Picking Cotton is an interesting book because it brings together the stories of two people who on all basic levels should have nothing to do with one another. Jennifer Thompson was a college student raped in her home by a stranger, and Ronald Cotton was the man she falsely identified as her attacker. Cotton ended up wrongfully convicted and served nearly 11 years in prison.
As a book there really isn’t anything to complain about. It’s well written. The story is compelling. The characters are believable. For a true story they do a good job expressing their weaknesses as well as their strengths. Ronald is especially interesting to me because of the hope he finds in some incredibly flawed people like the father that never really supported him as a child. It’s generally written in the first person she said/he said format which works for what it is.
One thing I appreciated about the book is how closely it linked the root cause of Ronald’s false conviction to the overarching story. Ronald was the victim of mistaken identity due to what were common but still unhelpful law enforcement and prosecutorial practices. I don’t believe anyone said the reason he was wrongfully convicted was his race, which was refreshing. If we don’t look at the actual root causes we will never remedy these injustices, and I think this book helped in that regard. (about 75% of people freed by DNA evidence after wrong convictions were put in jail simply by eyewitness accounts.)
There is a lot of talk in the book about things like forgiveness, mercy, grace, God’s plan for us, etc. but they are generally not in line with the biblical definitions of those words. They are self serving usages about inner healing or leaving the past behind. Of course there is some value to that, but there is far more value to understanding and applying these terms biblically.
There are side characters such as Ronald’s legal team that I would have liked to learn more about. What motivates people to give up their time and energy to right these wrongs? I realize that one book cannot cover every angle of a story but this is something I think would have rounded out the book. It was also a bit long for me – at roughly 300 pages it seemed about 50-75 pages too long. In today’s day, I feel like a book should do more than what could be done in a 15 minute segment on an evening news talk show. Frankly, I don’t think this book did that to much of a meaningful degree. (The story is compelling but the 15 minute version can be found here.)