Jarrett Adams tells his alternately inspiring and maddening story in Redeeming Justice: From Defendant to Defender, My Fight for Equity on Both Sides of a Broken System. At 17, he attended a college party with two of his buddies. Before the night was out, they had some drinks, smoked some weed, and had consensual sex with a young woman. They are Black and she is white. Shortly after, she accused them of raping her that night. Adams tells the story of what came next and how he fought back against a justice system that treats Black men unjustly.
As the subtitle says, Adams eventually makes it to the other side of the courtroom. His path from accused teenager to lawyer fighting against injustice is gripping. He breaks down the legalities of his own case as he tells the story. And in real life, that’s how it happened. In the beginning, he was just swept forcibly into the legal system. He had to learn to put his feet back on the ground and fight against the racism drowning him in that wave.
Adams spent a decade in prison. He learned to play chess, assess his cellmates, keep his head up, and avoid fights. Most importantly, one cellmate introduced him to the law library and the process of legal recourse. Then Adams takes steps for his own case, as well as helping other incarcerated men. The results are hard-fought. But as Adams makes clear, it should never have been like this.
Adams frequently refers to the idea of “disposable young Black men.” And this is what’s maddening. The US criminal justice system is not equitable. Defendants who don’t have the money to hire a defense attorney are assigned public defenders instead. While they may be well-intentioned, these folks are overworked and often don’t mount a viable defense for their clients.
As a lawyer, Adams seeks to change that, and this book tells the story of both why and how he intends to do so. His strength of character and ability to persist is admirable. He’s also honest about the times his mental health slid into depression and PTSD. And he’s comfortable explaining how he overcame the related tendency to freeze up and stop feeling.
In the process of this tale, we meet the family who supported Adams. We meet some of the men incarcerated with him, in various facilities. And Adams also introduces the various folks who gave him a hand up. For example, one lawyer was basically editor and pen pal as Adams was writing a court document for his case. And when he entered community college, a guidance counselor helped him learn to tell his story. These people and more are integral to Adams’s success.
But no matter how many people were behind him, it is Adams who makes all the winning moves on the chessboard of his life. Once I started this book I couldn’t put it down. Read it and feel both the outrage and the hope. But also read it to support a man who overcame and is now helping others do the same.
Pair with A Knock at Midnight: A Story of Hope, Justice, and Freedom by Brittany K. Barnett, another inspiring memoir about a path to the legal profession. Of course, for the statistics and scholarly perspective on the US criminal justice system, pair with The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness written by Michelle Alexander.
Many thanks to NetGalley, Convergent Books, and the author for a digital advanced reader’s copy in exchange for this honest review. Expected publication date is September 14, 2021.