Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller – Sarah Miller

Published by Atheneum Books ISBN 978-1-4424-0851-7

Annie Sullivan was little more than a half-blind orphan with a fiery tongue when she arrived at Ivy Green in 1887.  Desperate for work, she’d taken on a seemingly impossible job – teaching a child who was deaf, blind, and as ferocious as any wild animal.  But Helen Keller needed more than a teacher.  She needed someone to wor a miracle.  And if anyone was a match for Helen, it was the girl they used to call Miss Spitfire.

My first introduction to Helen Keller was when I was about 10 years old, and I read every available biography book in my school library.  (Incidentally, it was where I discovered Florence Nightingale, Sir Edmund Hillary and Louis Braille).  I loved the story of how she came to recognise the word water, but never was the story told like this.

Based on letters that Annie Sullivan wrote to her house mother from the blind school that she attended before she took the job as a teacher to Helen Keller.  The story doesn’t pull any punches, and can be brutal in the telling, but it tells the story like it happened.  I loved the voice, I could hear the different accents of the characters as they interacted, and I could hear the heart ache and pain that Annie Sullivan went through trying to teach a child, that many thought was an imbecile, to learn words and eventually communicate.

The story is from Annie’s point of view, her nerves of going to a new place, far from the school she attended, meeting new people and the child, Helen Keller, who was little more than a wild animal.  Their conflicts must have been legendary, but when the recognition came, it changed course of the lives of Helen and Annie forever.

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The Innocent Man – John Grisham

Published by Century 

ISBN 978-1-8460-5038-1

 In the major league draft of 1971, the first player chosen from the State of Oklahoma  was Ron Williamson.  When he signed with the OaklandA’s, he said goodbye to his hometown of Ada and left to pursue his dreams of big league glory.

 Six years later he was back, his dreams broken by a bad arm and bad habits – drinking, drugs and women.  He began to show signs of mental illness.  Unable to keep a job, he moved in with his mother and slept 20 hours a day on her sofa.

 In 1982 a 21 year old cocktail waitress in Ada named Debra Sue Carter was raped and murdered, and for five years the police could not solve the crime.  For reasons that were never clear, they suspected Ron Williamson and his friend Dennis Fritz.  The were finally arrested in 1987 and charged with capital murder.

 With no physical evidence, the prosecution’s case was built on junk science and the testimony of jailhouse snitches and convicts.  Dennis Fritz was found guilty and given a life sentence.  Ron Williamson was sent to Death Row.

I first thought this was another John Grisham thriller, until I saw True Crime written above the bar code.  Hmmm, I thought, this could be interesting.  And interesting it was.  The book tells the story of Ron Williamson, his rise to fame through his youth, his visions of grandeur, and dreams of professional baseball playing.  But the reality wasn’t what he expected and he returned home with grandiose ideas of who he should be, when he wasn’t.  His mental health suffered terribly and eventually he lived with his mother, sleeping in the den, living above her garage.

On the night Debra Carter is murdered, many witnesses saw her arguing with another man, and man who would later testify against Dennis and Ron.

This story truly shocked me, the tenacity and audacity of the police department involved.  Instead of studying the evidence to see where it led, they almost went as far as falsifying evidence so that they could pin it on the two men they thought were responsible.  In fact one would even go so far as to say that the evidence provided by the two suspects were tested first and foremost and found to be a “match” a very contentious word in the 1980’s court room.

Ron’s mental decline continued after sentenced to death row, a hard place for hardened criminals, but Ron isn’t really a criminal, and his cries of innocence are buried.  It wasn’t until they are nearly through all of the possible appeals before they find a judge who is willing to look at the evidence and demand a retrial, days before Ron’s scheduled lethal injection.

For those who love a good true story, this one, written by the court room master himself, is well written, looking into the lives of the men involved, the crime itself, and how modern forensics eventually found the men… well I can’t really tell you now, can I!  You have to read it for yourself.