As we open submissions for the 2015 Writers’ League of Texas Book Awards, we’re still celebrating our 2014 honorees. This year, in addition to our toast at the Texas Book Festival, we’re honoring this year’s winners with a special review written by a Writers’ League member.
Getting Life: An Innocent Man’s 25-Year Journey from Prison to Peace by Michael Morton was this year’s winner in the Nonfiction category.
GETTING LIFE: An Innocent Man’s 25-Year Journey from Prison to Peace
By Michael Morton
Published in 2014 by Simon & Schuster.
Reviewed by Michael Sirois.
The plight of the innocent in prison has been given a great deal of press lately, but I have to confess it wasn’t something I thought much about until I had a personal connection when my younger brother, Steve, was unjustly incarcerated in 2006. In the years since, I’ve read quite a few books about the incarceration of the innocent. Some were marginally interesting, while others were extremely compelling and well-written. Michael Morton’s memoir, Getting Life is among the best I’ve read.
On an August afternoon in 1986, Michael Morton returned from work to find his suburban home north of Austin surrounded by crime scene tape. His wife, Christine, had been brutally murdered that morning. A neighbor had found their three-year-old son, Eric, wandering around outside by himself. She entered the Morton’s house and found Christine’s bludgeoned body piled under debris in the bedroom. Five weeks later, although there was no direct evidence to link Michael to Christine’s death, the Williamson County Sheriff’s Department arrested him for her murder. He was convicted the following year, and sentenced to life in prison.
After nearly twenty-five years he was released, thanks to Texas lawyers and the Innocence Project, who believed in him and worked pro bono for years to uncover evidence and marshal his case through the courts. As is the case with the vast majority of innocent inmates who are finally released, DNA evidence provided the link to Christine’s murderer and set Michael free, but the search for the truth about Christine’s murder also uncovered massive evidence of collusion between the Williamson County sheriff and prosecutor, all of which is detailed in Morton’s book in an interesting, sometimes humorous, compelling writing style.
The book, aside from a prologue and epilogue, is divided into three parts: Pain, Prison, and Peace, each segment revealing the personal struggles of a man who (in Pain) felt he had lost everything, including the son who was growing farther apart from as the years passed; who (in Prison) learned to cope and thrive in a new, strange existence, finally coming to terms with it, and utilizing the system to expand his knowledge and gain a formal education, but still continuing to push for a resolution to his situation; and (in Peace) after his release, dealing with a strange, vastly changed world, successfully navigating his way toward happiness.
If you care about justice, this book will make you angry. If you care about humanity, you will feel hopeful as Morton’s story plays out through his eloquent words. His efforts and those of like-minded members of the legal community led to a new law, named the Michael Morton Act, which will keep over-zealous, power-hungry police and prosecutors from hiding evidence from defense attorneys, something which has happened too often in the past.
I highly recommend this book.
Michael Sirois has been a member of WLT since 2010. He has temporarily put his novel-writing on hold to work on a nonfiction book about his brother’s trial and incarceration for a crime he didn’t commit. Details here.