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Ian Manuel

Advocate for criminal justice reform, poet, and motivational speaker

  • About Ian Manuel

    Growing up in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Tampa in the era of the “super-predator,” Ian Manuel began stealing cars at age 11, and at age 13, committed the crime for which he would be sentenced to die to prison. In the course of a botched mugging, and at the direction of several older boys, he shot a white woman in the jaw. After turning himself in and pleading guilty, Manuel became one of the 73 children identified by the Equal Justice Initiative who have been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in the United States—the only country in the world known to issue sentences of this kind to children.

    While incarcerated, Manuel reached out to his victim, Debbie Baigrie. While Baigrie was initially reluctant to speak with him, eventually the two began a correspondence and became close friends, with Baigrie eventually petitioning for Manuel’s release. Manuel had been a promising student in school, and after discovering spoken word poetry on a PBS program he began to write his own poetry to reckon with his crime and to make sense of his experience, with Baigrie’s encouragement.

    The Equal Justice Initiative, led by America’s greatest contemporary legal activist Bryan Stevenson, succeeded in vacating Manuel’s sentence in 2010, and he was released in 2016. Now a free man, Manuel is a fierce advocate for criminal justice reform and for the reintegration of those who have recently been released from prison. He speaks at schools and social organizations across the country about the story of his crime, his experience with the criminal justice system, and the moral urgency of emphasizing rehabilitation over retribution.

    Manuel’s story is featured in Stevenson’s memoir, Just Mercy, as well as Nicholas Kristof’s recent book, Tightrope. In his upcoming memoir, My Time Will Come: A Memoir of Crime, Punishment, Hope, and Redemption, Manuel takes readers through his equally wrenching and inspiring story, from his upbringing as a poor Black kid from Florida, to the violent incident that changed the trajectory of his life, to the story of his redemption. With a foreword by Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson, Manuel’s memoir leaves a powerful impact and emphasizes the strength of human resolve and kindness through the most upsetting circumstances.

    Manuel performs spoken word poetry and was a 2017 MacDowell Fellow for nonfiction literature. He appeared on Starbucks’ “Upstanders,” a video series that shares stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things to create positive change. He lives in New York City.

  • Speaking Topics

    My Time Will Come

    When he was 13 years old, Ian Manuel was sentenced to life without parole after a botched robbery attempt. During the next 26 years he spent incarcerated, including 18 in solitary confinement, Manuel began writing poetry as a way to reflect on his crime and his experience. In this hybrid lecture, Manuel shares both his poetry and the story of his redemption, including the hope and resilience he learned to cultivate through his art and the lasting friendship he forged with his victim.

    Rethinking Justice

    At 13, Ian Manuel was charged as an adult for a botched robbery attempt and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. At age 15, he was placed in solitary confinement, where he spent 18 of the 26 years he would ultimately serve. After his release, Manuel was faced with a new challenge: re-entering an unfamiliar civil society for which he was entirely unprepared. In this powerful lecture, Manuel describes the abuses of the U.S. criminal justice system that he witnessed firsthand, the disproportionate impact of this system on young people of color, the need for support for those acclimating to life after prison, and the case for a justice system that prioritizes rehabilitation over punishment.

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and Availability

  • 212 572-2013
  • Ian Manuel travels from New York City

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