Books About Death Row and the Death Penalty


A Crack in the Wall is a book marking the 30th Anniversary of LifeLines, a UK based charity whose members correspond with prisoners on death row. The book, which is a compilation of writings by prisoners on death row in the US and their pen friends and also past speakers, has been edited by the Founder, Jan Arriens.

The Foreword by Clive Stafford Smith and the Preface by Jan Arriens draw the reader in to turn the pages and read more. There are some beautiful pieces of artwork and touching poems in the book as well as the writings. These combine to make this little book a fitting tribute, not only to those who had the energy to found the organisation and light that first candle thirty years ago but also to those who continue to work hard. Their dedication makes it possible for the organisation to continue to grow bringing light to our friends on the row, many of whom have been forgotten by friends, family and society.  It is available only from LifeLines.  To buy a copy (priced £7.50 including P&P), please click on the PayPal icon below.

Welcome to Hell (foreword by Sister Helen Prejean, Edited and Introduced by Jan Arriens, Preface by Clive Stafford Smith OBE)

This book gives condemned people in the United States the chance to speak for themselves- to talk about their existence in the hidden world of death row.  Consisting of letters and other writings from inmates to members of LifeLines, an organisation of pen friends based in the United Kingdom, Welcome to Hell conveys daily life on death row.

"This book made me laugh out loud, it also had me in tears more than once.  Without moralising about the rights and wrongs of the US justice system, it reminds us that these 'monsters', who have been sentenced to death, are - in the main - human beings with feelings and emotions..."

Life on Death Row by Merrilyn Thomas

This book, written in 1989, traces the struggles of a Clive Stafford Smith to save the lives of two men whom he believes to be innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted.

"A well written account of life on Death Row and the early years of the remarkable Clive Stafford Smith's lifelong campaign to end it. This is the full story of Edward Earl Johnson, whose last days were featured in the incredible BBC documentary, 14 Days in May. "

The Innocent Man by John Grisham

This book tells the story of Ronald 'Ron' Keith Williamson of Ada, Oklahoma, a former minor league baseball player who was wrongly convicted in 1988 of the rape and murder of Debra Sue Carter in Ada and was sentenced to death. After serving 11 years on death row, he was exonerated by DNA evidence and other material introduced by the Innocence Project and was released in 1999.

To Live and Die on Death Row by C. Michael Lambrix (Editor: Karen Mutton, Foreword by Jan Arriens)

This is the autobiography of Michael Lambrix, who was convicted and sentenced to death in Florida in 1983 for a double murder, for which he always protested his innocence.  

Sadly, Michael Lambrix was executed on 5th October 2017.

This book can be downloaded from the Southern Injustice website in pdf or epub format by clicking on the title above.

An Ordinary Murder by Lesley Moreland

Lesley Moreland tells the painful story of what happened to her and to her family in the weeks and months that followed the murder of her daughter, Ruth.  She reveals her struggle to find ways of continuing to live positively while accepting Ruth's death.  This is a courageous and compassionate book of an unforgettable story.

"I read this book at break-neck speed.  Couldn't put it down. Lesley Moreland writes of her experiences with honesty and clarity and by the time I had finished the book I was full of admiration for her."

Within These Walls by Carroll Pickett and Carlton Stowers

The Reverend Carroll Pickett spent 15 years as the death house Chaplain at 'The Walls' - the Huntsville Unit of the Texas prison system.  During this time he accompanied 95 men to their death by lethal injection.

"A very strong and moving narrative about the final moments of the condemned men and women and the people, who in one way or another, are taking part in the execution process at Huntsville, Texas.  Highly recommended."


Books By Past Speakers at Conference


Chasing Justice by Kerry Max Cook

In 1977, when Kerry Max Cook was just 21 years old, he was tried, convicted and sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a young woman he had met casually at a pool a few days before her death.  He spent 22 years in priosn, most of that time on Death Row.  Chasing Justice is nothing less than a raw condemnation of the American criminal justice system and capital punishment by a person who has experienced the worst effects of its corruption.  This is also a story of triumph over adversity and a survival tale; almost 1000 people were executed in the time Cook spent on Death Row.

Kerry Max Cook's case was one of six featured in the play The Exonerated by Erik Jensen.  He was released in 1999 and was fully exonerated on June 6, 2016.

In the Place of Justice by Wilbert Rideau

Winner of the 2011 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Non-Fiction

In 1961, Wilbert Rideau despaired of his small-town future in the segregated deep south of America. He set out to rob the local bank and after a bungled robbery he killed the bank teller, a fifty-year-old white female. He was arrested and gave a full confession.  This book tells the story from his death sentence and the time he spent in Angola, to becoming the editor of a prison magazine and even winning national journalism awards.  This book spans Rideau's 44 years on prison and goes beyond the traditional prison memoir.

An article about this book, by past speaker Erwin James, can be read here.

If You Sit Very Still by Marian Partington

In 1994, 21 years after her disappearance, Lucy Partington's remains were discovered in Fred and Rosemary West's basement at 25 Cromwell Street, Gloucester. In this powerful and lyrical book, Lucy's elder sister, Marian, reclaims Lucy from the status of victim and finds an authentic and compassionate response to her traumatic loss. Her inspiring narrative of healing draws on Buddhist and Quaker practices and culminates in restorative justice work in prisons.

