I have anticipated reading Exoneree for quite some time and it was well worth the wait.
Exoneree is the story of Uriah Courtney; a man convicted and sentence to life in prison for the kidnapping and rape of a 16-year-old girl.
Falsely accused and wrongly convicted, Uriah would spend eight years of his life imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.
To be sure, this isn’t a story for the faint of heart or those with fragile sensibilities. It is the true, leafless story of the grievous injustice that happens more often than we might be aware.
In gut-wrenching detail, Uriah shares the tumult, fear, confusion, anger, grief, violence, trauma and utter devastation of what it was to be falsely accused and facing life in prison. Not to mention, navigating a prison system with the convictions of kidnapping and raping of a minor that could cause him a great deal of harm and possibly death should other inmates find out, regardless that the convictions were false.
But it was in jail that Uriah found a Bible and was inexplicably, or so it seemed, drawn to read it considering he wasn’t fond of reading in general. And it was behind bars, that the Lord would regenerate Uriah, bringing him from death unto eternal life.
“…I found a Bible and started reading it. I was not a reader and had no inclination to read anything, let alone something so archaic and foreign. But I read the Bible, beginning at the first page. That’s how you read a book, right? I was drawn to that Bible like a bee to a bright flower brimming with nectar.”
This isn’t a run-of-the-mill ‘jailhouse conversion’ story. It far more resembles the stories of Job or Joseph, insofar as the seemingly unrelenting affliction and God’s sustaining grace.
“I have no memory of being returned to my cell. I only recall sitting on my bunk, staring into space in a state of total bewilderment and fear. Before me, I saw nothing but eternal blackness and isolation. I wanted the pain and terror to end. I just wanted to die.”
The afflictions mounted with the continued injustice of being falsely incarcerated, the loss of a child to miscarriage, the denial of visitations with his minor son, the loss of the relationship with his son’s mother, the death of his brother-in-law killed by a drunk driver, physical altercations, solitary confinement, losing his appeal, and on it went.
But it would be God, His Word and His people who would sustain Uriah through the dark days that lie ahead of him.
“Thinking back on those days not long after they had passed, I realized something I didn’t know then: I actually felt closer to God than I had ever before experienced. There was nothing like it and nothing I can compare it to now. He comforted me through the beautiful words in the Psalms and by the power of the Holy Spirit, enabling me to apply those texts to my experience. Could I have endured such a trial by my own strength? No, I wanted to die. But the Lord wrapped me up with his Spirit and protected me from myself, from others, and the devil. If it weren’t so, I wouldn’t be here today, alive and well in Christ.”
The mercies of God continued through devoted family members, a faithful Chaplain and his wife, fellow believers in Christ, Reformed Christian radio programming, Bible study groups, charitable pastors, correction officers who showed Uriah kindness, God’s protection in a hostile environment, a godly cellmate, lots and lots of books now that Uriah had become an avid reader and the determined work of the California Innocence Project that would eventually exonerate Uriah.
The Lord’s hand is distinct throughout Exoneree. The Lord was with Uriah in his trouble. And like the Apostle Paul, Uriah knew he was serving the Lord in his troubles which were many and severe. Though temporarily confined to the injustices of this world, Uriah knew he was eternally tethered to Christ.
Exoneree is thought-provoking, illuminating and at times, downright harrowing. It runs the gamut from cautionary tale to the phenomenal recounting of hope and restoration. But ultimately, it’s God’s story of bringing Uriah to repentance and belief, the everlasting Hope, knowing these trials worked Uriah’s abiding good by bringing him nearer and nearer to his God.
“I took a deep breath. Thank you, God, for freeing me from that place. And thank you especially for saving my soul from eternal prison.”