A Life in the Balance: The Billy Wayne Sinclair Story

Billy Wayne Sinclair, Author, Jodie Sinclair, Joint Author Arcade Publishing $26.95 (341p) ISBN 978-1-55970-555-4
This blistering memoir of a reformed killer, still incarcerated after more than 35 years, points to deep inequities in the correctional system in this country. After a brutal childhood, Billy Wayne aimlessly took to stealing cars and robbing convenience stores and served jail time. Then, in 1965, he killed a store owner in a botched robbery. Following a trial in which favorable witness statements were suppressed by the DA, he was initially sentenced to death. In 1972, due to the Supreme Court ruling on the unconstitutionality of the death penalty in Furman v. Georgia, his sentence was changed to life in prison. He served his first 20 years in Louisiana's notorious Angola prison, where he studied law, wrote for a groundbreaking prison newspaper (for which he won the prestigious George Polk Award), married a journalist and participated in a grievance committee that assisted in the difficult racial integration of the prison in the 1970s. Sinclair and his wife detail 1980s-era federal investigations into pardon selling, mail fraud and administrative corruption. In this dense, multilayered tale, readers may see ambiguities in Sinclair's crime and in his prison experience (he says that hadn't intended to kill the store owner during the robbery and claims that other killers were paroled while a powerful clique of friends of Sinclair's victim made sure he remained in prison). This is a powerful tale, and readers will be shaken by the sorrow, greed and corruption they encounter in it. 16 pages b & w photos not seen by PW. (Jan.) Forecast: Readers with an interest in crime, punishment and human rights will want this book but, in addition, the human interest of Sinclair's story should reach out to a wider audience, helped by major publicity. Arcade is planning a first printing of 40,000; wife and co-author Jodie Sinclair will do a 10-city tour plus a 30-city TV satellite tour and a radio satellite tour.
Reviewed on: 08/01/2001
Release date: 08/01/2001
Show other formats
Paperback - 339 pages - 978-1-55970-590-5
Paperback - 360 pages - 978-1-61145-367-6
Paperback - 339 pages - 978-1-61145-102-3
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