John Grisham’s 2006 novel, The Innocent Man, aligns with his well-known legal drama theme but takes one major detour from his past work: it’s nonfiction. The book, which centers on the story of Ron Williamson, a former Oklahoma minor league baseball player wrongly convicted of murder in 1988, thrust Grisham into the middle of an ongoing national innocence initiative. Watch Grisham talk about the experience of writing his first book first outside the legal fiction genre:
“Writing and researching of the book took me into the world of wrongful convictions and I realized how many innocent people are in prison,” Grisham told genConnect CEO Nancy Spears. “That’s why I’m involved now.”
Related: Use Social Media for Social Good
Grisham stumbled upon Williamson’s obituary in 2004 and thought, “I’m going to write this guy a story.” As he delved into Williamson’s background, he was struck by the similarities between himself and the wrongfully-convicted death row inmate, which hit incredibly close to home.
“He was my age, my same background, my part of the country, my race, my religion, my everything,” Grisham said.
Williamson’s story and eventual exoneration at the hands of the Innocence Project further pushed Grisham into new territory. Watch Grisham talk more about the national initiative to get innocent people out of prison:
“The work of the Innocence Project is to try to get innocent people out of prison and put guilty people in prison,” Grisham said. “It sounds pretty simple. It’s not. It’s very easy to send an innocent person to prison. It’s virtually impossible to get them out, even with DNA testing sometimes.”
Nevertheless, to date, through the Innocence Project, 297 people in the United States have been exonerated by DNA testing, including 17 who served time on death row. Just as importantly as exonerating innocent prisoners is educating the public about the issue.
“Our system, our criminal procedure system, our judicial system, our Constitution is not designed to deal with wrongful convictions,” Grisham explained. “It doesn’t acknowledge that these things happen. And they happen every day. That’s why I’m involved.”
- For more daily expert updates, follow genConnect on Twitter and Facebook
- To stay on top of the latest contributions from experts: Sign Up for genConnect.