John Grisham

What turns a person into a hero? Who would you include in your list of heroes? My choice this time is should probably more properly be regarded as a famous Baptist, although as you will see there are some things about what this person has done which may persuade you to think of him as a hero.

John Ray Grisham Jr was born in Jonesboro Arkansas in 1955. He is the second eldest of five children. He was married to Renee in May 1988 and has two children, Shea and Ty.

Grisham will be known to most people because he is one of the best selling authors in the world, coming a close second to the literary superstars Tom Clancy and J K Rolling. By 2012 he had sold 275 million books and is one of a very few authors who have sold 2 million copies of a book with its first printing. Grisham writes about lawyers and the justice system in the USA and his books are firmly set in the Legal thriller, crimes fiction genre.

Grisham became a christian when he was eight years old. He describes his conversion as the most important day of his life. Before qualifying as a lawyer he spent a short time working as a missionary in Brazil. While Grisham is not outspoken about his faith, his christian values and desire for justice have resulted in his outspoken criticism of the American justice system. He has become active in working to obtain justice for people who have been wrongly imprisoned.

His first book, 'A time to kill', was inspired by a trial in 1984. He listened to a twelve year old girl tell how she had been attacked and raped and in his book Grisham developed the story to fictionalise what may have happened if the girl's father had taken justice into his own hands and killed the girls attackers. It took Grisham three years to complete the story and get it into print. The book was rejected by 28 publishers before it was finally accepted by a relatively unknown publisher who only printed 5000 copies.

Grisham is a member of the board of directors of the Innocence Project which works to overturn the convictions of wrongly convicted and imprisoned people. The project is based on their belief that there are far too many people wrongly imprisoned in the USA. Grisham has testified to Congress on behalf of the project and spoken out on national TV. His has also spoken out about the use of the Death Penalty and was one of those who was prepared to speak out against the imprisonment of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo. These issues have appeared in the storylines in some of his more recent books.

In 2006 Grisham wrote a book called 'The Innocent Man', which was different from his previous books because it was not fiction. The book describes the life of Ron Williamson who became a professional Baseball player. His professional career was cut short by injury and bad habits. When in 1982 a cocktail waitress was raped and murdered Ron and his friend Dennis were suspected of the crime. In 1987 they were charged with capital murder. Despite there being no physical evidence, Dennis was found guilty and given a life sentence. Ron was sent to death row.

Having read most of Grisham's books I read this book and quickly became engrossed in the story, not realising it was true. When I realised I felt shocked to think such a miscarriage of justice could happen in the present day, but realised this is just the tip of the iceberg. With the help of law students who worked through the case and with the increased use of DNA evidence, Ron was finally exonerated in 1999, he died in 2004 aged just 51. Hearing of Ron's experience, doing the research and writing the book exposed Grisham to the world of wrong convictions which as a former lawyer he had never spent much time thinking about. According to Grisham wrongful convictions occur every month in every state of the USA because of bad police work, junk science, faulty eyewitness identifications, bad defence, lazy prosecutors and arrogant prosecutors. I thought this was the stuff of film and fiction; how naive was I?

So John Grisham is a Baptist who has been willing to use his fame and influence to speak up for the plight of innocent people in the USA who have been let down, by a legal system that has some serious flaws. O by the way, John Grisham can also write a very compelling story. You may like to try reading his books for yourself. His latest book 'Gray Mountain', shows his concern for the environment and the damaging effects of strip coal mining in the USA.