Mastering the art of storytelling to drive change.

Real life superhero: How Jarrett Adams turned his wrongful conviction into an epic legal career

09 / 14 / 2021

Today is a very special day for a very special person. A hero of mine, in fact. His name is Jarrett Adams. 

Jarrett’s autobiography is now officially on the shelves. It is entitled “Redeeming Justice: From Defendant to Defender, My Fight for Equity on Both Sides of a Broken System” — and it will be an instant bestseller. 

Jarrett is the little brother I never had (although he’s a lot bigger than me). We met 15 years ago when he became a One Million Degrees Scholar at South Suburban Community College. Everyone at OMD is indescribably proud of him, for he has not just won back his life — his is now changing the world. 

As Jarrett lays out in detail in his absolutely spellbinding book, he endured a classic railroading by a broken justice system. He was wrongly convicted — by an all white jury — and sentenced to 28 years in prison. Jarrett served nine of those years before he learned the law — all by himself — and then helped to win the case that set him free. Movie-type stuff. Just wait. 



As much as that story is a part of who Jarrett is and who he always will be, on the eve of his book’s publication, Jarrett said that he’s actually more relieved to get it out there than he is “excited.” It’s not that he’s tired of telling his story when people ask him about it. But it’s painful for him. Writing the book was painful. Almost every day for two years. 

What Jarrett wants now is to use his journey of survival to fuel the legal work he’s doing on behalf of others who were screwed or are being screwed by the system. You see, Jarrett earned a law degree from Loyola University, became a fellow at the Innocence Project in New York, and now has law offices in three cities. In his spare time, he also started his own nonprofit, Life After Justice, to give fresh starts to guys who are making the same lonely walk out of penitentiaries where they never should have been caged in the first place.  

When I asked him last night why he was feeling more relieved than anything else, he explained that what matters most to him now is what he’s doing now:

“I did not want life to place a period where God only intended for a comma to be. It wasn’t gonna be, ‘Jarrett Adams, a wrongly convicted, exonerated guy — the end.’ It always had to be about the chapters I’m adding now. For me to be doing this work now, helping people who were in the same spot as I was, it means all of the years I had to have faith and I couldn’t hold it — this is me giving faith a full hug. It’s easy for me to see now. To keep the faith. To hold the faith.”

Watching Jarrett climb these heights in real time is totally exhilarating. And totally unsurprising. I knew the day that I met him that he was whip smart and had already proven himself to be the ultimate survivor. It would only be a matter of time until he took the moral authority that he had earned and flexed it in the service of others. It seemed inevitable. 


Michael with Jarrett and his wife Joi Thomas Adams at the One Million Degrees Annual Gala in Chicago, 2016.


In Redeeming Justice, Jarrett talks about growing up on the South Side of Chicago and how big a role his family played in his becoming the man he is today. But he also speaks publicly in a very clear voice about the way much of America still views young Black men: 

“If we only treated every Black kid like they had the potential and talent to be the next LeBron (James), Kobe (Bryant) or Michael Jordan, we wouldn’t see our kids end up dead, or depicted as all they’re going to do is beatbox and rob you. And when I use that analogy, I don’t mean just treat them like star athletes… but recruit kids of all talents.” 

Today, Jarrett Adams is the ultimate role model for any kid in America. He has used all of his talent, heart and soul not only to survive — but to thrive in the most fulfilling way he could possibly imagine. He is a published author and a civil rights attorney who is not only fighting for others’ rights, but setting the ultimate example for any person facing injustice or even unfair treatment. He is an example of strength and resilience — no matter what the circumstance. 

It’s a big day for Jarrett. But there is no question that there are bigger ones on the horizon. For him and for those he represents. Not just individually, for he also has a vision on how to bridge the gap between the criminal justice system and the health care system. Without achieving that, he says that real justice reform cannot take hold.  

In other words, Jarrett is just getting started. He will never stop. His book is an unbelievable read, but it is just one key piece of a larger puzzle that even he cannot fully foresee. For now, he’s just thrilled to be moving the pieces himself; controlling his own destiny. And helping others to believe in theirs.