Living Justice

Love, Freedom, and the Making of The Exonerated

LIST PRICE $22.99

About The Book

A love story. An artistic journey. A matter of life and death...

In 2000, Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen embarked on a tour across America -- one that would give them a glimpse of the darker side of the justice system and, at the same time, reveal to them just how resilient the human spirit can be. They were a pair of young actors from New York who wanted to learn more about our country's exonerated -- men and women who had been sentenced to die for crimes they didn't commit, who spent anywhere from two to twenty-two years on death row, and who were freed amidst overwhelming evidence of their innocence. The result of their journey was The Exonerated, New York Times number one play of 2002, which was embraced by such acting luminaries as Ossie Davis, Richard Dreyfuss, Danny Glover, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, and Robin Williams.

Living Justice is Jessica and Erik's fascinating, behind-the-scenes account of the creation of their play. A tale of artistic expression and political awakening, innocence lost and wisdom won, this is above all a story about two people who fall in love while pursuing their passion and learn -- through the stories of the exonerated -- what freedom truly means.

Reading Group Guide

Living Justice
Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen

Questions and Topics For Discussion

1.      While interviewing Dale, Jessica and Erik ask him what he dreamt about while in prison. "He looked us straight on and told us that he'd never dreamt when he was in there—never." (p. 42) What connections can be drawn between dreams and captivity? What do you think you would dream about if you were on death row?

2.      Jessica and Erik found their meeting with Delbert quite inspiring. Delbert told them “he was a free man during his time inside (prison), too.” (p. 57) What parallels can be drawn about the mental strength and exercises that have allowed some exonerated individuals to maintain their psychological and emotional stability while in prison?

3.      As in Henry’s case, the special issues and circumstances of those who may have cognitive issues often go unrecognized or ignored. Do you believe that a cognitively challenged or mentally retarded person should be tried equally as a “normal” person?

4.      Both Jessica and Erik admit their backgrounds influenced their views on crime and justice. Do you think their beliefs had a negative effect, or did they make the couple more determined to write a balanced perspective?

5.      How does race complicate the production of The Exonerated? In what ways does race affect the nation’s view on the death penalty and the integrity of the justice system? How does this make you feel?

6.      Jessica and Erik were welcomed by some people, but shunned by others. Did the wide range of reactions surprise you? Why or why not?

7.      About half of the exonerees’ stories were cut from the original reading. Would you have chosen differently? What story affected you the most and why?

8.      Jessica and Erik discuss living in a post-9/11 world and how it changed the way we think about activism and revenge. How do you think this tragedy altered our views on justice?

9.      What has the process of creating The Exonerated brought to Jessica and Erik’s relationship? In your experience, is it best to work with someone who has similar interests to yours, or someone completely different?

10.   “God’s justice was like an arrow: it went straight to the heart and always achieved its objective. Man’s justice, he said, was none of those things. It was misguided and jealous and often caused more problems than it solved.” (p. 244) Do you agree with this statement? In what ways can a justice system cause more problems?

11.  Jessica and Erik discuss rage and how this emotion severely hinders the way justice is properly carried out. Do you find there are any similarities between the rage a victim feels and the rage of the accused? How does this make you feel?
 

Tips to Enhance Your Book Club

1. Learn more about the TV movie The Exonerated at http://www.courttv.com/movie/ and the play at www.theexonerated.com/

2. Learn more about the death penalty. What interesting information did you find? Start here:
  • Capital Punishment Statistics - www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/cp.htm
  • Death Penalty Information Center – www.deathpenaltyinfo.org
  • Center on Wrongful Convictions - www.law.northwestern.edu/wrongfulconvictions/
  • Innocence Project – www.innocenceproject.org
  • Life after Exoneration Program - www.exonerated.org

3. There are many social and political issues that move us emotionally. Do you remember a time in your life when you’ve been called to action against such an issue? If so, share your story and any mementos from that time (pictures, flyers, buttons, etc.). If not, has Living Justice inspired you to generate awareness around a specific social or political issue?

 

About The Author

Photo Credit:

Jessica Blank is an actor and writer whose television credits include Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Rescue Me, and One Life to Live; film credits include The Namesake (directed by Mira Nair) and The Exonerated (for Court TV). Her first novel, Home, is forthcoming in 2007. Erik Jensen has costarred in more than a dozen feature films, including The Love Letter and Black Knight, and such television shows as Love Monkey, Alias, CSI, and Law & Order; recent stage credits include Y2K and Corpus Christi. They live in Brooklyn.

Photo Credit:

Jessica Blank is an actor and writer whose television credits include Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Rescue Me, and One Life to Live; film credits include The Namesake (directed by Mira Nair) and The Exonerated (for Court TV). Her first novel, Home, is forthcoming in 2007. Erik Jensen has costarred in more than a dozen feature films, including The Love Letter and Black Knight, and such television shows as Love Monkey, Alias, CSI, and Law & Order; recent stage credits include Y2K and Corpus Christi. They live in Brooklyn.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (September 2006)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • ISBN13: 9780743483469

Raves and Reviews

"Don't read this unless you're prepared to be saddened, encouraged, and changed."
-- Kirkus Reviews (starred)

"A compelling look at the intersection of art and real-life drama."
-- Marlo Thomas

"Erik and Jessica's journey shows the power of the passionate, inquiring mind."
-- Lynn Redgrave

"[A] tale of courage and compassion that changed the face of criminal justice in America."
-- Mike Farrell, actor, president of Death Penalty Focus

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