Thursday, February 9, 2012

No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row

No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row

Bibliographic Information:

Kuklin, S. (2008). No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row. New York: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN: 0805079505.

"There is a movement floating around that the death penalty should be as painful as possible, as brutal as possible, as ugly as possible as a way to deter crime. The death penalty does not deter crime." -page 191

"Cases like that made it pretty difficult not to respond to people who have been condemned. I felt that I had to help people who are rejected by society the way death row prisoners are rejected by society. I had to represent them, especially sncer I believe that most people who end up on death row are there because they are poor and they are black. It's the identity, not their crime, that puts them on the row." -page 186

"I went to the captain and I asked him to place me in protective custody. He said, "No, you're going to have to grow up and be a man." I said, "What you're telling me is that in order for me to be a man, I have to be gay, stab somebody, or be stabbed myself." And he shrugged his shoulders and didn't say anything. I walked out of his office and I never asked another officer for help from that day forward." -Testimony from a 14-year-old male on death row, page 55

Plot Summary:

This book is a collection of stories from the perspective of juveniles on death row, their legal representation, parents of juveniles on death row, and from victim's families.

Critical Analysis:

This book is a collection of stories from several diferent perspectives (as noted in the plot summary). The stories are told through letter writing, interview material, interview transcript material, and poems and excerpts from books written by the convicts. This non-fiction book is well organized and well written, I had a hard time putting it down. The premise of this book is to make a point of how corrupt America's justice system is, especially towards people of color, people from low socio-economic backgrounds, and those not educated. I hope that is not a surprise to anyone who comes across this book.

The book was so riveting that I found myself googling some of the juvenile convicts to see where they were now in their judicial proceedings, and if there was possibly something I could do to help. The case that I was most moved by was the story of Nanon Williams, a half black 17-year-old that was put on death row. He was sentenced in Huntsville, TX and there was a body of forensic evidence that proved his innocence. But, as suggested in the book, based on his demographic and socio-economic background he was sentenced to death regardless of the evidence. Not only was his story evidence of a failed justice system, but the injustice one might experience in the Texas judicial system under Texas Governor Rick Perry. Nanon wrote several novels, had the support of several human justice organizations, and was granted freedom last year.

What I love about this collection of memoirs is although biased, it remains truthful to the facts of a failed justice system and provides every possible perspective of the individuals involved in a death row sentenced individual.

Starred Review. Grade 9 Up—Kuklin tells five stories here; four are about young men who committed murder before they reached the age of 18, and one is the story of a victim's family. Each narrative presents a picture of a troubled youth who did something he later regretted, but something that could not be undone. Within these deftly painted portraits, readers also see individuals who have grown beyond the adolescents who committed the crimes. They see compassion, remorse, and lives wasted within the penal system. Some of the stories tell of poverty and life on the streets, but others are stories of young men with strong, loving families. One even asks readers not to blame his family for his act of violence. Most of the book is written in the words of the men Kuklin interviewed. Their views are compelling; they are our neighbors, our nephews, our friends' children, familiar in many ways, but unknowable in others. Kuklin depicts the penal system as biased against men of color, and any set of statistics about incarceration and death-row conviction rates will back her up. She also emphasizes that being poor is damning once a crime is committed. She finally introduces Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who has worked on the cases of two of the interviewees, who talks about his efforts to help those who are on death row. This powerful book should be explored and discussed in high schools all across our country.
-School Library Journal

Riveting! I read it in one day and couldn't wait to recommend it to my high school students. The author, and the prisoners themselves, allows readers to glimpse life on the other side of prison bars that many of us know little about. The stories are poignant, truthful, painful, and insightful. The material is somewhat biased against capital punishment, but it is written in such a manner that the reader is not easily persuaded, but compelled to see such young prisoners as human. The author did a superb job presenting the material and I am a better person for reading it and highly recommend this book!
-K. Jostes, a Reader's Review