ALA Best Book for Young Adults 2008
ALA Quick Pick for Young Adults Top Ten Pick!
IRA Notable Book for a Global Society
CBC/National Council of Social Studies Notable Social Studies Trade Book
TX Tayshas Reading List
SLJ Best Book of 2008
Kirkus Best YA Book of 2008
Chicago Public Library Best Book of 2008
Kansas State Reading Circle 2009
James Cook Book Award, short list of 2009
New York Public Library: Stuff for the Teen Age, 2008
Bank Street College, Outstanding Merit, 2009
CCBC Choices, 2009
A Junior Literary Guild Fall Selection
Between 1990 and 2005, only eight countries in the world still sentenced people younger than eighteen to death for their crimes -- Iran, China, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan, and the United States of America.
NO CHOIRBOY takes you into America's prisons and allows inmates sentenced to death as teenagers to speak for themselves. In their own voices - honest and uncensored - they talk about their lives in prison and share their thoughts and feelings about how they ended up there.
The focus of the book is on the individuals - both actor and victim - whose lives are forever changed by violence. But there is more I'd like to share with you. This section of my Website has some of the many facts I learned while researching the book. And if you want to learn even more, Nanon Williams, who is on the cover of this book, has his own book recently published. THE DARKEST HOUR is a must read. You can also visit Nanon's website: http://nanonwilliams.com/
Many students have come up with pretty creative ways to get me to do their homework for them. That's not going to happen. But if you have specific questions that are NOT covered in the book, or on this site, I'll help lead you to places where you may find answers. Email me at email@example.com
A Maximum Security Prison - Alabama
Discussion Questions for NO CHOIRBOY:
1. Are you the sum total of your worst act?
2. Are we able to determine, justly, what punishment people deserve for their worst act?
3. What obligation, if any, does society have to those who commit horrible acts?
4. Is the death penalty ever justified?
5. Should juveniles who commit capital crimes be tried as adults?
I. MAJOR COURT RULINGS WHICH HAVE AFFECTED DEATH PENALTY LAW IN THE U.S.
Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972)
The death penalty as applied is arbitrary and capricious and therefore a violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
The death penalty was, in practical terms, abolished.
Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. (1976)
The punishment of death for the crime of murder did not, under all circumstances, violate the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Retribution and the possibility of deterrence of capital crimes by future offenders were not intolerable considerations for legislatures to weigh when determining whether the death penalty should be imposed.
This case distinguished Furman and the death penalty was reinstated.
Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586 (1978)
The death penalty can only be imposed after the sentencer has been permitted to consider mitigating evidence which includes evidence about the circumstances of the offense and the character of the offender.
Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 70 (1986)
Batson prohibited a prosecutor from challenging potential jurors solely on account of their race, or on the assumption that black jurors as a group will be unable to impartially consider the States’ case against a black defendant.
McCleskey v. Kemp, 481 U.S. 279 (1987)
This case was based on a study in Georgia called The Baldus Study. It demonstrated that the death penalty was imposed more often on black defendants and the killers of white victims than on white defendants and killers of black victims. No matter. The Court ruled that though there appeared to be a correlation regarding race, there was not a constitutionally significant risk of racial bias with Georgia’s capital-sentencing process. Thus, it did not establish a violation of the Eighth or Fourteenth Amendment.
Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963)
This case is not a death penalty case per se. It established the precedent for the defendant to be entitled to a new trial if exculpatory evidence was not disclosed by the prosecution.
Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002)
The execution of a mentally retarded criminal is considered cruel and unusual punishment
Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005)
The Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments prohibit the execution of offenders who were under the age of eighteen when their crimes were committed.
The 1990s saw many scientific advances relating to death penalty questions. Most important for this history is the discovery of DNA.
What is DNA, actually?
"Every person except identical twins (or triplets, etc.) has a unique pattern of DNA," explains Margaret Berger, a professor of law at Brooklyn Law School who has served on a National Academies of Science Committee on DNA.
"Consequently, DNA has become the most powerful tool we have ever had for identifying the perpetrator of a crime. If DNA left at the crime scene matches a suspect=s DNA, the likelihood that the suspect is innocent is one chance in the millions. But DNA is equally powerful as a tool for proving a person innocent of a crime. When DNA found in evidence at the crime scene, such as blood stains on a victim who struggled with her assailant, or semen found in a rape victim, does not match that of the suspect, we know with great confidence that the suspect is innocent.