Marian was writing her book If You Sit Very Still for eighteen years before she felt it was time to publish it.

The Autobiography of an Execution by David R. Dow

This is ultimately an autobiography of Death Penalty lawyer David Dow.  However, through his narrative, David Dow examines at their very heart; what it is like to be inside prison; the minds of judges; the execution chamber itself and into the lives of Death Row inmates.  He also relates what it is like to be inside his own home - where the pressure of working the difficult cases takes its toll.  David Dow further examines further issues around the Death Penalty - for example, how even religious lawyer and justices can whole-heartedly support putting criminals to death.

The Injustice System by Clive Stafford-Smith

The maverick public defender who inspired John Grisham tells the story of his most frustrating case.  In 1986, Kris Maharaj was arrested in Miami for the murder of his ex- business partner. A witness swore he saw him pull the trigger and a jury found him guilty and sentenced him to death, but he swears he didn’t do it. Twenty years later, he’s bankrupted himself on appeals and been abandoned by everyone but his wife.  Enter Clive Stafford Smith, a charismatic public defender with a passion for lost causes who calls up old files and embarks on his own investigation. It takes him from Miami to Nassau to Washington as he uncovers corruption at every turn. Step by step, Clive slowly dismantles the case, guiding us through the whole scaffolding of the legal process and revealing a fundamentally broken system whose goal is not so much to find the right man as to convict.  

Fighting for their Lives by Susannah Sheffer

This book is based on interviews with 20 attorneys representing prisoners on Death Row.  It examines what it is like to represent someone on Death Row; it examines the thoughts and feelings behind the appeals and ultimately (in the worst case scenario) behind the execution of a client.

This book examines the psychological impact of having a client on Death Row.

The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton

This tells the story of Anthony Ray Hinton, convicted of two murders he didn't commit.  For the next three decades he was kept on death row in solitary confinement, watching as fellow prisoners were taken to the execution chamber.  He then met Bryan Stevenson, who took his case and - albeit 15 years later - had his case overturned.

This book tells of how Anthony Ray Hinton coped with the emotional and mental tortures of his incarceration; how he found the way to compassion and forgiveness - but is ultimately the story of the resilience of the human spirit.

Just Mercy - A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

Part memoir, part exhortation for much-needed reform to the American criminal justice system, Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy is a heartrending and inspirational call to arms written by the activist lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, an Alabama-based organization responsible for freeing or reducing the sentences of scores of wrongfully convicted individuals. Stevenson’s memoir weaves together personal stories from his years as a lawyer into a strong statement against racial and legal injustice, drawing a clear throughline from slavery and its legacy to today’s still-prejudiced criminal justice system. (Credit:

Dead Man Walking by Sister Helen Prejean

When Sister Helen Prejean is invited to write to a prisoner on Death Row who brutally killed two teenagers, she has little idea how much it will change her life. Although she abhors his crime, she befriends one man as he faces the electric chair. Dead Man Walking is Helen Prejean's gripping true story, which formed the basis for a major motion picture event. As powerful an indictment of the death penalty as has ever been written, her book was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

"This book is absolutely amazing...Helen Prejean's strength, compassion and belief that all humans deserve love no matter what is so overwhelming I could not put the book down."

Facing the Death Penalty by Michael L. Radelet

Between 1930 and 1967, there were 3,859 executions carried out under state and civil authority in the United States. Since the ten-year moratorium on capital punishment ended in 1977, more than one hundred prisoners have been executed (at the time of writing). There are more than two thousand men and women now living on death row awaiting their executions. Facing the Death Penalty offers an in-depth examination of what life under a sentence of death is like for condemned inmates and their families, how and why various professionals assist them in their struggle for life, and what these personal experiences with capital punishment tell us about the wisdom of this penal policy.

About Time by Peter Pringle

Law and justice are not always one and the same. On the 27 November 1980, Peter Pringle waited in an Irish court to hear the following words: 'Peter Pringle, for the crime of capital murder. . . the law prescribes only one penalty, and that penalty is death.' The problem was that Peter did not commit this crime. Facing a sentence of death by hanging, Peter sought the inner strength and determination to survive. When his sentence was changed to forty years without remission he set out to prove his innocence. Fifteen years later, he is finally a free man. This is his story.

Stolen Time by Sunny Jacobs

Sunny Jacobs was only twenty-seven years old when she and her partner, Jesse Tafero, were wrongly sentenced to death by the Florida courts for the murder of two state policmen in 1976. Hidden evidence, falsified testimonies, inconclusive polygraph tests and a seemingly wanton corruption within the judicial system meant that the real murderer successfully testified against two innocents, who left behind an eight-year-old child and a ten-month-old baby. Despite the murderer, Walter Rhodes, subsequently recanting his testimony and confessing to the murder on three separate occasions, Sunny spent five years in solitary confinement on Death Row before her sentence was eventually reduced to life imprisonment, while Jesse was brutally executed via a thirteen-minute ordeal in the electric chair. Finally, after seventeen years of legal wrangling both their sentences were quashed (Jesse's posthumously) and Sunny was given back her freedom, by which time her parents were dead and her children separated and in care. Yet in this book Sunny demonstrates the human capacity for resilience and generosity of spirit. Her focus is not on the horrors she endured but on the ways in which she triumphed.