Advocate for criminal justice reform, poet, and motivational speaker
Photo Credit: Kara Baker
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 in 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, Ian 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 Ian 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.
Ian Manuel’s story is featured in Stevenson’s memoir, Just Mercy, as well as Nicholas Kristof’s recent book, Tightrope. In his 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.
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.
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.
Solitary Confinement & Mental Health
The United Nations considers solitary confinement for more than fifteen days torture, but it was Ian Manuel's condition for eighteen consecutive years, beginning when he was just fifteen. Scientists have shown that the solitary confinement of adults, but especially of juveniles, can damage the brain, provoking panic, anxiety, depression, loss of control, and even suicide. In this frank and moving lecture, Manuel shares his experiences with these damaging circumstances, and the story of how he managed—through his faith and poetry—to endure them and survive.
Praise for Ian Manuel— University of Rochester, River Campus Libraries
Ian’s visit was phenomenal!! It was so perfect to have him as my inaugural Visiting Black Intellectual for my campus initiative…he truly made a difference in elevating our profile. My students have thanked me profusely for the book, were inspired and moved very emotionally by Ian and one of my students has already started to think about what she can do to help with the re-entry process. The community organizations that partnered with me on reading his book are asking me “what’s next!” Our campus just can’t get enough of Ian! I can’t speak highly enough of what a gift it was to have Ian on our campus.— Butler UniversityThe event was fantastic – Ian was absolutely superb and I’ve had so much feedback about the impact his story had on the audience. We also loved that he shared some of his poetry. We’ll definitely be in touch for any future events.— Financial Times
Praise for My Time Will Come
This is a stunner.— Publishers Weekly [starred review]
Manuel’s account is both heart-wrenching and uplifting…. Manuel vividly captures the terror of an adolescent thrust into adult incarceration and the added trauma of solitary confinement. He portrays the prison bureaucracy as arbitrary in its amplification of punitive measures, including routine beatings and tear-gassings… A disturbing, vital, necessary eyewitness addition to debates about the mass incarceration epidemic in the U.S.— Kirkus Reviews
His story is heartbreaking and hopeful and needs to be told.— Booklist
Books by Ian Manuel
Media About Ian Manuel
- 212 572-2013
- Ian Manuel travels from New York City
My Time Will Come
“Ian is magic. His story is difficult and heartbreaking, but he takes us places we need to go to understand why we must do better. He survives by relying on a poetic spirit, an unrelenting desire to succeed, to recover, and to love. Ian’s story says something hopeful about our future.” —Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy