There’s a question I get every time I tell someone that I wrote a book. It’s the most common question I’m asked, yet it’s still the most difficult to answer: What is your book about?
I’ve never been the best at the whole “blurb” or “elevator pitch” concept. My stories are so deeply connected to my heart that I can’t possibly sum up their purpose in a few short sentences. I do my best, and I think I’ve learned how to give enough information to be intriguing without spoiling any major plot points, leaving the reader knowing enough but wanting more. But it still pains me every time I have to answer that question with anything shorter than a 20-minute conversation about my hopes and dreams and passions. So, for anyone who wants to bear with me through that 20-minute conversation, this blog post is for you. I want to share more about my heart behind this story and my reason for wanting it to reach as many people as possible.
Before I get into the “why,” I should probably explain the “what” and tell you a bit about the book, in case you haven’t read it. The basic one-liner I hand out to most passersby who inquire about the subject of my book is this: “It’s a suspenseful romance about a criminal psychologist who falls in love with a murderer.” A bit of intrigue, hopefully enough to capture some interest, but no real depth. “Keep No Record” is a story about Jacob Perry, a young man with a grim past who, due to poor upbringing, some mental health issues, a history of abuse and conditioned survival instincts, makes some serious mistakes in his life. Then comes Sarah Parker, a kind, compassionate, perhaps slightly naïve psychologist who lives her life by one major motto: everyone deserves a second chance. She gives Jacob the benefit of the doubt and explores his past, his life, and his heart in more depth that anyone ever has, and what does she find? Well, you’ll have to read the book for that, but this gives you a brief glimpse into the basic outline of the story.
While I love to entertain and I enjoy a great romance, this story (as a whole, including the sequel that I’m currently working on), to me, is all about redemption. I started writing this book because I was intrigued by the idea of creating a protagonist who, by most peoples’ standards, would normally be viewed as “the bad guy.” But over time, it’s grown into something that blends so many social issues that have weighed on my heart for years. The first of which is prison ministry.
I’ve always believed that our prison system is highly skewed. The statistics of how many people return to prison many times throughout their life is proof of our failure. The number of people returning to prison for a second (or third, or fourth, etc.) time, ideally, should be zero, right? If that’s not the ideal, then what’s the point? But if that is the ideal, then why are prisons essentially adult day-cares, in which the babysitters’ only job is to make sure nobody kills each other while they’re in charge? Whatever happens after the kids are passed off to the parents, or after the prisoners have served their time, isn’t their concern. I believe prisons should be less like daycare and more like school (or at least what school is supposed to look like… don’t get me started on the public school system and its many flaws). Our goal shouldn’t be simply to ensure no crimes are committed, but to help the people under our care grow and evolve as humans, ensuring that when they re-enter society, they have the tools and support necessary to do better the second time around. I like to think of prisons as equivalent to hospitals: a building full of hurt people who need healing. A hospital without doctors and nurses and caring hearts will never be successful, and neither will a prison.
I don’t have all the stats, just a lot of opinions. But John Oliver sums it up brilliantly in this series of videos (six videos) about the American justice system. Please check them out when you have the time.
There’s another great video that illustrates the damage that can be caused by alienating struggling people. This video is primarily about addiction, but I feel it applies to convicts as well. If you continue to push someone away because of their past, what motivation do they have to make a better future? Why would you expect them to do the hard work of changing when they know that, regardless of who they are now or who they may become, you’ll never see them as anything more than the sum of their past mistakes? More connection is the key.
But the most important thing I want my readers to take away from this story, if nothing else, is the importance of freely offering second chances to all people. My hope is that the character of Jacob makes you think, that his story and his past tugs at your heart enough to say, “I know this guy has done some terrible things, but… I kind of understand how he got here.” You might even go so far as to say, “I can’t say I wouldn’t have done the same things if I was in his position.” And that, right there, is the one thing I always try to remind myself when I start to judge someone for their negative actions. Because I don’t know their life, their past, their mental and physical health, their upbringing/parents (or lack thereof). There’s a myriad of factors that I know nothing about, and even if I’ve heard about them or saw them with my own eyes, I will never know what it’s like to experience them – all of them, at the same time, with overwhelming feeling and emotion. I can never accurately predict how I would act if I were in someone else’s shoes.
My hope for this story is that it makes people think twice about judging people, even murderers and the like, or writing them off as a lost cause. Nobody is ever a lost cause. Every single person in this world, regardless of what they did eight years ago or eight hours ago, is capable of changing, for the worse or for the better. And if someone wants that opportunity to change for the better, shouldn’t we who are strong be willing… no, not willing, excited to come alongside them and help them in their journey?
I want to live in a world in which people are viewed with a filter of hope. A world in which everyone sees their fellow humans, regardless of their current or past states of destruction, as bundles of positive potential just waiting to be set free. A world in which people like Sarah Parker will not look down on people like Jacob Perry for their mistakes, but instead will seek to dig past the anger and hurt to see the good within, and – rather than stopping there – will take them under their wing, in loving support, to bring them out of the darkness and into the light. What a better world that would be.
Of course that world won’t be achieved overnight, and it certainly won’t come without a lot of hard work, but I hope that my book will, at the very least, bring some of these issues to light and spark some change in thought. It may seem small, but every great change in world action started with a single thought.