The Friends sponsor Jarrett Adams for the Wisconsin Book Festival
Redeeming Justice (Convergent Books, Sept 2021) is not just the title of his book, it is an all-consuming quest for Jarrett Adams. Introduced October 23rd by Friends board member and director emeritus of the UW–Madison Libraries, Kenneth Frazier, Adams kicked off the Wisconsin Book Festival’s fall season with gusto. He is an involuntary expert on the devastating effects that our court system’s racial and economic inequality can render on a person, a family, and a community. His words carry the power of personal experience, and the Madison community turned out to hear what he had to say.
“You gotta understand, I was just a regular kid,” says Adams to his riveted audience. “I had no idea what I was up against when the police came knocking at my door.” But he was about to learn. “I was so naïve. I trusted the system. It always worked on CSI.”
In 1998, when he was 17 years old, Jarrett Adams, an African American, was falsely accused of rape, found guilty by an all-white jury, and sentenced by a Wisconsin court to 28 years in prison. Throughout this harrowing experience Adams drew strength from the women in his family. “I just kept thinking of my mama, my grandmother, and my aunties. They never gave up on me,” Adams shared. After sending hundreds of letters pleading his case to authorities, multiple appeals, and numerous devastating setbacks, Adams’ conviction was finally reversed in late 2006. He was exonerated by the Wisconsin Innocence Project, but not before he served nearly ten years of his young life in the maximum security prisons of Wisconsin.
After his release, Adams had a new mission: he was determined to use the law to heal rather than to harm. He earned his J.D. from Loyola University Chicago School of Law and became a tireless advocate for the underserved. Adams is filled with passion and a seemingly never-ending energy to make a difference, striving to undo the damage imposed by our broken legal system, one case at a time. “I’m driven by the commitment I made to serve those behind bars who have been locked up for minor crimes, serving unconscionably long sentences, and those who have been wrongly accused,” Adam writes in his book. “I vow to litigate and to educate. This is my promise.”
On Saturday, October 23, 2021, he kept that promise, educating the rapt audience and challenging them to join him. “Learn before you vote for your judges,” Adams implored, “and consider the skewed numbers of incarcerated people of color as lost contributors to society. It’s gotta change.”The Friends of UW-Madison Libraries are proud sponsors of the Wisconsin Book Festival.