Brittany K. Barnett was only a law student when she came across the case of Sharanda Jones, single mother, business owner, and, like Brittany, Black daughter of the rural South. A victim of America's war on drugs, Sharanda was serving a life sentence without parole for a first-time drug offense.
... unfurls like a coming-of-age story ... [Barnett] fans us with her outrage without betraying cynicism. She is astoundingly good at what she does ... what sets this book apart is her own story ... Her depictions of her mother are flat, distant ... This is unfortunate, because without deeper insight into Barnett’s pain, the book never quite achieves its potential poignancy. At first, I suspected the problem was language — passionate, yet vague, sometimes calcified on the page. But then Barnett surprised me with vivid literary specificity ... Eventually, I realized my problem was perhaps less with Barnett’s writing than with the system she had mastered ... Barnett writes of the need to “humanize” her clients in her appeals for their clemency, and so she has learned to craft their stories to win the hearts of people already in power — people upholding the same system that made begging for mercy necessary. This kind of storytelling risks sanitization; it can strip away moral complexity, gut resentment, guilt, regret. Sometimes, I realized, 'humanizing' can make a person sound less human ... Maybe I wanted too much. This book is important and in certain ways I admired Barnett’s decision to overbalance her and her clients’ struggles with joy.
... moving ... Barnett tells each client’s story fully, allowing readers to grasp the weight of years of incarceration and the impact of the War on Drugs on the Black community. Her writing captures both the precision of law and the emotion of seeking freedom. A riveting memoir of injustice, resilience, and hope, A Knock at Midnight is a personal look at a modern humanitarian crisis.
Barnett weaves together memoir, biography, and legal drama in a powerful and moving story ... Recommended for readers who enjoyed Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, this is an essential read for anyone seeking to understand the devastating effects of mandatory drug sentencing and looking for inspiration to seek change.