In 1991, Ian Manuel, then fourteen, was sentenced to life without parole for a non-homicide crime. In a botched mugging attempt with some older boys, he shot Debbie Baigrie, a young white mother of two, in the face. But as Bryan Stevenson has insisted, none of us should be judged only by the worst thing we have ever done.
Capturing the fullness of his humanity, here is Manuel’s powerful testimony of growing up homeless in Central Park Village in Tampa, Florida — a neighborhood riddled with poverty, gang violence, and drug abuse — and of his efforts to rise above his circumstances, only to find himself, partly through his own actions, imprisoned for two-thirds of his life, eighteen years of which were spent in solitary confinement. Here is the at once wrenching and inspiring story of how he endured the savagery of the United States prison system and of how his victim, an extraordinary woman, forgave him and bravely advocated for his freedom, which was achieved by a crusade on the part of the Equal Justice Initiative to address the barbarism of our judicial system and to bring about “just mercy.”