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Surviving Justice: America’s Wrongfully Convicted and Exonerated Curriculum

The lesson plans for Surviving Justice explore the flawed and complicated nature of the U.S. criminal justice system through the first-person stories of wrongfully convicted and exonerated individuals. Students will empathize with the plight of each narrator, personalizing the details of how these human beings were stripped of their identity. In addition, students will discuss how the prison system is an extension of a society they have a crucial stake in, rather than as a disembodied, distant bureaucracy. Students will explore the following questions:

  • What can we learn about the justice system from reading personal narratives? How do these stories complicate our beliefs about the justice system?

Grades: Flexible and adaptable for middle school and high school.

Time Needed: Approximately 3 class periods


  • Students will make  personal connections to wrongful incarceration, the death penalty and other aspects of the U.S. Criminal Justice system

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Surviving Justice is a necessary truth telling that amplifies the voices of the countless wrongfully incarcerated sons, lovers, husbands, fathers who languish in America’s prisons. These oral histories give insight into the nature of the injustice to which they have been subjective, but also offer a way forward. I never could have written An American Marriage without the brave and thoughtful testimonies in this book.

Tayari Jones
author of An American Marriage

About the Oral Histories

Surviving Justice: America’s Wrongfully Convicted and Exonerated presents oral histories of thirteen people from all walks of life, who, through a combination of all-too-common factors—overzealous prosecutors, inept defense lawyers, coercive interrogation tactics, eyewitness misidentification—found themselves imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. The stories these exonerated men and women tell are spellbinding, heartbreaking, and ultimately inspiring.

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