For my own mental health, I have recently been cutting back on the number of hours I spend obsessing over the news. Some of this time has been redirected to reading, which is a win all-around. Since I spend a great deal of time in the car, I have also started listening to a number of podcasts.
One of my favorite binge listening discoveries is the hugely popular Serial podcast. (I know I am a latecomer!) For other latecomers out there, the first two seasons each covered one single, high-profile true crime case. Season Three of this podcast is a fascinating look at the criminal justice system, told through a wide variety of stories of ordinary people. The show’s investigative journalists spent more than a year in Cleveland, Ohio, following different criminal cases as they made their way through the court system. What they found makes for great and addictive storytelling, even it if it doesn’t move me towards my stress-free goal.
Each of the cases they describe to us ask us to examine the way our justice system works, particularly for people who don’t start out with great advantages in life. It inspired me to continue the experience with some gripping courtroom drama in my reading, some fiction and some non-fiction.
Here are a few you might not have read that I enjoyed:
Courtroom 302: a Year Behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse by Steve Bogira is a few years older, but it is one of the inspirations for the Serial podcast. The author spends his year in Cook County Criminal Courthouse, the busiest felony courthouse in the country.
The Boat People by Sharon Bala is a novel that tells the story of a group of refugees from Sri Lanka in 2010 who make their way to Canada hoping for a new life, only to find that they are branded as terrorists and have to make their way through a painful and protracted court process.
My Name is Venus Black: a Novel by Heather Lloyd follows a bright young woman who serves time in a juvenile detention center for committing a horrible crime and tries to build a new identity upon her release.
Just Mercy: a Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson is the author’s own memoir of directing the Equal Justice Initiative and serving as attorney for Walter McMillan, a young black man on death row for a murder he insisted he did not commit.
For moving and informative courtroom dramas, check out the podcast and check out any of these great reads from your local library.