The timing couldn’t have been worse. Ten days before Christmas, and smack dab in the middle of publishing one novel and revising its sequel, I was asked to write another book. This one couldn’t be more different than the YA historical novels I’ve been working on the last few years. Curtis Roberts, recently released from San Quentin State Penitentiary, a friend of mine and my husband’s, called to officially ask me to write his story.
I thought a moment about how I’m busier than ever with publication deadlines, my part-time work at the university, and caregiving for my parents. And what a s-t-r-e-t-c-h a prisoner memoir is from my usual writing, which–whether fiction or non-fiction–always seems to be set in Eastern Europe.
I’d be crazy to accept.
But how could I say no?
Curtis’ story has burned in my heart for years. Curtis Roberts received no mercy from the courts, slapped with a 50-years-to-life sentence for three non-violent robberies, amounting to a grand total of $116. He got caught up in California’s Three Strikes, You’re Out! law, helped to get the reform of the law passed and many non-violent offenders released, yet still remained left behind in San Quentin. He discovered redemption and grace as he waited and suffered, enduring unfathomable depths and having his hopes raised again and again, just to be crushed each time. Finally, Curtis was released one year ago, after 29 years in prison.
I’ve blogged about Curtis off and on over the years (changing his name to Chester while he was still incarcerated). I even wrote my master’s thesis on the rhetoric of the three-strikes law and its reform. In the process of researching that paper, I stumbled upon a group of law students at Stanford who were working on behalf of non-violent three-strike lifers. My husband took over from there and got them connected with Curtis’ case.
We had something to do with his release. How could I refuse?
I sensed clearly that this was something the Lord was asking me to do. Curtis is trusting that God alone will receive the glory through the story of his life. I’m honored that he has entrusted this task to me to be the writer.
Maybe I am a bit crazy to take on such a massive project, but I also believe I’m called. The Faithful One has called me, and I can trust Him to do it (I Thessalonians 5:24).
Over the years, Curtis has been interviewed by countless people: Ted Koppel, Bryant Gumbel, PBS News Hour. He became somewhat of a media sensation through his story, entitled “Left Behind,” featured on the first season of Ear Hustle, a collaborative podcast by a now-former inmate, Earlonne Woods, and a volunteer teacher, Nigel Poor. Curtis’ episode immediately received 750,000 hits.
If you listen to this 30-minute podcast, you’ll know why this amazing story of redemption needs to be told. And why I’m excited to be the one to do the telling.