Love, Freedom, and the Making of The Exonerated
In 2000, Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen embarked on a tour across America -- one that would give them a glimpse of the darker side of the 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 wanted to learn more about our country's 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. The result of their journey was The Exonerated, New York Times number one play of 2002, which was embraced by such acting luminaries as Ossie Davis, Richard Dreyfuss, Danny Glover, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, and Robin Williams.
Living Justice is Jessica and Erik's fascinating, behind-the-scenes account of the creation of their play. A tale of artistic expression and political awakening, innocence lost and wisdom won, this is above all a story about two people who fall in love while pursuing their passion and learn -- through the stories of the exonerated -- what freedom truly means.
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Read an Excerpt
The two of us had been dating just over a month. Erik had lived in New York City for almost a decade, making a steady living as an actor in independent films and TV. Jessica'd just shown up in the city nine months earlier, after graduating from college in Minnesota. She was training at an acting studio, making the rounds, spending her days doing political organizing and her evenings doing spoken-word poetry. Both of us had your typical broke bohemian artsy New York lifestyle.
When we'd first met, Erik was deep in the throes of self-imposed bachelorhood. He'd bribed someone to obtain the lease on his East Village...
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Reading Group Guide
Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen
Questions and Topics For Discussion
1. While interviewing Dale, Jessica and Erik ask him what he dreamt about while in prison. "He looked us straight on and told us that he'd never dreamt when he was in there—never." (p. 42) What connections can be drawn between dreams and captivity? What do you think you would dream about if you were on death row?
2. Jessica and Erik found their meeting with Delbert quite inspiring. Delbert told them “he was a free man during his time inside (prison), too.” (p. 57) What parallels can be drawn about the mental strength and exercises that have allowed some exonerated individuals to maintain their psychological and emotional stability while in prison?
3. As in Henry’s case, the special issues and circumstances of those who may have cognitive issues often go unrecognized or ignored. Do you believe that a cognitively challenged or mentally retarded person should be tried equally as a “normal” person?
4. Both Jessica and Erik admit their backgrounds influenced their views on crime and justice. Do you think their beliefs had a negative effect, or did they make the couple more determined to write a balanced perspective?
5. How does race complicate the production of The Exonerated? In what ways does race affect the nation’s view on the death penalty and the integrity of t see more