Dear Death on Hold,
What an eye opening opportunity to hear a story of resilience, transformation, and powerful friendship. I left this conversation feeling both heavy with the knowledge of the poor justice system, and encouraged by what Mitch has chosen to do with life. I look forward to hearing more about Mitch’s life outside the pages of this book.
P.S. Book Details
Author: Burton Folsom and Anita Folsom
Book Length: 400 pages
Book Genre: Biography/Memoir
Publication Date: August 2015
Synopsis: A death-row inmate prays to God for a friend and is answered in ways that are nothing short of miraculous. In January 1983 Burt Folsom read a story in Time about Mitch Rutledge, a man on death row with an IQ of 84 who said he was sorry for what he did. “Forget him,” the last line of the story read. But Burt wrote Mitch a letter and discovered a man more interesting and intelligent than the article revealed. Burt and his wife, Anita, began a friendship with Mitch and saw him become a leader and role model for others in prison, teaching himself to read and write (starting with copying down the spelling of items he knew from TV commercials) and becoming a national spokesman on prison life. Death on Hold is the amazing story of their friendship, and of grace, reconciliation, and redemption for a man without hope who was given a future.
Mitch Rutledge writes honestly and openly about childhood, being on death row, the justice system, and the politics in jail and outside of jail. He speaks of his highs and his lows, breaking points and growing points. He praises his friends and his friends praise him.
I thoroughly enjoyed hearing his story in his words, even when at times it was difficult to read. Some parts of the book highlighted the ugliness of jail, and since I knew what he was writing was real I found myself overcome with emotion. Mitch tells things honestly, but not crudely. He shares what is necessary for the reader to understand what life looks like for him, yet he writes so positively. His outlook isn’t the hardship he is going through, rather he looks for opportunities to grow, to be a mentor, and to lead where he is at. Readers may leave with the challenge to ask themselves, “What am I doing to support others right now?”.
Interspersed in the chapters were Mitch’s poems from the time of learning to write and the end of the book. These poems represented the changes in Mitch’s literacy and perception of the world. I personally appreciated getting to see these poems. They speak of life as he knows it, however simple.
One of the primary themes of the story is Mitch finding friends, or as he lovingly calls them, family. Sister Lillian and Burton Folsom both read a 1983 Times magazine article highlighting Mitch, when he was on death row. Sister Lillian was outraged at the language used to describe Mitch and wrote to Times magazine to tell them so. Her letter was shared with Mitch and they began a pen-pal friendship cross-country. Burton also read the article and wrote a letter to Mitch. Burton and Anita Folsom both write in the book with their stories about Mitch throughout the years. I enjoyed reading about Mitch’s friendships from his point of view and the view of his friends. I felt more connected to Mitch by getting a fuller picture of who he is.
“Death on Hold” is an incredible memoir which can speak to the heart of any reader. It speaks of political and social issues we are dealing with today, without neglecting the personal story of Mitch. I would recommend this book to a mature reader, as there are some adult concepts written about. If you are interested in learning about the justice system, individuals involved in the system, or a new world view, I highly recommend this book. While Mitch is still in prison, the book ends with the hope to one day be released on parole. I look forward to watching this story unfold in real time now.