The Worst Thing We’ve Ever Done: One Juror’s Reckoning with Racial Injustice

She Writes Pr. Apr. 2023. 176p. ISBN 9781647424602. pap. $17.95. MEMOIR
Menaker was 24 years old in 1976 when she served on a sequestered jury in Philadelphia for 21 days. The defendant, a Black man named Freddy Burton, stood trial for the murder of two white prison wardens. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Menaker, a middle-class white woman, had little prior contact with Black people. She writes about her experience of sequestration, with its attendant isolation, hotel living, bad food, and supervised interactions with her fellow jurors. Primarily, she wrestles with her feelings of ambiguity about Burton’s conviction, particularly with the benefit of hindsight and research that provides new context. The author examines the backgrounds and political motivations of the major players involved in the trial, including the judge, mayor, and attorneys. She also delves into Burton’s background and notes that he converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammed while incarcerated at Holmesburg Prison, where he spent an inordinate amount of time in solitary confinement; the prison is described as inhumane, overcrowded, dangerous, and characterized by callous treatment. Menaker’s book is a reckoning of sorts, and her quest to find nuance will make readers contemplate how many other convictions should be reassessed.
VERDICT Recommended for readers interested in criminal-justice reform.
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