John Grisham spoke bluntly about the criminal justice system and racial segregation in America during the first full day of the Santa Fe Literary Festival, saying that “white people love the death penalty.”
“There are tens of thousands of innocent people in prison and you don’t believe it because you’re white,” the prolific author and lawyer told the audience, speaking with friend and best-selling author Hampton Sides.
“Black people know the truth,” he added to applause. “It’s pretty easy to send an innocent man to jail. It’s almost impossible to get them out.”
Grisham described the visit to Death Row for book research, where he found that there was a room where condemned inmates could sit with a chaplain for the hour before their execution.
“I’m sitting with this chaplain, it’s quiet, spooky, no threat of execution,” Grisham said, “…and he said, ‘Can I ask you a question? Are you a Christian?’ I said yes.” And he said, ‘Do you think Jesus would approve of what we’re doing here?’ And I couldn’t say yes.”
Grisham added that until that moment he had not been vehemently against the death penalty. The chaplain “said, ‘We all agree that killing is wrong, so why should the state be able to kill?’ At that moment I switched [my opinion] and never looked back.”
The author met families of victims who had been killed by inmates on death row. “I don’t know how they do it, but they find a way to forgive,” he said. “And when they do that, they can start to put it behind them. And those who are bitter or vindictive or want blood never do.”
Grisham also spoke about his involvement in the criminal justice charity for the wrongly accused, The Innocence Project, adding that 275 people had been exonerated because of the charity’s work.
When asked if he’s started writing his next book, Grisham described growing up in the shadow of the Vietnam War, saying that “there’s a book I want to write about Vietnam.” In his childhood he had “conflicts with [his] Father” about the war, and “as I got older I met people who left and met families whose sons didn’t come home and I just wonder: how did this happen to this country?”
The multi-genre writer said that while he’s not working on a Vietnamese manuscript yet, he’s “thinking about it.”
On the festival’s first full day, Grisham joined speakers such as Margaret Atwood, Don Winslow, Phil Klay, Emily St. John Mandel and Bryant Terry. Grisham’s latest novel, sparring partner, will be released in June 2022.
The inaugural festival kicked off Friday night with a sold-out speech from two-time Pultizer Prize winner Colson Whitehead.
Sunday speakers include George RR Martin, fantasy novelist, screenwriter and author of The Song of Ice and Fire, which was adapted into the HBO series Game of Thrones; Pulitzer Prize winner Lawrence Wright; author and criminal justice activist Valeria Luiselli; Chef, cookbook author and owner of the Darjeeling Express restaurant in London, Asma Khan; and investigative journalist and author of under the banner of heaven, Johann Krakauer.
The Independent, as the event’s international media partner, will cover every day of the festival with exclusive interviews with some of the headline writers. You can find more information about the festival on our Section of the Santa Fe Literary Festival or visit the Festival website.
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/john-grisham-innocence-project-prison-b2084503.html John Grisham: “Tens of thousands of innocent people in prison and you won’t believe it because you’re white”