The Faces of Redemption


I read Life After Murder* , by Nancy Mullane when it came out a year ago. I  read it in a day.  The book is about five men, Don Cronk, Eddie Ramirez, Richie Rael, Phillip Seiler and Jesse Reed, all who admitted to murdering another person.  The story is about their struggles to live life in pursuit of redemption after beating the odds and receiving a grant of parole by the board that the Governor did not overturn (approximately 6% of lifers are paroled without having the decision overturned by the Governor, who is the one who appointed the people who decided to parole them in the first place. Note, some of the men featured in the book were paroled through winning a court reversal of the Governor’s decision).

Tonight, on NPR, the author and the men featured in the book were on City Arts and Lectures.  I would highly recommend listening the broadcast (unfortunately I do not think it is yet available online or on itunes) and reading the book.

These men are the faces of redemption. When I use the term redemption, I do not mean to conjure images of being saved, Christianity or Jesus. I am a Jew so in general, those images do not naturally pop in my head when I hear words.

Instead, the image that pops in my mind when I hear the word redemption is taking a plastic bottle to a recycling center to redeem it for pennies.  Redemption is about giving something up for pennies *change*.   Redemption is when you accept responsibility for what you’ve done, you feel the pain you caused others, the damage you’ve done to your soul and to the hearts and souls of those you are connected to (read: the world), and you decide to take the pain and shame from that and turn it into change. You turn in all the bullshit excuses in exchange for change.

A beautiful moment in the broadcast–and I, unfortunately did not hear the whole thing–was when one of the men is asked about redemption. You can hear his voice quivering as he talks about redemption meaning he is so very sorry for what he did.  You can feel his pain and the pain he knows he caused.   These five men are the faces of redemption.  Their stories remind me why I love hoping that all people are ultimately good instead of believing that some are evil.  We are not our worst acts.  Whether that act is failing to pay the butcher promptly** or murdering someone in cold blood, the lowest thing we have done does not have to be what we are remembered for. We have the power to change.

*Disclaimer, if you order Life After Murder via that link or here for Kindle, JJC gets 4% of the cost of the book (approximately chump change).

**From the Talmud: “What do you call ‘profaning God’s name?” Rav said, “In my case, since I am reputed to live strictly under the discipline of Torah, it would be failing to pay the butcher promptly.”

Published by Jenny Brandt

About Me: sociology, african american studies, chicano/a studies, critical race studies, and criminal law scholar. public school kid from kindergarten-J.D. Former public defender. I am a post-conviction guru. Appeals. Sentencing. Withdraw Pleas. Habeas. Published author in the Criminal Law Bulletin and California Defender. "I do it for the joy it brings, because I'm a joyful girl, because the world owes me nothing, and we owe each other the world." Why I started JJC: My PD buddy suggested it. What and who JJC is inspired by: public defenders I have worked for, with, and next to. my clients who have battled things no one should and are still here. innocence and guilt and everything in between. My coworkers, who fight just as hard as the PDs I love, for many of the same reasons. My husband who was once voted "most Christ like" (every Jewish girl's dream). My Corgi who loves everyone. The constitution. Tabloids. My mom, for giving me a voice. My dad, for teaching me what to say. My brother, for teaching me how to say it.

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