Carceral Country: Beyond Innocence by Phoebe Zerwick


Carceral: “of, relating to, or suggesting a jail or prison.”  However, the carceral system has been extended outside of physical prison walls and into minoritized communities in the form of predictive and surveillance policing.

Scuppernong Books presents a new Fall series investigating issues of social justice and the Carceral State, called Carceral Country. We’ll bring authors, journalists, and activists from a variety of disciplines together to discuss policing and incarceration in North Carolina and across the country and we invite the community to be a part of these conversations.

We want to reconsider how we might shift the way we approach policing, the criminal justice system, and incarceration by bringing together not only experts, but those who have worked in these systems as well as those victimized by them.

In June 1985, a young Black man in Winston-Salem, N.C. named Darryl Hunt was falsely convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the rape and murder of a white copyeditor at the local paper. Many in the community believed him innocent and crusaded for his release even as subsequent trials and appeals reinforced his sentence. Finally, in 2003, the tireless efforts of his attorney combined with an award-winning series of articles by Phoebe Zerwick in the Winston-Salem Journal led to the DNA evidence that exonerated Hunt. Three years later, the acclaimed documentary, The Trials of Darryl Hunt, made him known across the country and brought his story to audiences around the world.

But Hunt’s story was far from over. As Zerwick poignantly reveals, it is singularly significant in the annals of the miscarriage of justice and for the legacy Hunt ultimately bequeathed. Part true crime drama, part chronicle of a life cut short by systemic racism, Beyond Innocence powerfully illuminates the sustained catastrophe faced by an innocent person in prison and the civil death nearly everyone who has been incarcerated experiences attempting to restart their lives. Freed after nineteen years behind bars, Darryl Hunt became a national advocate for social justice, and his case inspired lasting reforms, among them a law that allows those on death row to appeal their sentence with evidence of racial bias. He was a beacon of hope for so many—until he could no longer bear the burden of what he had endured and took his own life.

Fluidly crafted by a master journalist, Beyond Innocence makes an urgent moral call for an American reckoning with the legacies of racism in the criminal justice system and the human toll of the carceral state.


“Journalist Zerwick debuts with a moving account of a North Carolina man’s wrongful conviction and incarceration, eventual exoneration, and lingering postprison trauma . . . Richly detailed and lucidly written, this is a harrowing story of racial injustice and the lingering traumas of wrongful imprisonment.”—Publishers Weekly

“Zerwick tracks Hunt’s life as an exoneree and dedicated activist, whose advocacy helped lead to substantive reform for death row inmates until the burden of his trauma led tragically to his taking his own life. Zerwick’s portrait of Hunt humanizes all who are incarcerated, opening out into a well-researched, frustrating, inspirational, and heartbreaking look at profound issues of equality and justice and how racism and injustice destroy lives.”—Booklist

“The book’s reconstruction of Hunt’s last days is a powerful reminder of incarceration’s effects on the large numbers of Black Americans who have spent time behind bars. Zerwick’s portrait of Hunt is a reminder of the trauma caused by the American justice system and offers an essential narrative of the lasting impacts of incarceration.”—Library Journal


Phoebe Zerwick is an award-winning investigative journalist, narrative writer, and college teacher. Her writing has appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine, National Geographic, The Nation, Winston-Salem Journal, and Glamour, among other publications. Her work has been recognized by The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, Investigative Reporters and Editors, the Society of Professional Journalists, Columbia University, and the North Carolina Press Association and featured in the HBO documentary The Trials of Darryl Hunt. She is the director of the journalism program at Wake Forest University.
Beyond Innocence: The Life Sentence of Darryl Hunt By Phoebe Zerwick Cover Image
ISBN: 9780802159373
Availability: Available - We'll have it for you ASAP!
Published: Atlantic Monthly Press - March 8th, 2022

Event date: 
Friday, November 11, 2022 - 6:00pm to 7:30pm
Event address: 
304 S. Elm St.
Greensboro, NC 27401