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7 Authors Who Write Wrongful Convictions

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We are living through an epidemic of wrongful convictions.


As I write, almost 2,500 wrongfully convicted men and women have been exonerated, totaling more than 21,000 years lost. Con­servative estimates are that only one to two percent of all convictions are of innocent people. That’s an impressive success rate, and it’s comforting to think that our criminal justice system incarcerates the correct person 98–99 percent of the time. However, this is not good news if you are among the one to two percent. Think about what that means in actual numbers. There are approximately two and a half million people incarcerated in the United States, which means there are thousands of innocent people doing time for crimes they did not commit.

What can we do?

I’d like to suggest that an easy first step is to read more authors who write about wrongful convictions. These writers shine a spotlight on the innocent behind bars and allow us to see the root causes beneath the epidemic.

Not only do those who write about wrongful convictions educate us, they also provide a fun twist on the classic crime novel. Mystery novels usually focus on the question, “Who did it?” However, when a plot centers on an innocent person, the question flips from “Who did it?” to “Who didn’t do it?”, making for a meaningful and refreshing read.

Here’s a list of my favorite authors who write wrongful convictions into their fiction:


Stephen King, The Green Mile

Stephen King’s The Green Mile tells the story of John Coffey, an innocent Black man on death row with healing in his hands. Released in 1996, as a six-part serial novel, The Green Mile was featured on the big screen starring Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan in 1999. The innocent John Coffey was and is an icon among wrongfully convicted protagonists.


Julia Dahl, Conviction

Conviction is book three in the must-read Rebekah Roberts series by Julia Dahl. Two decades after the brutal murder of a black family in Crown Heights neighborhood of New York City, Roberts receives a letter: “My name is DeShawn Perkins…I got in a lot of trouble when I was a teenager. I stole and I lied. But I didn’t do the crime…I’m not a murderer…somebody else killed my family and I’m paying for his crime.” With that, the race is on to rescue an innocent man while not falling prey to the actual killer with a secret to protect.


John Grisham, The Guardians

John Grisham is heavily involved in the innocence world and writes eloquently about the plight of the unjustly incarcerated. Three titles in his body of work are dedicated to this topic: The Confession, about an innocent man about to be executed and the guilty man attempting to save his life; The Innocent Man, Grisham’s only non-fiction book about a miscarriage of justice in small town Oklahoma and, most recently, The Guardians about the real-life work of William McCloskey, freedom fighter and founder of Centurion—the first organization in the world dedicated to the vindication of the wrongfully convicted.


Ernest J. Gaines, A Lesson Before Dying 

Nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1993, this classic is a staple in the curriculum of high school English classes across the country. Gaines tells the tale of a schoolteacher, Grant Wiggins, recruited to teach a hard lesson—a lesson before dying—to Jefferson, an innocent young black man convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

Down the River Unto the Sea _Walter Mosley

Walter Mosley, Down the River Unto the Sea

Question: What do you get when you frame one of NYPD’s finest and put him in prison for a decade?

Answer: Another riveting detective by Walter Mosley.

Joe King Oliver joins the ranks of Easy Rawlins and Leonid McGill in Down the River Unto the Sea. One can only hope that this is not a stand-alone novel but the start of another classic series by this mystery master.


Kim Johnson, This is My America

The Hate U Give meets Just Mercy is an apt description for this YA firecracker of a book. In This is My America, Kim Johnson introduces us to the unforgettable Tracey Beaumont, a seventeen-year-old who writes letters to Innocence X seeking help for her father, an innocent black man on death row with less than a year to live. It’s a twist-filled journey for young and old that ultimately leads to uncovering the dark history of their Texas town.


Tayari Jones, An American Marriage

Celestial and Roy were but newlyweds when Roy, a young business executive, is sentenced to a crime that Celestial knows that he did not commit. When Roy returns home after five years in prison, they face the daunting task of starting over after their marriage was tried before it was ready to be tested. An American Marriage is a literary exploration into a marriage tested by the greatest injustice in our justice system.

These are some of my favorite authors who write wrongful convictions. They inspire me, with their passion and prose, to keep advocating and writing for those who are doing time for crimes they did not commit.



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Michael Neff
Algonkian Producer
New York Pitch Director
Author, Development Exec, Editor

We are the makers of novels, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

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