• Cynthia Tolbert

What was the Inspiration for Writing The Redemption?



What was the Inspiration for Writing The Redemption?

C.L. Tolbert

Level Best Books


In 1995, I was teaching at a law school in New Orleans, and also served as the director of the law school’s Homeless Law Clinic. Individuals who fell within the poverty guidelines, and who were also homeless were able to come to the law school for legal services. Students provided those services under my supervision.


A case came in to the clinic from the public defender’s office concerning a sixteen-year-old boy who’d been indicted for the murder of a thirty-eight year old man. The murder had occurred in the St. Thomas Housing Projects. The director of the law school clinic program asked me if I wanted to take the case.


Since we were providing legal services to a homeless population, my students and I typically dealt with housing issues, or helped clients retrieve benefits from social security or the VA. It was difficult to teach trial advocacy, which was one aspect of my job, if we were limited to helping clients with social services and housing issues. My students wanted to learn trial skills, and I wanted to provide an actual trial for them so that they could learn.


The young man charged with murder, whom I will call Evan, didn’t fit perfectly into the homeless clinic guidelines, but he was close. He didn’t live with his mother. He “floated” around from family member to family member, living with his grandmother, and aunts, and friends. Technically, he wasn’t homeless, but he didn’t have a permanent address either. Plus, he fit within the poverty guidelines. So, I accepted the case.


I’ll never forget the first time I saw Evan. A student and I traveled to Orleans Parish prison where a deputy walked us back to the attorney/ prisoner conference area. The room, a large white cell which contained a single table and three chairs, was as chilly as a refrigerator. Glaring fluorescent lights hung overhead. Another deputy walked a chained Evan down the hall. I watched from inside the room as his orange jumpsuit cleared each bar. He shuffled into the space with shackled feet, through the barred opening, then approached us. The deputy stood by the door as if he were guarding its entrance. I indicated Evan should sit.


I was struck by how young he was. He was clearly terrified. Evan wouldn’t make eye contact. His upper lip was covered with perspiration, and his knee was moving up and down like a piston. He refused to speak about the night of the murder, other than to deny that the murder weapon was his. He saw nothing, knew nothing.


Even though Evan was a juvenile, the DA had filed a motion to try him as an adult based on a statute which allowed sixteen-year-olds to be tried as adults for murder, or other crimes, such as sexual assault or armed robbery. The prosecution had also threatened the death penalty as a possible punishment, which was permissible for juveniles at that time.


Our investigation later revealed that Evan’s family, especially his older brother, who was there the night of the murder, were well-known in the community for drugs and gang involvement. We also learned that gangs often ask younger members to take responsibility for crimes so that older members could avoid jail time. Typically, the younger members serve their time in the juvenile system, and are released at age 21. But this plan seemed to be backfiring on Evan, who the DA wanted to try as an adult.


Evan’s case haunted me for years and inspired The Redemption. I was shocked by the callous attitude the prosecutors had toward the death penalty, especially since a juvenile was involved. Capital punishment was popular in Louisiana. The District Attorney brought his top prosecutor to argue their motion to transfer the case to the adult system, and packed the court with an unusual number of attorneys on the day of the hearing. It was a highly political case. I wasn’t prepared for that sort of display, but we were prepared for our argument, which I made, and we won. We were able to keep Evan in the juvenile system.


In the actual case, Evan never revealed the events on the night of the murder. He protected his brother, and even though we were able to prove there were at least two shooters involved in the murder, the judge ruled that Evan was guilty. He served time in the juvenile system until the age of twenty-one which was his brother’s plan all along.


At its core, The Redemption is a story of social justice and hope. I’ve shown how easy it is to manipulate a sixteen-year-old, which is what often what leads to their arrest and incarceration. In The Redemption, I changed the facts of the story to show how Evan could have turned his loyalty and courage around and help save himself.

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