WHAT SET ME FREE by Brian Banks


A True Story of Wrongful Conviction, a Dream Deferred, and a Man Redeemed
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Affecting story of false imprisonment and redemption.

Banks was living something of a dream as a popular teenage football player attending Long Beach Polytechnic High School, “a public school with private-school level expectations” that was heavily scouted by college coaches. Then he had an encounter with a fellow student that ended in bad feelings—and not just that, but a rape charge. “Maybe Mom is right,” he thought for a moment, sure he did nothing wrong. “Maybe there’s nothing to worry about.” Instead, at 16, he was sent to jail, with bail set at more than $1 million, then finally imprisoned for six years when his attorney urged him to accept a plea bargain. As he relates, Banks made good use of his time by attending school in prison and living what he calls three lives: one of memory of freedom, one of “just surviving jail, continuing to read, continuing to try to stay on the path of enlightenment,” and one of being uncertain of any kind of future as he awaited trial. Freed with the help of an initiative called the California Innocence Project, Banks secured a voice recording from his accuser recanting her charge—then, having discovered that he had long since passed his prime years for playing college ball, worked hard to secure his dream of playing pro. The author has since become an advocate for the wrongfully imprisoned, his life the subject of a film to which this book is a tie-in. What is striking about this inspirational narrative, one in a vast library of books set behind bars, is the author’s refusal to submit to rancor or bitterness. Innocent and certain of the rightness of his cause, he behaved in an exemplary way, which should have had greater effect but did not in a legal system that seems bent on punishment instead of rehabilitation.

In a time of widespread demands for judicial reform, this deserves wide attention.

Pub Date: July 2nd, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-982121-31-0
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Atria
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2019


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