poole didn't seem to have any impact in Jennifer's mind, just the fact that he was black. And since there was a strong resemblance before the two men, seeing Ronald's picture struck her hard.

Note, however, that when she said she "I think this is the guy," Sully reinforced the need in her mind to be right by emphasizing the word "think," making her feel as if she had to identify Ronald positively or all would be for naught. Choosing just six pictures of men instead of a larger pool also helped to set in Jennifer's mind that it had to be one of those six, even though she was told that suspect "may or may not be included." Add to that the fact that, after she identified Ronald in the lineup, she was told that they thought he was the one since she identified him from the photo, which only reinforced the idea in her mind that she was right, thus condemning Ronald to eleven years in prison and helping to make Jennifer so sure that even when she saw Bobby Poole, she wouldn't recognize him as her rapist.

I do want to note that I heard that after Ronald and others were found innocent by DNA evidence, the way that identifications are done has changed in a large number of places so that any possible prejudice or belief of a police officer who is working on a case has less impact. Computers are often used to avoid the reading of tonal intonations that might indicate preference, and investigators who are not actively working the case are often brought in to help with lineups and the like for the same reason.

8. There have been about 252 people exonerated by DNA evidence since 1989. 17 of those exonerated have been on death row. How do these facts, along with the reading of this book, change your opinions and beliefs about people in prison, if at all?

My opinions were changed more by the experience of knowing people who have been through the prison system and befriending people who are actively involved in the justice system than by the book. The book does reinforce those ideas, however. I certainly was more inclined to be in favour of the death penalty before learning as much as I have, and now I tend to try and be more unbiased when hearing about someone who has been convicted of a crime. I do what I can to keep an open mind, and I have become all the more interested in seeing the prison system cleaned up and things made safer for those who are incarcerated. The fact that rape and so many other dangers exist for inmates not only from other inmates but from guards as well needs to be changed. No one deserves to be treated that way. And who knows how many of those "hardened criminals" are innocent of their crimes? Many will never be exonerated, and some will be put to death who are innocent of the crimes that put them on death row. There's a whole lot wrong with that.

9. Ronald Cotton took no time at all to forgive Jennifer when she apologized to him. What do you think that this says about him?

I think it says a great deal about him, and all of that good. He's a good man with a strong heart, and he has great foresight to know that holding on to any ill will about it would only eat him up inside. I'd have to say that he's a man with a great deal of compassion, because he obviously knew that Jennifer was deeply traumatized by what had happened to her and had no desire to make it worse on her. I admire him quite a lot, and think that with that and all that he (and Jennifer as well) have done to open people's eyes and get us to understand that all is not always as it seems makes him (and her, for that matter) pretty damn heroic.

I hope that everyone liked the book and found reading it a valuable experience. I know I did.