Kerry Cook is an ex-Death Row inmate who was wrongfully accused of the brutal rape and murder of a young woman. During his twenty-one years in prison, he was tortured emotionally and physically. Throughout his ordeal, he was able to hope that the world would learn of his innocence and he would be freed. This hope and strength paid off. Cook was released eleven days before his scheduled execution date. He is now a writer and public speaker, sharing his experiences with people all over the world. He is also a husband and father, who strives to make the world a better place for his family.
Spilt Arts: What was life for you as a child?
Kerry Cook: As the son of an American soldier, I grew up overseas in U.S. military installations. They were the happiest and best times of my life because of an older brother named Doyle Wayne to whom I was extra close. He took care of me in the absence of parents with my dad gone all the time and my mother wrapped up in anger issues. Still, they were the best of times. Weekends were spent at the A.Y.A. facilities on post, where Doyle Wayne and I led in the Foosball tournaments.
SA: Did you have a good support system?
Cook: There was only my older brother, Doyle Wayne, but most of the time that was enough. Plus the thing about life on a U.S. Army post overseas, it was like having one big family. We were all in it together.
SA: Has your point of view of the world changed since you were a child? If so, how?
Cook: Yes. Especially since Death Row. I have grown more conservative, wanting better protection for our kids. Kids aren’t kids anymore. They are thrown into an unsupervised adult world with no safety net. Latch key syndrome. Families are not tight knit as they used to be. Television programs and social media have replaced family time.
SA: There were horrible things that happened to you. What gave you hope during your bleakest moments?
Cook: Hope. The ability to not stay trapped in the moment and to believe tomorrow would bring a different result. That is what kept me believing in others and that the world would save me.
SA: Through the abuse you’ve gone through, how did you maintain your sense of self and your dignity?
Cook: The truth. Hope. I believed that one day the world would know the truth if I could just find a way to hang on. I did. The truth is how I made it.
SA: How do you see the world now?
Cook: I see the world as a collection of missing pieces. A fast-paced world in which the focus is no longer on rearing our children to face the demands and challenges of societal changes. I see television and movies setting the tone for the rest of the world and I feel it is negative.
SA: What do you feel is the biggest obstacle young people face in the world today?
Cook: The Internet and social pressures to conform to the status quo. Aligning themselves with the negativity of age-targeted marketing and peer pressures.
SA: How do you think they can overcome this?
Cook: By recognizing that not all messages are good and true. Not trusting all the extraordinary barrage of information swallowing them up from the moment they wake up to when they go to bed.
SA: So many of our kids face injustice everyday. After everything you’ve gone through, what do you think is the most important thing they should remember?
Cook: That we don’t practice a “justice system” in America. It’s a legal system. And it’s a system made up of the have and have-nots. Our system does not operate as we are raised through textbooks to believe. Getting my fingerprints in a law enforcement computer definitely caused me to later be easily framed for a crime I didn’t commit.
SA: Now that you have a family, what is the most important message you want to teach kids about the world?
Cook: Nothing is impossible if we can believe in ourselves and not allow the noise to distract us from our goals. We are what we believe. Believe in helplessness and we are helpless. Believe that you can make a difference and you will. And nothing is more important than family. Nothing.
SA: What kind of world do you envision for the future? How do you think we can get there?
Cook: I have faith in the kids.
SA: Any advice you have for not only our kids but also for the adults who read our journal?
Cook: Never lose hope and never give up. Without hope, we are empty, helpless. With hope, nothing is impossible.
You can read more about Kerry Cook’s story in his book, Chasing Justice, available on Amazon