Thompson-Cannino and Cotton on failure and forgiveness

The story of Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton is one of forgiveness and liberation. In 1984, Jennifer Thompson-Cannino was completing her college degree in North Carolina, working a couple of jobs, and dating the man she would later marry. Her life was full. Then she was raped that summer.

When she was assaulted, she did everything she could to remember the details of her attacker — his clothes, his height, his haircut — so that she could identify him later. She testified that Ronald Cotton was the man who raped her. He was found guilty and sentenced to multiple life sentences in prison.

“You can say what you say. I know I’m an innocent man.”

Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton

Ronald Cotton was not the man who raped Jennifer Thompson-Cannino. After proclaiming his innocence for eleven years since he’d been convicted, DNA evidence exonerated him. After being released from prison, Cotton slowly pieced his life back together.

Two years after he was released, Thompson-Cannino decided she wanted to meet Cotton to apologize. She felt she had failed herself, Ronald, and both of their families. The moment they met, he forgave her. “I’m not angry,” Cotton told her. “I will never hurt you. I want you to be happy.” She recounts how at that moment, the person who she had prayed would die became the person who showed her how to live.

Since then, Thompson-Cannino and Cotton, now close friends, have written a memoir together about their experience entitled, Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption.

(Photo credit: Kris Krüg)

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