Synopses & Reviews
In 2000, Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen embarked on a journey across America one that would give them a glimpse of the darker side of the United States' 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 had the idea to travel cross-country and interview the 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 and create a play from their words.
The prospect was daunting: How would these total strangers react when asked to share the most difficult and painful part of their lives? But, taking a chance, Jessica and Erik loaded up their rental car, complete with their dog, Zooey, in the backseat, and waved good-bye to Manhattan. What lay ahead of them was beyond anything they ever imagined. From an all-night diner on the gritty edge of Chicago to a ramshackle trailer tucked away in the hills of Georgia, from a Florida prison to an Illinois vegetable farm, they discovered the darkest corners and brightest lights of America. They were chased out of neighborhoods and welcomed in the most surprising places; they heard stories of injustice that made them shudder and stories of hope that left them speechless. And, along the way, they fell in love.
The result of Jessica and Erik's adventure was the award-winning show The Exonerated, which has been embraced by such acting luminaries as Ossie Davis, Richard Dreyfuss, Danny Glover, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, and Robin Williams. The Exonerated ran to sold-out houses in New York City and toured the country to audiences that included bishops, governors, senators, Supreme Court justices, and a former attorney general.
Part social commentary, part love story, this powerful memoir is the story of the creation of The Exonerated and one couple's adventure as they learn, through the stories of those who had lost so much, what freedom truly means.
"Capitalizing on a shifting trend in public attitudes about the death penalty in 2000, former actors Blank and Jensen decided to write an ensemble piece using the words of real people to highlight the legal flaws in the death penalty statute. The result was the play The Exonerated, about wrongly convicted men and women on death row throughout America. This passionate book explains how Blank and Jensen researched the work and concurrently tells the story of how their own relationship blossomed in the process. Initially worried about winning the confidence of the freed ex-convicts, Blank, a 'pushy East Coaster,' and Jensen, a self-absorbed Midwesterner, charmed and cajoled the suspicious and secretive group into revealing how the justice system shortchanged them by lack of hard evidence, legal miscues and racism. The authors illuminate each case and then explain how they assembled their findings into a script. The play's Broadway production, which starred Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Richard Dreyfuss and others, went on to receive critical acclaim; and the work recently appeared on Court TV. This book about its making is a fascinating, revealing memoir by a couple who were able to find meaning in their lives and bring light to a pressing issue in American society." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A lyrical trip....[Blank and Jensen] are wonderful writers, able to avoid the tics that can mar duo-first-personaccounts...and the prose is funny and crisp. Indeed, the recounting of the play is every bit as affecting as the play itself." Kirkus Reviews
"Blank and Jensen explore their own biases regarding regional, class, and racial differences; their personal stories lend another layer to the reality of social injustice." Booklist
"A compelling look at the intersection of art and real-life drama, and a sobering reminder of how tragically unjust our justice system can be." Marlo Thomas
"Erik and Jessica's journey shows the power of the passionate, inquiring mind to focus a bright light on injustice. For all of us who have felt impotent, this book inspires." Lynn Redgrave
Part social commentary, part love story, this powerful memoir chronicles the authors' cross-country journey to talk to formerly condemned inmates and how they turned this experience into "the best play of the year" (The New York Times).
About the Author
Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen are actors as well as playwrights. Married to each other, they live in New York