About Two Wrongs

Like politics, murder makes strange bedfellows. Federal prosecutor Laura Moss never thought she would need her long-time opponent, Mercy Johnson, one of Washington’s best criminal defense attorneys. When Laura bludgeons her philandering husband to death, she sees Mercy not as an adversary but as a lifeline.

Laura tells police she killed her husband because he was raping her daughter, Anna. Anna tells police her mother killed her stepfather in a jealous rage because she knew he and Anna were lovers.

Laura’s freedom depends on Mercy proving Anna a liar. The one thing Laura will not allow Mercy to do is reveal the secrets of Anna’s mental disorder and the chronic lying that is symptomatic of her illness. Mercy quickly learns that she will have a harder fight on her hands against her own client than against the government’s prosecution machine. Their battle of wills convinces Mercy that Laura is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, her freedom, to protect her child.

A descendant of the Gullahs from the islands off the South Carolina coast, Mercy brings the wisdom of the ancients to navigate the roiled waters and keep herself and her client from sinking.

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Mercy Johnson’s Gullah Roots
Gullah is a term used to describe a group of black Americans from South Carolina and Georgia living along the Atlantic coastal plain and on the chain of islands dotting the coast. Because the communities were isolated from the mainland culture for so many years, their distinctive language and practices were kept intact.

Their language is a mixture of old English and very similar languages spoken in Angola, Sierra Leone and other areas of West Africa. Many Gullah have African names. The Gullah people have passed down African folk tales and African art and crafts such as baskets and carving.

Their cuisine uses rice as its base. Gullah ancestors hailed from the rice-growing regions  of Angola, Sierra Leone and close-by regions of West Africa.

The Gullah culture still thriving in South Carolina, and its first cousin, the Geechee culture in the coastal regions of Georgia, were ripe with instances of dreams, visions, intuition and foreboding. Love of story is another characteristic attributed to Gullah people. The Sea Island singers perform at festivals on the South Carolina coast. In one of their best known songs, they tell the story of a slave ship landing at St. Simons Island. The slaves had been tricked into coming to America, and when they landed and learned the truth of their voyage, they refused to yield to their captors. Instead, they drowned themselves, singing a song which pierces the heart: “Before I’ll be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave, and go home to my Lord, and be free.” The song is sung today as an affirmation of African-Americans for equality and justice.

The Water Brought Us: The Story of the Gullah-Speaking People, Muriel Miller Branch, Cobblehill Books, 1993

The Gullah People and Their African Heritage, William S. Pollitzer, University of Georgia Press, 1999

Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder. Symptoms are mood shifts, changes in energy and activity levels, a compromised ability to carry out basic tasks. The disorder impacts relationships, job and school performance. Bipolar disorder is treatable with medication and psychotherapy.
The disease tends to run in families. Children of parents with the disorder are more likely to develop it. Scientists are discovering environmental factors also play a part in the development of the disease.
Intense emotional states called mood episodes characterize bipolar disorder. These mood episodes are very different from the patient’s usual mood. An overly joyful or excited state is called a manic episode, and a powerfully sad or hopeless state is called a depressive episode. Both states can occur at once.
In about half of diagnosed cases, the onset of the disease was late teens or early adult years. Doctors diagnose bipolar disorder using symptoms from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association.
Bipolar disorder cannot be cured but can be effectively treated. Continuous treatment is required to control symptoms. Medications for the treatment of the disorder are mood stabilizers, atypical antipsychotics and antidepressants. Careful monitoring of all these medications is essential for effective treatment. In combination with medication, psychotherapy is an effective treatment.
National Institute of Mental Health, Bipolar Disorder, www.nimh.nih.gov.

Borderline Personality Disorder
Borderline personality disorder is a serious mental illness. Symptoms include problems with regulating emotions and thoughts, impulsive and reckless behavior, unstable relationships. The diagnosis is based on a pattern of behavior that includes extreme reactions to abandonment, disruptive relationships with friends and family, distorted and unstable self-image, impulsive and even dangerous behaviors, suicidal and self-harming behaviors, intense mood changes, anger problems. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, American Psychiatric Association.
Scientists believe that the disease is caused by both genetic and environmental factors. Symptoms usually present during adolescence or early adulthood but there is some evidence that symptoms can occur in childhood.
The disease can be effectively treated and can improve over time. Psychotherapy is the treatment of choice in most cases, and may be combined with medications in appropriate cases to manage symptoms.
The National Institute of Mental Health, Borderline Personality Disorder, www.nimh.nih.gov.

Antisocial Personality Disorder
Antisocial personality disorder is a mental health condition. Diagnosis is based upon a person’s long-term pattern of manipulating, exploiting or violating the rights of others. Genetic factors and environmental factors such as child abuse are believed to be causes of the disorder. Criminal conduct and absence of remorse are often associated with the disorder.
The disorder is difficult to treat because people with the condition do not seek treatment or fail to comply with treatment regimens. Behavioral treatments based on reward and negative consequences work most often. Talk therapy shows some promise.
Symptoms are most severe during late teenage years and early twenties.
Medicine Plus, U. S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Antisocial personality disorder, www.nlm.nih.gov.