I’m watching a Netflix documentary on two murders in Ada Oklahoma in the early ‘80’s. John Grisham published a nonfiction book about the cases in 2006 titled The Innocent Man. People who enjoy true crime, should enjoy this series. I think it’s well done. Grisham is one of the directors and he’s also on the board of the Innocence Project.
Grisham and Barry Scheck are prominent in the interviews on the documentary. In one interview, Grisham talks about the overwhelming influx of requests the Innocence Project receives. The Project was founded in 1992 by Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck at Cardozo School of Law. The mission is to exonerate the wrongly convicted through DNA testing and seeks to reform the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice. Many of those wrongly convicted have been serving time on death row. Both Scheck and Grisham are moved by their inability to accept every request. What struck me about Grisham’s interview was his mention of how the request was presented. The writing and the organization of facts submitted by the convicted, plays a key role in considering the acceptance to the Project.
In the late ‘90’s, I served on one of the regional grievance committees for the State Bar of Texas, one of the three public members appointed by the State Supreme Court to serve with six attorney members. We considered the written requests of clients in their efforts to have their attorney’s behavior examined. It didn’t matter if the request was typed or hand-written. Many of them were penned from a jail cell. What mattered to us, as a committee, was if the information we were given was organized and written in a way that we could understand the essence of the request or complaint. It was exactly the way Grisham described the requests the Innocence Project receives. In order to accept one from many, the writing and organization of thought had to stand out. I mention opportunities to volunteer with the Innocence Project in my book on retirement, Retirement, Now What?
I read submission guidelines daily and am often surprised at how much detail is given about what will be automatically rejected. Due to the overwhelming number of submissions, agents, editors, and publishers look for any reason to reject. Following the guidelines is the first line of rejection. A writer who wants their writing to be considered, must first read and follow directions, and sometimes that's as minor as placing only one space after a period. To make it to the end for consideration, formatting, word count, and topic must be addressed. The writing has to stand out in the multitudes, much like the requests above.
Job applications and college essays are no joke. Applicants must present themselves in writing prior to be considered for an interview. The written word is the first foot in the door. All this to say, the ability to write in an organized, factual, and succinct way, is important and apparently can mean the difference between life and death. I’m still working on it daily. I’m not planning to be imprisoned, but now I know Tweeting won’t get you off death row. Writing matters, and reading helps to enhance writing. Just ask Stephen King.