Reviewed by Deepak Menon for Readers' Favorite
The Kokomo Railroad by Susan Giffin and Charles Edward Lockert is not about building a railroad. It is one of the most penetrating stories of investigative journalism that I have ever read! It exposes the deep-rooted malaise of corruption, racism, bigotry and ‘sheer cussedness,’ as my old aunt would have described it, that afflicts the very agencies in the USA that were created for bringing about positive change and reform in the country. This is the terrifying story of an innocent Charles Edward Lockert who is implicated in a murder and railroaded into jail to serve out a sentence completely disproportionate to his crime. Susan Giffin who has a lifelong interest in law, and a fundamental abhorrence of racial prejudice and injustice, enters the arena by chance. Giffin has been trying to get information on an urgent healthcare matter for an inmate of an Indiana prison. An acquaintance suggests she meet Lockert, who understands firsthand the limitations of prison health care. She finally meets him. In addition to the information she is looking for, she is impressed by his polished, gentlemanly demeanor and hears his horrifying story. He has already been in prison for 26 nightmarish years, 20 years more than a legal sentence would have mandated.
A visibly moved and emotionally disturbed Susan contacts Lockert’s lawyer of many years, Darnail Lyles. They are ready and sure of getting freedom for Lockert at the next parole board meeting in December 2000. And stunned when his application for parole is rejected for the umpteenth time without an iota of logical reasoning! The authors narrate the tale of the succeeding years and the sad facts uncovered by Susan’s meetings with a plethora of witnesses and protagonists, directly or indirectly connected with the case at the time it happened and as the years passed. An intricate tangle of stray threads reveals shameless corruption, vindictiveness and criminal malice. The tension is so taut that I sat up half the night to read the book to its heart wrenching finale in one go. The cover warrants a look inside, and the formatting of the book is good. Chapter headings are rather unique and worth saving for their own sake. This is an outstanding book, a brave and honest expose of the times that, to my mind, can have an impact similar to the game changing Uncle Tom’s Cabin. This book is highly recommended.