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Reviewed by Lorraine Cobcroft for Readers' Favorite
Warning: Reading Steffen Hou's The Deprived: Innocents on Death Row might destroy any trust you have in the justice system. It might destroy your confidence in the integrity of those who purport to work toward making our society a safer and better place for all. It might destroy any faith you have in the fundamental goodness and decency of mankind. You will find The Deprived shocking and confronting. It will likely make you weep. In parts, you might struggle to find the strength to read on. If you support the death penalty, no matter what your reasons and no matter how strong your convictions, I guarantee reading The Deprived will make you question and doubt. It may even convert you to support campaigns against it.
Steffen Hou tells us that, in Texas, it costs three times more to put a convicted criminal to death than to house one in prison for forty years. And then he reminds us, through heart-wrenching true stories, that we can release a prisoner wrongly convicted and imprisoned, but we can never release the wrongly condemned from their grave. Nor can we ever repair the harm done to the families of the condemned, much less to the witnesses, jurors, judges, guards and executioners. We cannot repair or compensate for the damage caused to those who are finally exonerated and released from death row. They leave bars and orange jumpsuits behind, but they can never again be truly free. Steffen Hou relates the horrific yet inspiring stories of nine who were wrongly convicted and sentenced to death, but later set free.
But what of the victims of horrific crime? What of our need to keep citizens safe? Steffen Hou exposes disturbing statistics not only of erroneous convictions, but of the causes of error: causes that include false eyewitness testimony, shoddy defences of the poor and minority races, and even corruption and deliberate manipulation or suppression of evidence by those charged with protecting us all. And then he relates the inspiring story of Marietta Jaeger, who, following the brutal kidnapping and murder of her seven-year-old daughter by a serial killer, fights for forgiveness and mercy. Marietta co-founded 'Journey of Hope', helping people move from violence to healing. Her compassion for, and forgiveness of, the man who ended her daughter's life assisted his capture and conviction. We can never know how many lives her bravery and strength saved.
Steffen Hou does not offer a literary masterpiece. There are no vivid descriptions. There is no poetic prose. There is no word magic. The Deprived is a frank, direct, and quite brutal journalistic report of the terrible consequences of judgments we would like to see as tragic mistakes, but are more accurately portrayed as acts of horrific injustice that destroyed the lives of innocents and raise questions about the fundamental decency of what we pretend is an advanced and humane society. Hou does not appear to consciously strive for evocative copy, but the facts he exposes will tear at your heart. Reading The Deprived should be compulsory for everyone involved in any manner in law enforcement or the justice system.