Not too long ago, a friend suggested I watch the film Capote. I was a bit reluctant because I had tried watching it on two previous occasions and fell asleep both times. Perhaps it was related to me watching it in the evening, or perhaps because the film starts at an excruciating slow pace. As my friend continued speaking about it, he said it reminded him of the novel I was co-writing with a friend in prison and the difficulties I must have trying to balance the work and my personal relation with him. Then it caught my attention. In the film, Truman Capote reads about a quadruple homicide in Kansas and decides he wants to document the tragedy. Similarly, when a close friend of mine was convicted for a double-homicide with the possibility of the death penalty, I began taking notes. Capote then travels to Kansas to interview the victim’s relatives and anyone else involved with them in order to paint an accurate picture of the deceased. In order to understand the human condition further, Capote visits the convicted parties in prison to get a better sense of how they arrived at the juncture.
Immediately after I watched the film (with great enthusiasm), I read the book. Originally, Capote wanted to write an article in the New Yorker, however, after his attachment with those involved he decides to write a full-length book, a true crime non-fictional account. This was completely out of his realm since he was known for his fictional works like Other Voices, Other Rooms, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Yet, In Cold Blood became the greatest crime seller of it’s time, and a pioneer of the non-fiction novel, and the true crime genre. I took extensive notes throughout the book and by the time I finished, I had already changed the concept of my book from a fictional biography to a true crime account. When books have that type of significant impact on my life, it reinforces my need to continue writing. It is the reason why we write, to change someone’s life and to inspire creativity.
So I looked at the thirty plus pages I had already written with my friend who is being housed in Kern Valley State Prison, and it read dull. So far it illustrated his childhood and his relationship with his relatives from the Venice 13 gang. I decided it would be better to include all parties involved including; the two convicted murderers, (my friend and his cousin, one from Lennox 13, the other from Culver City 13) their immediate relatives, and the victims, (who were supposedly from Santa Monica 13 gang). It is fascinating what you can find on the internet these days and I found a blog left by the victim’s family, two brothers from Cayucos, California, who were at the wrong place at the wrong time. After the first trial produced a hung jury, the victim’s sister committed suicide because of the tragedy suffered by her family. From all these lives that were changed by this horrific crime, I feel it is my duty to provide a better and more accurate picture of the way it went down. My friend has always maintained his innocence, is currently going through an appeal process, and during his sentence the victim’s relatives addressed his family and said they didn’t believe my friend did it. This is a clear example of everything that is wrong with the criminal justice system. The family wasn’t convinced, yet my friend received a life sentence.
So as I sit here drafting up a true crime account of the event, I can’t help but wonder, like Truman Capote, if I’m seeking the truth or if I’m convinced of his innocence. That was Capote’s conflict too. Because at the end of the day, the writer is mainly interested in telling the story with the most calamity.