“Death on Hold: A Prisoner’s Desperate Prayer and the Unlikely Family Who Became God’s Answer” is the latest book from Professor of History Burt Folsom and his wife Anita, Director of Hillsdale’s Free Market Forum. Released on August 11, the book tells the true story of Mitchell Rutledge, a young man who became a Christian in Alabama’s Holman Prison after being convicted of first-degree murder. The Folsoms met Rutledge in 1984, and in the past 32 years, have seen Rutledge grow to become a leader in his prison community. In January 2016, he will begin his 35th year in prison.
What was it like working as a pair on your books?
Burt Folsom: After a month of writing “FDR Goes to War,” we thought about changing the title to “Bert and Anita Go to War.”
What is the hardest aspect of writing a book together?
Anita Folsom: You have to cut the other person’s material when it’s not good, which is very difficult to take. You put your heart into a chapter and spend months writing it, and to hear that it isn’t good is hard but necessary in order to make it better.
What sorts of reactions have you gotten?
BF: We’ve gotten much more emotional responses from readers. We’ve heard from several students that they began reading it at 11 p.m. and finished at 3 a.m. because they just couldn’t put it down.
AF: You don’t really get that kind of response about a book on economic policy.
What inspired you to write a story about Mr. Rutledge?
AF: Our primary motive in writing the book was to get Mitch released.
Do you have a favorite part in the book?
AF: Mine was recalling our first time visiting him.
BF: You know, after going to a prison a few times, you get used to the doors slamming everywhere and being surrounded by prisoners, but the first time, it’s pretty scary.
AF: The funny thing is that Mitch was more nervous to meet us than we were of him.
BF: Well, he had never had a visitor before, besides his lawyers.
How long did you work on the manuscript?
AF: The process began around 2009, after “New Deal or Raw Deal?” — Burt’s book — became popular.
BF: It became so popular that my publisher asked if I could write more books, and that’s how the door opened.
AF: It took roughly five years to finish.
BF: And that was partly because we had asked Mitch to begin writing down episodes of his life for the book.
AF: He could only mail out four pages at a time, so he sent them over a period of years.
BF: His letters were the basis for the book. He would send them to me, I would edit them and send them back. He’d make some more changes and expand some sections, so it was a long process.
Is there any hope that Mr. Rutledge will be released?
AF: The problem is that governors can’t issue pardons as often as they were once able to. For Mitch to be released, the Alabama State Legislature must pass a special bill for him to be released, which is possible.
BF: What we want our readers to take away from “Death on Hold,” is to never give up and that there is always hope, and most importantly, that no life is beyond redemption.