In the fall of 2008, I got a call to bid on a job for publishing giant St. Martin’s Press to photograph three authors for an upcoming book. A couple of weeks later I received the nod and was awarded the assignment. Interestingly enough, the shoot did not require me to travel but rather to stay in my current (now former) hometown of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Actually, one of the authors, Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, lived only a few miles from my house. Scouting locations was a little challenging, but eventually I found some great spots to fit the mood of each subject. The day of the shoot had finally come. To start the day we all met at Jennifer’s house for a quick meet and greet, decide on wardrobe, and discuss the day’s shooting schedule. Erin Torneo, one of the authors, had not been awake long when I got there as she and her husband Sascha had arrived late the previous night from their Los Angeles flight. The third author, Ronald Cotton, would show up soon after and upon walking in I was instantly taken back. I’m around 6’3″ and even then Ronald seemed to tower over me like a giraffe. A look into his eyes revealed not a boisterous, loud character, but more of a quiet, soft-spoken being. I couldn’t help but think, “Is this what prison does to a man?”. When Ron and Jennifer greeted it was like two high school chums seeing each other at a 20 year reunion. Both of their eyes lit up and it was an embrace like no other. It was hard to fathom the fact that in 1984 Jennifer had accused Ronald of raping her, and that he would serve eleven years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
The shoot went amazingly well and the book, Picking Cotton, is a huge success. I am truly blessed to have witnessed the special bond that has been created between these great friends out of such injustice. The book is a best seller and both Ronald and Jennifer have been featured on 60 Minutes, the Today Show, Dr. Phil, and NPR among others. Read a condensed synopsis of their story here at The Innocence Project and be sure to pick up a copy of the book now in paperback.