"To date about two hundred persons, some imprisoned for more than fifteen years, have been released when DNA testing showed that they did not commit the charged crime. A number of the exonerated inmates were on death rows. Public sentiment about the death penalty has changed considerably with the awareness that wrongful convictions do happen. There would undoubtedly be more exonerations if material from crime scenes had been saved, but in more than 75% of the cases in which an inmate requests post conviction DNA testing, there is nothing left to test."
In 1882, Thomas Edison amazed the world when he lit up Wall Street. But there was a problem. The voltage from his direct current (DC) was too low to travel more than about a mile from his power station. George Westinghouse, a competitor of Edison, solved the voltage problem by using alternating currents (AC) to transmit electricity more powerfully. The “battle of the currents” became hot news.
Edison wanted to convince the public that Westinghouse’s AC current was more dangerous than his own, and he came up with a creative plan. In the courts and laboratories in the United States, the “science of death” was being studied in order to find a humane and speedy way to carry out capital punishment.
A new method of death – electrocution – became the method of choice. According to the Supreme Court, electrocution was “a step forward ... based on grounds of mercy and humanity.”
Even though Edison said he was personally opposed to capital punishment, he managed to control his repulsion, and lobby congress in favor of the electric chair. He said that “an electric current of 1,000 volts would kill instantly, painlessly, and in every case.” Then, he endorsed the use of AC, Westinghouse’s current, because DC “doesn’t seem to have much effect on the nerves.”
Edison figured that if AC was used to kill people in the electric chair, Americans would never allow it into their homes to cook their meals and light their rooms. “The executioner’s current,” he called it. Westinghouse was furious.
School Library Journal*
"Kuklin tells five stories here; four are about young men who committed murder before they reached the age of 18, and one is the story of a victim's family. Each narrative presents a picture of a troubled youth who did something he later regretted, but something that could not be undone. Within these deftly painted portraits, readers also see individuals who have grown beyond the adolescents who committed the crimes. They see compassion, remorse, and lives wasted within the penal system. Some of the stories tell of poverty and life on the streets, but others are stories of young men with strong, loving families. One even asks readers not to blame his family for his act of violence. Most of the book is written in the words of the men Kuklin interviewed. Their views are compelling; they are our neighbors, our nephews, our friends' children, familiar in many ways, but unknowable in others. Kuklin depicts the penal system as biased against men of color, and any set of statistics about incarceration and death-row conviction rates will back her up. She also emphasizes that being poor is damning once a crime is committed. She finally introduces Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who has worked on the cases of two of the interviewees, who talks about his efforts to help those who are on death row. This powerful book should be explored and discussed in high schools all across our country."-Wendy Smith-D'Arezzo, Loyola College, Baltimore, MD
"... another direct, compassionate, and eye-opening inquiry. The prisoners’ words, drawn from Kuklin’s interview transcripts, form the bulk of the narratives, but Kuklin’s voice frequently cuts in with details about the events leading up to the alleged crime, legal issues, and the prisoners’ backgrounds. Some chapters also include commentary from the prisoners’ lawyers and the prisoners’ own writing (one, Nanon Williams, is a published author).... Kuklin presents, with signature frankness, the men’s memories of their young lives; the murders, for which some claim innocence; and the brutal realities (including rape and other acts of extreme violence) of incarcerated life, first on death row and then in maximum-security prison, where most of the prisoners are now held. In unforgettable later chapters, families of prisoners and victims both speak about their grief and loss, and the closing section focuses on a world-renowned anti–death penalty attorney. This isn’t a balanced overview of capital punishment. Instead, it is a searing and provocative account that will touch teens’ most fundamental beliefs and questions about violence, punishment, our legal and prison systems, and human rights.”
"Kuklin lets the inmates tell their stories in their own words, providing some minor narration about legal points. Readers may be surprised to learn of the diverse backgrounds of those convicted of capital crimes: Not all came from broken homes or disadvantaged backgrounds. Some didn't have a criminal record prior to their convictions. This is an excellent read for any student researching the death penalty or with an interest in law and sociology. The author/photographer paints the convicts and their families as neither wholly good nor bad, but human. The convicts themselves speak with a wisdom that can only come from years of negotiating the dangers of prison life, and their stories may change more than one mind regarding what makes a criminal"
The Horn Book *
"....This eye-opening account will likely open minds and hearts, too, and would serve as a good nonfiction read-alike companion for Walter Dean Myers's Monster. The book concludes with solid back matter - notes, glossary, bibliography, and index."