LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZE FINALIST • NAACP IMAGE AWARD NOMINEE • A “powerful and devastating” (The Washington Post) call to free those buried alive by America’s legal system, and an inspiring true story about unwavering belief in humanity—from a gifted young lawyer and important new voice in the movement to transform the system.
“An essential book for our time . . . Brittany K. Barnett is a star.”—Van Jones, CEO of REFORM Alliance, CNN Host, and New York Times bestselling author
Brittany K. Barnett was only a law student when she came across the case that would change her life forever—that of Sharanda Jones, single mother, business owner, and, like Brittany, Black daughter of the rural South. A victim of America’s devastating war on drugs, Sharanda had been torn away from her young daughter and was serving a life sentence without parole—for a first-time drug offense. In Sharanda, Brittany saw haunting echoes of her own life, as the daughter of a formerly incarcerated mother. As she studied this case, a system came into focus in which widespread racial injustice forms the core of America’s addiction to incarceration. Moved by Sharanda’s plight, Brittany set to work to gain her freedom.
This had never been the plan. Bright and ambitious, Brittany was a successful accountant on her way to a high-powered future in corporate law. But Sharanda’s case opened the door to a harrowing journey through the criminal justice system. By day she moved billion-dollar deals, and by night she worked pro bono to free clients in near hopeless legal battles. Ultimately, her path transformed her understanding of injustice in the courts, of genius languishing behind bars, and the very definition of freedom itself.
Brittany’s riveting memoir is at once a coming-of-age story and a powerful evocation of what it takes to bring hope and justice to a system built to resist them both.
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY KIRKUS REVIEWS
A crusading lawyer battles unfair sentences meted out in the "war on drugs" in this passionate memoir. Barnett, an attorney and cofounder of the Buried Alive Project, recounts her successful struggle to win presidential clemency for Sharanda Jones, a Texas restaurateur and mother sentenced in 1999 to life in prison without parole on a first-time, nonviolent drug-trafficking charge, as well as other federal prisoners. Barnett's clients participated in trafficking to some extent, but prosecutors, she contends, abused their power by exaggerating her clients' offenses, adding unjustified charges to pressure defendants to make plea deals and falsely accuse others, and using vague "conspiracy" charges to tie peripheral figures like Jones to serious crimes by major dealers. These were compounded by mandatory federal sentencing rules that levied much harsher penalties for dealing crack cocaine than for powder cocaine, which, Barnett argues, reflected racial bias against black defendants. Entwined with the legal battles is the author's life story, including being physically abused by a drug-dealing boyfriend and her mother's addiction and prison stint for crack possession. An engrossing legal drama complete with wrenching reversals and redemptions, this account richly humanizes defendants while incisively analyzing deep flaws in America's justice system. \n
Vitally important literature.